gavin smith

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Whisky News, November 2007

by Gavin D Smith

Distillery Development

While most recent, Scottish whisky-related news stories have focused on Diageo's successful bid for planning permission for its £40 million Roseisle malt distillery development on the Moray Firth coast, another large-scale new distillery has quietly commenced production. It is entirely typical of William Grant & Sons Ltd that no fanfare accompanied the start up of its Ailsa Bay distillery at Girvan on the Ayrshire coast, where the independent operator already has a grain distillery and blending and warehousing facilities. After all, Grant's have been operating Kininvie, next to its Balvenie and Glenfiddich plants in Dufftown for 17 years, and very few people outside the company have ever tasted the elusive spirit itself. Ailsa Bay has been developed with some speed, and its location will reduce the
cost of transporting malt whisky to the blending complex within the Girvan site. According to Grant's CEO Roland van Bommel, the new distillery will turn out"...a high quality single malt for blending". The creation of Ailsa Bay mirrors that of Girvan grain distillery, as construction work started on 14th April 1963, and proceeded at a remarkable rate, with the first cask of new make grain spirit being filled on 8th January 1964 from spirit distilled on 25th December 1963. This is not the first time malt whisky has been made on the Girvan site, as a small pot still facility was in place there between 1966 and 1975, operating under the Ladyburn name. Ailsa Bay operates eight pot stills, and its construction may be seen as part of the modest Lowland malt whisky revival currently in progress, following in the footsteps of the infinitely more 'boutique' Daftmill operation in Fife. There is also still every chance that Ladybank will eventually commence distilling on a site close to Daftmill. Whisky-pages has been invited to visit Grant's shiny, new distillery at Girvan in the New Year, and a full report will duly appear.

Glen Granted Growth

   The Campari-owned Glen Grant distillery in the Speyside town of Rothes has recently launched a cask-strength, single-cask bottling, available at the distillery visitor centre. This is the first ever such 'house' bottling, and aficionados of Italy's best-selling single malt Scotch whisky can look forward to some older releases in 2008 to accompany the present ten-year-old bottling and its sibling which carries no age statement. Glen Grant is one of Scotland's largest malt distilleries, with an annual capacity of some six million litres. Managing the Rothes site is the hugely experienced Dennis Malcolm, who first worked at the distillery between 1961 and 1970, and again from 1983 to 1999. He ran Inver House's Balmenach distillery
near Grantown-on-Spey before being recruited back to Glen Grant by Campari. Since acquiring Glen Grant in 2005, Campari has invested in a programme of repainting and refurbishment, while the beautiful gardens created in Victorian times by Major James Grant are once again in first class condition. Now, however, Campari is embarking on something altogether more substantial, as the current visitor centre is due to be converted into a café, while a new visitor facility will be created in buildings closer to the main road. All work will hopefully be completed in time for Glen Grant to host the Opening Dinner of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival on 1st May 2008.

Whisky by Association

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) recently announced that new legislation relating to the categorisation of the product would be introduced next year. Five categories of Scotch whisky are to be formally defined, and their appropriate use will become compulsory on bottle labelling. The categories in question are Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, Single Grain Scotch Whisky, Blended Grain Scotch Whisky and Blended Scotch Whisky. Furthermore, all single malt Scotch whisky will have to be bottled in Scotland. The new proposals have met with some opposition. While Bruichladdich's CEO Mark Reynier says
"Action against counterfeiting and protecting the integrity of single malt Scotch whisky is welcome," he goes on to note that "Experience tells us that changes usually reflect a vested interested of the Big Boys. "The new term, 'blended malt', deliberately confuses two older titles, the widely accepted 'blended whisky', and the emotive but highly misleading term 'pure malt'. This new, suitably bland and innocuous looking term will be a charter for deception. Overseas consumers are less likely to differentiate between the two similar terms. "But that appears to be precisely what the SWA's members want to achieve following the Cardhu debacle. Ambiguity in front of the consumer. Then, Cardhu, a single malt, was to become a vatted malt so that the limited supply could be increased at will. "But highly misleadingly, the vatted malt was to look almost the same as the prestigious single malt presentation - the general consumer would be none the wiser. This led to fierce accusations by the rest of the industry of bully boy tactics by Diageo, and the SWA risking the credibility of the whole single malt sector. They were mighty annoyed when they couldn't get away with it then - so here they are changing the laws instead to suit their marketing needs instead." Meanwhile, Angus Dundee Distillers' Brian Megson is unhappy with plans to ban distillers from bottling single malt Scotch overseas. He has hired Brussels law firm White & Case to fight the measure, and enlisted the support of Tory MSP David McLetchie and lobbying firm Halogen. Megson claims that preventing the movement of bulk single malt whisky is a 'restraint of trade' which may be illegal under European competition rules. He fears the legislation may be extended to cover blended whisky as well, saying "It is the thin end of the wedge. If this was to happen, the next step would be easier. Bottling overseas is completely legal and we have been doing it for over 100 years. Our partners would not be happy if we were prevented from doing that." Angus Dundee has a particular interest in this aspect of the new legislation since a significant proportion of its blended Scotch whisky is exported in bulk and bottled abroad.

