Whisky News, November 2011
by Gavin D Smith
Hot on the heels of Diageo's grand expansion plans come those of rival distiller Chivas Brothers. Chivas has announced its intention to build a new malt distillery on the site of the silent
Imperial distillery, close to the River Spey, at Carron (picture courtesy undiscovered scotland).
According to a Chivas spokesperson, "The site would also be visible from the nearby Speyside Way walking trail, so whilst up-to-date construction techniques and modern technology would be used inside the building, the intention is to make the external façade blend in with the surrounding riverside scene and follow vernacular codes of the region."
Chairman and CEO Christian Porta adds that "Our success in growing our brands across the world, in existing and new markets, to many historical highs means that creating new distillation capacity is a key next step for our business. This new distillery will supply high quality Speyside malt whisky for many of our blends in the years to come. This is another example of our sustained investment in our Scotch whisky operations which, combined with consistent innovation and marketing, will continue to drive the growth of our business."
Earlier this year, Chivas Brothers announced plans to increase its malt whisky distillation capacity by 25 per cent by April 2013 with the re-opening of Glen Keith distillery and expansions at four existing
Speyside distilleries. It also increased the capacity of The Glenlivet Distillery by 75 per cent during 2010 in light of increasing sales of the world's second-best-selling single malt.
Meanwhile, a planning application has been submitted by Diageo for expansion at Glen Ord, and the Inverness-shire distillery is one of around half of Diageo's 28 malt distilleries destined to have its capacity expanded as part of the company's £1 billion, five year investment plans in its Scotch whisky business.
The intention is to install 10 new washbacks, a second mash tun and six new stills, adding to the 10 washbacks and six stills currently in situ. The result will be to add some five million litres of alcohol capacity per annum, taking the overall capacity of the distillery to over 10mla.
Diageo's Director of Malt Distilling Brian Higgs says that "Over the next few months we will be bringing forward a number of planning applications to increase capacity at our existing distilleries and the Glen Ord expansion is an important part of that programme."
Kirsty Dagnan, Senior Site Manager of Glen Ord, added that "I'm delighted that Glen Ord distillery will benefit as part of Diageo's plan to invest in Scotland and I'm particularly pleased that the local economy
will also have the opportunity to benefit from the work we plan to carry out here."
Scotch whisky exports increased in value by 12 per cent in the 12 months to the end of June 2012, according to recent figures from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).
Growth was seen in the USA, Venezuela and in Germany, as well as in exports to Russia through the Baltic States in the first six months of this year. Asia remained steady, with solid growth in Taiwan. This helped Scotch whisky exports maintain their value in the first half of 2012 at £1.8 billion, despite continuing pressure in some Eurozone countries.
In the first half of 2012, exports to the USA rose by 13 per cent to £303 million, and it remains the biggest market by value for Scotch whisky. Venezuela, the ninth-largest market for Scotch, recorded significant growth, rising 31 per cent to £42 million. In Europe, Germany saw exports increase by four per cent to £65m in the first six months of the year. Latvia and Estonia now appear in the top 20 markets, reflecting a surge in demand from Russia.
India experienced an increase of 28 per cent to £28 million, and an SWA spokesperson notes that "The SWA remains hopeful that a conclusion can be reached on the European Union/India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by the end of the year. The FTA would see a gradual reduction of the onerous 150 per cent tariff on imported spirits. Reduction in that tariff would allow India to fulfil its potential to be one of the biggest markets for Scotch."
According to Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, "Over the past year the value of Scotch whisky exports has continued to increase, and we're delighted to build on our
outstanding success in 2011 with 12 per cent growth in the last 12 months. While there has been a levelling off in the first half of this year, the industry remains confident about the future.
Recent announcements of investments in new distilleries and the expansion of existing facilities demonstrate the level of confidence producers have in future growth opportunities."
Gavin Hewitt may have had the likes of industry leaders Diageo and Pernod Ricard in mind when he spoke about "investments in new distilleries," but projects such as the revival of Wolfburn distillery in Caithness also signify a positive attitude to the future of Scotch whisky, albeit at the more artisanal end of the production spectrum.
While many new distillery projects have been mooted during the last few years, with precious little action as a result, construction has actually started on Wolfburn in the last few weeks, and the intention is to be making spirit early next year.
Although Wolfburn, located to the west of the town of Thurso, will be a new-build facility, it is to draw its water from the same source as the original Wolfburn distillery, established by William Smith in 1821 and operational until the 1850s.
