gavin smith

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Whisky News, November 2014

by Gavin D Smith

End of boom?

The first cracks seem to be appearing in the apparently never-ending boom period for Scotch whisky. After exports hit a record £4.3 billion in 2012 - an increase of 87 per cent in 10 years - the trend began to reverse, with a decline in sales, and the first half of 2014 saw a slump of 11 per cent, or £220 million in terms of value. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) blamed new anti-extravagance drives in China, the stronger pound and an economic slowdown in some markets for the decline in Asia and the Americas, previously two of Scotch whisky's fastest-growing regions. Diageo has responded by halting construction on its proposed £50 million malt whisky distillery at Teaninich, north of Inverness, as well as a £30m expansion of Clynelish distillery, construction of a bio-energy plant at Glendullan, and an £18m expansion of Mortlach distillery in Dufftown. A Diageo spokesperson says that "The weaker global economic environment has impacted the growth of Scotch in certain markets and therefore Diageo will continue to review and adjust the timing of the next phase of our investment programme to manage our Scotch whisky inventory and to retain the alignment between growth in production volumes and growth in demand."

Bushmills in Mexico

Diageo has also been making changes in respect of its Irish whiskey portfolio, announcing plans to sell the Bushmills business to Mexican tequila producer Jose Cuervo. In return, Diageo gains ownership of the Tequila Don Julio brand. Juan Domingo Beckmann, chief executive of Jose Cuervo, declares that "This is the most important purchase made by Cuervo in its entire history. This is a very exciting time for both Bushmills Irish whiskey and Jose Cuervo. We see this acquisition as a fantastic opportunity to continue to nurture and grow the Bushmills Irish whiskey brand globally, underpinned by the strong expertise and focus of Jose Cuervo as one of the world's leading drinks corporations. "We see great synergies and similarities between the two brands. Like Bushmills Irish whiskey, Jose Cuervo is built on a very strong tradition of quality and craftsmanship that dates back over 250 years, so we understand the importance of nurturing and protecting the heritage and quality of a brand and are strongly committed to doing exactly that with Bushmills." Diageo has invested some £80 million in the Antrim distillery since acquiring it from Pernod Ricard in 2005.

Dalmunach Distillery

While Diageo puts further Scotch whisky expansion plans on ice, chief rival Chivas Brothers has commenced production at its new Dalmunach distillery (photo John Barleycorn), developed on the site of the now demolished Imperial distillery on Speyside. According to a Chivas spokesperson, "Built using the latest innovations and environmental expertise such as heat recovery technology, the distillery is capable of producing up to 10 million litres of high quality Speyside style spirit per year to support the growing global demand for the bestselling blended whisky brands within Chivas Brothers' portfolio, which includes Chivas Regal, Ballantine's and Royal Salute. "Every element of the distillery design, including the unique still shapes, has been geared to producing the very highest quality Speyside malt whisky with a rich, fruity character, a vital ingredient to the highest quality blended Scotch whiskies." The distillery architecture has apparently been inspired by the shape of a sheaf of barley, and it houses eight unique copper pot stills, with a tulip shape used for the wash stills and an onion shape for the spirit stills, replicating those from the old Imperial distillery. In a departure from distillery traditions, the stills have been positioned in a circular pattern. A number of original features from the old Imperial distillery have been incorporated, with red brick from the mill building having been reclaimed to create a feature wall in the new entrance area, while wood from the original washbacks has been used to form an entrance 'drum' and cover the gable walls of the new tun room, which contains 16 new stainless steel washbacks.

Smaller start-ups

At the opposite end of the production scale to Dalmunach, several of Britain's new distillery ventures have begun making whisky. Adelphi's Ardnamurchan distillery fired up its pair of stills in July, while Annandale in Dumfries-shire filled its first cask earlier this month. In Fife, Eden Mill distillery has also just started production, while Kingbarns is due to open its visitor centre on 1st December. On Speyside, Ballindalloch is busily filling its initial quota of casks, and south of the border, The Lakes Distillery made spirit for the first time on 21st of this month. Only Ardnamurchan is a new-build venture, with Eden Mill being established in part of a former paper mill at Guardbridge, which was the site of a Haig-owned distillery from 1810 to 1869, while Kingsbarns, Ballindalloch and The Lakes distillery have all been developed in former agricultural steadings.

Winchester fired up

The Glenlivet has announced the launch of The Winchester Collection, commencing with a 50-year-old 'Vintage 1964' expression. It is priced at the equivalent of $25,000, and just 100 bottles have been released worldwide. Future expressions in the Collection will include a 'Vintage 1966.' According to Master Distiller Alan Winchester, after whom the collection is named, "This release marks a milestone for The Glenlivet. Casks of this age and quality are such a rare thing these days that I'm immensely proud to introduce the first of these rare vintages of preserved stocks from the distillery's rich past. They're a testament to our legacy of excellence and to those who have nurtured this whisky over the years, including Captain Bill Smith-Grant, who played such a pivotal role introducing our single malt to the world." Captain Bill Smith-Grant was the last distilling descendent of The Glenlivet's founder, George Smith , and was at the helm of the company when this whisky was laid down to mature in April 1964. Nikki Burgess, Global Brand Director for The Glenlivet, declares that "The release of The Winchester Collection sets a new benchmark in single malt. We are excited to share this unparalleled spirit, the product of 50 years of craftsmanship, with whisky lovers and collectors alike. Vintage 1964 allows us to tell a new chapter in The Glenlivet's rich history and is a fitting tribute to those who shaped Speyside's original single malt whisky."

And finally…

New Zealand has become the first nation outside Europe and Japan to release a 25-year-old single malt whisky. The whisky, made from 100 per cent malted New Zealand barley distilled in the now closed Dunedin distillery, has been matured in ex-Bourbon barrels from Four Roses Distillery in Kentucky, and just 484 bottles have been released. It is being marketed by the New Zealand Whisky Company - visit for more details.

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