Ferry Busy

   Business is so brisk on the ferry route to Islay that operator Caledonian MacBrayne has confirmed additional sailing on the route from Kennacraig on the Argyll mainland. Following an approach from the island's distillers, who are experiencing unprecedented demand for their whisky and are increasing production levels accordingly, 'CalMac' agreed to investigate ways in which the pressure on current services could be alleviated. The result is that a two-vessel service will operate until the end of the winter timetable in March 2008. Fay Harris, CalMac's Regional Manager Islay says,
"Clearly, the whisky industry is having a very good spell with lots of extra traffic being generated. Whilst this is obviously very welcome, it creates an additional demand for space which we can only meet at this time by creating additional capacity on extra sailings. We have consulted with the distillers and local hauliers to address their specific concerns and the timetable we have devised should enable them to meet their production requirements. We have been able to dovetail our own overhaul programme to coincide with the pressure points and the solution we have achieved will undoubtedly benefit the whole island." The distillers have welcomed the additional capacity being offered, and Campbell Evans, Director of Government & Consumer Affairs for the Scotch Whisky Association, says "The industry has had helpful discussions with CalMac and the Scottish Government in recent months and the improvements to capacity serving Islay are a big step forward. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to ensure the service is able to support the growing international demand for Islay whiskies, which is so integral to the local economy." If you fancy a winter's trip to the 'whisky island' see for details of services and sailings.

Whisky on the Map

Research on consumer attitudes and behaviour regarding single malt whiskies indicates that many consumers find the category complex and even intimidating. Faced with numerous brands, price points, ages, expressions and regional variations, they find it difficult to know what to choose. Apparently, this deters many potential malt whisky customers. Diageo may have come up with a solution to the problem in the shape of its newly-launched Single Malt Whisky Flavour Map, which demonstrates that in practice, when it comes to taste and flavour in a glass, all Scotland's whiskies can be plotted on a simple grid. The initiative offers a new and creative way to attract consumers into the category by helping them navigate between the many regions and flavours available in single malt whisky. By graphically illustrating where whiskies sit in flavour terms in relation to others, the Flavour Map helps consumers to make informed decisions. Developed by Diageo experts
in cooperation with whisky writer and consultant Dave Broom, the Flavour Map reflects a simplified version of the tried and tested way professional tasters have plotted whisky flavours on a grid according to their levels of certain characteristics. Dave Broom says "Whisky isn't complicated - it has just never been explained properly. I believe that the Flavour Map is a major step forward in helping consumers gain a greater understanding of this magnificent spirit." Nicholas Morgan, Diageo's global marketing director for single malt whiskies, adds that "Malt whisky is perhaps the world's most sophisticated and enjoyable spirit, with a huge variety of tastes and flavours to explore. Many years ago our Classic Malts of Scotland range, offering a premium malt from each of Scotland's six traditional distilling regions, represented a major breakthrough in encouraging consumers to explore the wonderful flavour world of malt whisky. Now the Flavour Map takes this further. It could revolutionise the way we all talk about single malts." See