Wolfburn's business development manager Stephen Light says that "We are ahead of schedule in terms of the actual construction of the distillery. The steel erection commenced recently, which means we have gone from owning a patch of land to things that look like buildings.
"When we open next year, we will start off with three members of staff. When making whisky it has to sit in a cask for three years before it can be sold so we won't be making any sales until 2016. Once the whisky is on the market, we will be looking at taking on more staff.
"We are looking to make a high-quality malt that can sell on the international market. The primary aim of the business is to become a successful whisky distillery, but we are also looking to make a significant investment in Thurso and the surrounding area by creating permanent jobs."
The distillery is being built 350 metres from the original Wolfburn distillery, and part of the surviving remains of the old structure will be incorporated into the new development, which will
replace Wick's Pulteney distillery as the northernmost mainland whisky-making facility in Scotland.
Glenglassaugh Centre of Attraction
Down on the Moray Firth coast another revived distillery of sorts, Glenglassaugh, has opened a new visitor centre. Unlike Wolfburn, Glenglassaugh was only closed for 22 years after being mothballed in 1986, and having enjoyed considerable success with its single malts since being brought back to life, the former distillery office and revenue and customs office has now been turned into a dedicated visitor venue. It features a café, a tasting room where visitors can enjoy a dram at the end of their tour, and a retail shop where the entire range of Glenglassaugh range is on sale.
Glenglassaugh's Managing Director Stuart Nickerson says that "Word quickly got around that we had reopened and because we are just off the main road, a lot of people would come up to the office and ask if they could have a tour or buy whisky. We then introduced a series of pre-bookable tours, which included everything from a fairly standard tour about the history of the distillery and the distilling process, through to The Ultimate Tour which is aimed at the real aficionados as it includes tasting a wide range of single malt whiskies, right up to the 40-year-old single cask which retails at £1,500 per bottle.
"When Glenglassaugh was last open in the 1980s, distilleries were only just realising the potential for visitor centres and the interest in malt whisky, so there wasn't an existing building for us to work with. We could offer the tours for those who wanted to visit, but without a dedicated building we were pretty restricted as to what we could do.
"The solution was to convert the old revenue and customs office into a tasting room, and to knock through into what was the old staff office for the retail area and café. We are incredibly proud that all of renovation work and fitting out has been done in-house by our own maintenance team member to a very impressive standard, and we hope that it will really help to improve the overall visitor experience."
The centre will initially be open from Monday to Friday, and while the Behind the Scenes tour and the Ultimate Tour still need to be booked in advance, visitors can turn up at the centre for the Revival tour, which runs several times each day.
For more information visit www.glenglassaugh.com
Over in Kentucky, the historic Willett Distillery has joined the ranks of the Kentucky Distillers' Association (KDA), the state's foremost voice on spirits issues for more than 130 years. Willett's is the 14th member of the Association and the eighth craft distillery to become part of it.
"We are extremely impressed with the tremendous work that Even Kulsveen and his family have undertaken to restore this remarkable distillery," says Jeff Conder, Chairman of the KDA Board of Directors and Vice President, Global Supply Chain, for Beam Inc.
"The Willett family's distilling legacy is etched deep in Bourbon history and we are excited about their plans for the future. We applaud their diligence and dedication to our signature craft, and we proudly welcome them to the KDA."
Located on the outskirts of Bardstown, the Willett Distilling Company was built in 1936 on a farm purchased by Lambert Willett, who learned the whiskey business from his father, John David Willett, and many of Kentucky's most respected distillers at the time.
Thompson Willett and one of his brothers, Johnny, built the distillery and warehouses on some of the highest ground in Nelson County, thereby ensuring that a fresh breeze would aid in the maturation of their whiskey.
Having made their mark on the Bourbon industry, the Willetts retired in the early 1980s, but then Even G. Kulsveen, a native of Norway and son-in-law of Thompson Willett, purchased the property in 1984. He formed Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd, and began restoring the distillery to its original glory.
This small, family-owned distillery resumed production in January of this year, and its picturesque grounds features eight traditional rickhouses, along with a gift shop and tasting bar. The property has been rechristened Willett Distillery, and its brands include Willett Pot Still Reserve, Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon and Rye, Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, Johnny Drum, Old Bardstown, Pure Kentucky, and Kentucky Vintage.
