gavin smith

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Whisky News, September 2006

by Gavin D Smith

Whisky war?

The Scotch Whisky Association's long term campaign for fair market access in India has been boosted by the findings of an EU investigation that discovered “blatant violations” of World Trade Organisation obligations in India's tax treatment of imported spirits and wines. The eight month investigation by the European Commission confirmed India's duty system unfairly distorts competition by subjecting imported bottled
spirits to a much higher tax burden than that faced by Indian distillers, with the effect that "the Indian market has remained essentially closed for imported wines and spirits." The overall duty burden on imported Scotch whisky can be as high as 550 per cent. In a strongly worded report, the Commission noted the refusal of the Indian Government to co-operate with the investigation and recommended that unless India moves to “rapidly abolish” its discriminatory duty arrangements for whisky and other imported spirits, the EU should swiftly start WTO dispute settlement proceedings in Geneva.

Welcoming the report, Gavin Hewitt, SWA Chief Executive, said “The Commission's report is both comprehensive and highly critical of India's discriminatory duty regime for imported spirits. The EU has identified a number of clear violations of WTO rules, sending a strong message to India that it must reform its fiscal regime at the earliest opportunity. “Scotch Whisky producers have campaigned for years for fair market access to India. A non-discriminatory duty regime would offer Indian consumers more choice at a reasonable price, boost Indian Government revenue and introduce a fair, level playing field for international producers.” India is a key merging market for Scotch whisky, with exports worth £25.9 million in 2005, but at present Scotch whisky accounts for less than one per cent of India's annual 100 million case spirits market.

Caroline goes to China

   So much for India, but Shetland-based Blackwood Distillers has its sights firmly set on the lucrative Chinese market, where a groundbreaking deal is about to be signed that will see Blackwood's products on sale in every Chinese province. According to Chief Executive Caroline Whitfield, “There is a huge demand in China for premium spirits, but the retailers there do not know where to go. We have a director based in Singapore who works with Chinese firms and has built up a number of Chinese contacts within the country. The way China works is based on a series of provinces which operate like separate countries, but because we have grown our base of political contacts we are on the verge of signing a deal that will see Blackwood's products distributed across the country - something that has never been done." At present, Blackwood is best known for its vodka, gin and vodka cream drinks, but plans are well advanced to create Shetland's first (legal) whisky distillery, with production at the former Saxa Vord RAF base on Unst now scheduled to begin in April of next year.

Additionally, Blackwood has launched an innovative online futures platform that allows individuals to reserve and trade bottles of Shetland whisky ahead of distillation. More than120 individuals have already signed up to the scheme, including New York hedge fund managers as well as whisky connoisseurs. Meanwhile, rumour has it that the high-powered Caroline Whitfield also has plans to usurp the Isle of Man and stage a TT motorbike race on Shetland. Watch this space. See

Macallan masterpiece

At long last, the artistic merits of fine whisky have finally been recognised. Sotheby's annual staff exhibition at Olympia in London recently included a bottle of The Macallan 1971 Fine & Rare (cask 7556). The Macallan took pride of place alongside artworks created behind the scenes at Sotheby's, and was subsequently sold by silent auction in aid of the charity Topsy. The Macallan Fine & Rare range comprises vintage Macallans from 1926 to 1975, and each vintage represents the finest spirit available from that year. The Macallan 1971 is a 30-year-old single malt, bottled in 2002 at natural cask strength (55.9%abv). According to The Macallan, the 30-year-old is “Fruity on the palate with a malty cereal note, the finish is citrus orange and dried fruits with an aftertaste of heavily toasted oak wood.” Whisky-pages tasting notes suggested “Putty and Bourbon on the nose, leading into a big vanilla and banana body that just lacks a little life. The finish is spicy, with less oak than one might expect of a whisky of this vintage.”

Superbrand status

   If The Macallan is now officially a work of art, then Speyside rival Glenfiddich can boast in return that it is a 'superbrand.' The William Grant and Sons' whisky has been awarded UK 'Superbrand' status, and is the only malt whisky to receive the accolade alongside other iconic brands such as Microsoft, the BBC and Chelsea FC. Glenfiddich Senior Brand Manager at distributor First Drinks Brands, Lindsey Tier says “We are extremely proud to be the only malt whisky to be awarded this accolade by an independent panel of marketing and branding experts and, for the first time, consumers. We believe we have established the finest reputation in our field through a consistently high quality product and creative, high profile marketing investment to support and drive the brand.” Alongside 60 other Superbrands, Glenfiddich will be included in the Superbrands coffee table-style hardback book, and the Superbrand logo will also feature as part of the company's Christmas marketing campaign. The Superbrand Award recognises the entire Glenfiddich range, which includes Glenfiddich Special Reserve 12-year-old, Glenfiddich Caoran
Reserve 12-year-old, Glenfiddich Solera Reserve 15-year-old and Glenfiddich Ancient Reserve 18-year- old.

Not so Easy Drinking

David 'Robbo' Robertson, one of the three founders of The Easy Drinking Whisky Company, has left the company to pursue a career with Whyte & Mackay Ltd. The Easy Drinking Whisky Company boasts the marketing slogan 'Whisky without the Waffle,' and produces blended malt and grain whiskies which are named after their flavour descriptors, for example The Rich Spicey One, The Smokey Peaty One, and The Smooth Sweeter One. Former Macallan Master Distiller David Robertson says "The past three years and my involvement in The Easy Drinking Whisky Company
have been the most enjoyable of my working life. I leave the founders and idea originators, Jon and Mark, to man the ship and wish them all the very best and feel confident that the brand will continue to go from strength to strength. For personal reasons I have decided to move on, but will always keep a keen eye on the brand's success and look forward to tasting some of their future innovations.” Jon Geary responds “Whilst we are sad to see Robbo move on to pastures new, we wish him the very best. We have all given a huge amount in creating the brand, had a lot of fun over the past three years, with his knowledge and expertise in creating the template 'recipe' for our distinctive style of whiskies hugely appreciated (plus it means we don't have to listen to Rush on the I-Pod anymore!)” However, the implications of 'Robbo's departure for the future of the company remain unclear, and the usually publicity-hungry outfit has not been returning whisky-pages' phone calls requesting further information.


And finally…

Congratulations to Japanese whisky giant Suntory, whose Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky 18 Years Old recently became the first Japanese whisky to win a trophy in the International Wine & Spirits Competition.

The 37th IWSC saw Yamazaki triumph in the newly-inaugurated Worldwide Whisky Category, established this year to reflect the increasing geographical variety and range of whiskies now on the market.

The 18 Years Old was previously successful in last year's San Francisco World Spirits Competition where it was awarded 'Double Gold.'


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