Special Releases

   Staying with Diageo, every year the world's biggest spirits company examines stocks of old, rare or unusual single malt whiskies from its 27 distilleries to see what can be released to whet the appetites of the world's connoisseurs, collectors and whisky enthusiasts. The results appear in the Special Releases series, launched each autumn. The latest line up of ten releases includes a 36-year-old Glenury Royal whisky from the now demolished Stonehaven distillery, and the combined age of the whole collection
exceeds 230 years. Other malt whiskies from closed distilleries just released are a 30-year-old Brora, a 28-year-old Port Ellen and a 25-year-old Rosebank. Diageo's working distilleries provide the rest of the special collection - but in unusual expressions. Talisker from Skye is generally available as a 10 and 18-year-old, but the limited releases include 25 and 30-year-old bottlings. The youngest whisky in this year's release is an eight-year-old Caol Ila, distilled in the 'Highland style' from unpeated malt. Also new is the first 21-year-old Lagavulin to be released in this series in a distillery-own bottling, along with a 12-year-old version of the iconic Islay malt. Completing the collection is a rare 20-year-old Glenkinchie that has undergone a unique maturation process - starting in refill American oak, and then being re-racked into former brandy casks for a further ten years. Diageo's Nicholas Morgan says "I suspect that some will be bought by collectors but I can certainly confirm that every whisky we issue in this series is not only individual and interesting but supremely drinkable. Demand for rare and special malt whiskies continues to grow, and of course some of these now released are drawn from a finite and dwindling stock, as their distilleries were closed over 20 years ago. In these circumstances we believe that even the most expensive offer terrific value compared with some of the more hyped wine vintages." Whisky-pages will bring you our thoughts on the new releases once samples arrive on our already overloaded desk…

Canadian Specific

Canada's Kittling Ridge Estate Distillery has been voted Canada's 'Distillery of the Year' at the 2008 Icons of Whisky Awards, staged by Whisky Magazine. The publication also named John K Hall, owner and whisky maker for Kittling Ridge Distillery, Canada's 2008 Whisky 'Ambassador of the Year.' Kittling Ridge, an independent company, based in Ontario, faced stiff competition from a shortlist of Canadian distillers. The winners will compete in the World Icons of Whisky, which includes entries from Scotland, Ireland, the USA and Japan. The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in London on the 28th February 2008, held
to mark the opening of Whisky Live London. John Hall says "What an honour to receive two of Whisky Magazine's 'Icon of Whisky Awards', Distiller of the Year and Ambassador of the Year for Canada, on the eve of celebrating my 15th year anniversary as a whisky maker in Canada and the release of my limited Forty Creek Small Batch Reserve! "I am especially humbled knowing that I was facing competition from distillers that have all become international giants in the spirits industry. Distiller of the Year is a very prestigious award within the industry and I believe the growing popularity of Forty Creek Whisky has played a large part in receiving this special recognition." Kittling Ridge is Ontario's last, and only independent, Canadian-owned distillery. It is one of very few distilleries that have opened since the ending of Prohibition in 1933. Kittling Ridge started with 15 employees in 1992, and now employs ten times that number. Forty Creek Whisky is the fastest growing Canadian whisky in both Canada and the USA.

And finally...Coquettish Whisky

   From Canada to England, and the beautiful border country of the Coquet Valley which now has its own whisky, named Black Rory after a 19th century illicit distiller from the area. The Coquet Whisky Company has been established by Rothbury businesswoman Roz Tinlin, who has commissioned a blend which is designed to reflect the style of whisky made in days gone by in the rugged terrain of the area, where peat is found in abundance. “It's a unique blend,” says Roz, “and it has a high malt content, with quite a bit of Islay whisky in it. It has a fabulous amber glow, and it's just so smooth. A single malt is the next stage - next year - when we see how this goes. "Black Rory is a mythical figure who I got to know through a fabulous book written by David Dippie Dixon in 1904 called Upper Coquetdale," she continues. "He talks about everything that happened in the
valley, including the whisky, the excisemen and the illicit stills - it's the first evidence of them in written form. Black Rory dates from 1829. We can't find any surname for him, but the Northumberland National Park did some research and found he was a bit of a whisky character." Remains of at least four of Black Rory's stills have been traced at Blindburn, Wholehope, Midhope and Inner Hare Cleugh, and Roz notes "There are little groups of stones in the streams running into the Coquet and little caves where they'd hide the whisky. There's also evidence of where they had dug out the peat." Roz is not a whisky drinker herself, but hopes the stylishly presented Black Rory blend will help to promote this often overlooked area. As she says, "This is a fabulous part of Northumberland with exquisite scenery and history and culture in abundance, and we've come to the conclusion we've got to blow our own trumpet a bit more. I just looked out of my dining room window at the hills in the milky sunshine and thought 'this is beautiful'. I wanted the whisky to be beautiful - and our own brand will hopefully put us on the map." See


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