For more information, visit www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com. Picture courtesy whisky advocate blog.
Last month saw the oldest ever release of a single malt from the Islay distillery of Bowmore, and this bottling is also the oldest Islay ever to hit the shelves. The whisky in question is 54 years old, and according to the Bowmore team, "Distilled in 1957 and bottled in 2011, this marvel has been lying in wait in the finest oak for over half a century in Bowmore's legendary No. 1 Vaults, the oldest maturation warehouse in Scotland. With only 12 bottles in existence worldwide, this is the rarest Bowmore and will no doubt become one of the most sought-after and collectible Single Malt Scotch Whiskies in the world."
The first two bottles were auctioned for five Scottish charities, with bottle number one going under the hammer at Bonhams in Edinburgh on 10th of October, though it failed to reach its £100,000 reserve and was withdrawn, while the second met the same fate in New York later in the month
A collection of 1957 casks were bottled in 1995, but one was held back as it was considered more exceptional than the rest. Since 1995, the whisky in that cask has been examined every six months to check the quality, taste, developments and changes.
Andrew Rankin, Morrison Bowmore's Chief Blender, says that "Upon checking the whisky in early 2011, we knew it had reached perfection at 54 years of age. Bowmore 1957 has withstood the test of time astoundingly well and is nothing short of brilliance in a glass."
Two bottles have been retained for the Morrison Bowmore archives and the remaining eight will be available for purchase by the public solely at the Bowmore Distillery on Islay, with a retail price of £100,000.
Visit www.bowmore.com for more details.
The latest heavyweight addition to the ranks of whisky books comes courtesy of Gavin D Smith and Dominic Roskrow, and is titled Whisky Opus. According to the publisher, Dorling Kindersley, "From Banffshire to Bangalore, take a look at the expanding world of whisky with the Whisky Opus. Find out all about the major whisky-producing countries and 175 of the world's best distilleries. Explore every whisky style from single malt to poteen, their history and the fascinating stories behind the distilleries that make them, plus learn how to train your palate with the help of 500 evocative tasting notes. Whether new to the wonders of whisky or on the road to becoming a connoisseur, whisky fans will find this book tells them everything they want to know."
What makes Whisky Opus refreshing is that Smith and Roskrow have largely dispensed with the usual 'how whisky is made' section that can be found in so many other places, and have instead devoted space to a section at the start of the book called 'Whisky: The Big Questions,' in which a wide range of international whisky professionals are asked diverse questions such as 'What was the defining moment in whisky history?' and 'What makes a great whisky?'
Whisky Opus is both innovative and broad in its embrace, and should be an essential addition to any whisky-lover's library. The same can, of course, be said of the always excellent
Malt Whisky Yearbook, with the 2013 edition just hitting the shelves. Smith and Roskrow are among an illustrious list of contributors that includes Charles MacLean, Ian Wisniewski, Neil Ridley, Ian
Buxton and Jonny McCormick. Once again, the editor Ingvar Ronde has performed minor miracles to produce an inherently trustworthy and up to date whisky reference book that ought to become well-thumbed even
before 2013 dawns. Whisky opus (www.dk.com) £30.00; Malt Whisky Yearbook
We all remember the headline-grabbing exploits of the Bruichladdich team which fuelled a Radical racing car on its quadruple-distilled X4 single malt back in 2008. Now, Tullibardine distillery in Perthshire has
teamed up with a spin-out company from Napier University in Edinburgh (Celtic Renewables) to turn distilling by-products into bio-fuel.
Napier University's Biofuel Research Centre (BfRC) has already shown that the right bacteria can feed on sugar-rich draff and pot ale to produce butanol, a direct replacement for vehicle fuel.
Professor Martin Tangney, founder of Celtic Renewables, says that "Our partnership with Tullibardine is an important step in the development of a business which combines two iconic Scottish industries -
whisky and renewables. This project demonstrates that innovative use of existing technologies can utilise resources on our doorstep to benefit both the environment and the economy."
Douglas Ross, managing director of Tullibardine, which spends £250,000 disposing of its by-products every year, adds that "We are delighted to be partnering Celtic Renewables in this innovative venture,
the obvious benefits of which are environmental. It takes a cost to us and turns it into something that has social as well as commercial value."
Finally, drinking and driving are seen to be positive partners after all… Picture of the team behind the project courtesy Waste Management World.