gavin smith

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Whisky News, August 2006

by Gavin D Smith

The Whyte Stuff

Whyte & Mackay Ltd has officially taken its Invergordon grain distillery in the Highlands off the market, after it failed to attract an offer close to the estimated £180 million price tag. Invergordon is the largest grain distillery in Europe, with a capacity of between 20 and 30 million litres of alcohol per year.

Whyte & Mackay was keen to dispose of Invergordon as part of its £100 million restructuring programme which aims to focus on its higher margin premium brands such as Dalmore and Isle of Jura. Invergordon is at the heart of Whyte & Mackay's supermarket own-label business, which features notoriously low margins. Those margins would appear to have been a stumbling block to the sale of Invergordon, with commentators suggesting that half of the asking price would be a more realistic valuation.

Now, however, industry insiders are suggesting that the days when supermarkets could virtually hold distillers to ransom may be coming to an end, and that the buyers at Tesco, Asda et al may well be forced to pay higher prices to secure stocks in future.

This would inevitably make Invergordon distillery a more attractive proposition, and whisky-pages believes that a deal may still be done regarding its sale. However, Whyte & Mackay will not be prepared to settle for much below their original asking price.

Whatever the fate of Invergordon, the Whyte & Mackay team has been pulling out all the stops, and is in the process of repackaging its key brands. A new 13-year-old blend was released earlier this year, while 19, 22, 30 and 40- year-old expressions of the blend are due to follow before the end of 2006, along with the company's first blended malt. According to Master Blender Richard Paterson "This will be a 12-year-old, and is a combination of the 12 top-class Speyside malts."

Paterson says "We want to create an image and a 'family' of whiskies that people will associate with prestige and credibility, but above all, credibility. We've also identified key markets where we will be promoting our range, including China, Russia, Taiwan and South America."

Whisky-pages will bring you advanced tasting notes for all the new Whyte & Mackay releases before they hit the shelves, so don't go away for too long…

No Ordinary Malt

   Diageo has launched a new 12-year-old single malt Scotch whisky, named The Singleton of Glen Ord, into selected Asian markets. It will first be seen in Korea, then the Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan, and will be available in regional Duty Free outlets from this month onwards.

The Glen Ord distillery near Inverness is itself far from being a newcomer, dating back to 1838, but the new Singleton of Glen Ord contains a higher proportion of whisky that has been matured in European oak than the 'standard' 12-year-old offering, and is clearly being targetted at drinkers who currently enjoy malts in The Macallan style.

Whisky-pages was privileged to taste a pre-release sample earlier this year, and noted at the time "A beautiful, fragrant, perfumed nose, with marzipan, plums and fresh, fleshy peaches to the fore. Unusual and delicious. Dilution gives a sherbet zestiness and more overt, sweet sherry notes.

"The palate demonstrates excellent structure, silky smooth, quite muscular and complex; enough body to satisfy without being overpowering. Cinnamon and hazelnut notes develop. As on the nose, water stimulates additional sherry character, along with a suggestion of chocolate-coated Turkish Delight.

"Lengthy and memorable in the finish, with those fruit notes from the nose lingering right to the end, along with rose petals, Oddfellows and parma violets. Overall, very sensual and attractive, a charming malt that leaves a real warmth behind."

Worts n' Ale

Those innovative folk at Bruichladdich distillery on Islay have never been slow to spot headline-grabbing opportunities. Mini submarines, an apparent attempt by Israeli secret service operatives to infiltrate the Port Charlotte operation and controversially strong whisky all spring to mind. Now, however, Managing Director Mark Reynier and his colleagues have turned their attention to beer.

Although well endowed with distilleries, the 'whisky island' lacked its own brewery until 2003, when Paul Capper and Paul Hathaway set up Islay Ales, aided and abetted by Walter Schobert, a lifelong whisky and beer enthusiast, Islay retiree and former curator of the German Film Museum in Frankfurt.

Now Bruichladdich and Islay Ales have joined forces to produce Worts n'Ale, in a move reminiscent of Tullibardine distillery's link with Bridge of Alan Brewery, which resulted in the highly popular Whisky Ale.

Worts n'Ale was made by taking 600 litres of pre-fermented wort from the distillery to Islay Ales brewery in Bridgend where brewer's yeast was added, along with Challenger and Bramling Cross hops.

According to brewer Paul Hathaway, "The distillery usually gets a seven per cent alcohol using different yeast strain - but I managed to get a thumping nine per cent alcohol. It's a crossover drink: it has the delicious malty richness of Bruichladdich's wort and the bitterness of hops. You can drink it now - it will get even better with time."

Perhaps it is just the power of suggestion, but there seems a palpable hint of 'new make' whisky flavour about this brew, which has none of the sometimes cloying 'barley wine' character of beers brewed to this strength. Just 1,800 33cl bottles of Worts n'Ale have been produced, and sell for £3.00. They are available exclusively from Islay Ales.

Rarest Ardbeg

   Ardbeg distillery has recently released its oldest expression to date, and as might be expected of a whisky distilled in 1965, the drinker or collector will need deep pockets to acquire one of the 261 bottles released. Just 100 bottles of Ardbeg 1965 will be offered for sale in the UK at £2,000, with stockists including Harrods, Selfridges, and Harvey Nichols.

In keeping with the prestige nature of the whisky itself, the Ardbeg's bottle is made from hand-blown glass which contains a sprinkling of Islay sand. A numbered, wax seal is also provided to prove the drink's authenticity.

The Ardbeg 1965 will be the most expensive 40-year-old whisky on sale in Harrods, and the London store's food spokesman Andre Dang says "There is a demand for it simply because there are a number of connoisseurs who love collecting something very rare and very prestigious - and then there are the people who actually drink it. This will probably be extremely popular."

Whisky Remake runs aground

It was Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote "it is the fate of sequels to disappoint," and anyone choosing to re-make a classic movie does so at his peril - as recent attempts to update films like The Ladykillers and The Italian Job have clearly demonstrated.

Nonetheless, Glasgow-based Whisky Galore Film Ltd has ambitious plans to re-make Sandy Mackendrick's 1948 Ealing classic Whisky Galore, based on the earlier novel by Compton Mackenzie. The story concerns the real-life wartime sinking of the SS Politician and its extraordinary aftermath, when locals 'liberated' much of its liquid cargo.

The screenplay was adapted from Mackenzie's novel by Scottish writer Peter McDougall, but now plans to begin shooting the new version thus summer have been put on hold, with McDougall alleging that the production team has become obsessed with using English actors such as Ricky Gervais and Steve Coogan rather than Scottish stars.

He claims that Robbie Coltrane, Brian Cox and Robert Carlyle had expressed interest in the project, but that all of them had been treated with a lack of respect. "I put a lot of work into this and I'm not happy about the way it has been conducted," he says. "It's been a disaster from day one."

Meanwhile, producer Ed Crozier claims that the postponement of filming has nothing to do with casting disputes but concerns tax arrangements. "It's very disappointing for us that we didn't go this year, but it's only six months of a delay. It's good for us and it's good for the Scottish film industry," he insists. If that is indeed the case, then time will tell whether Stevenson had it right.

And Finally…

Congratulations to everyone at Balvenie for winning a record-breaking six gold medals at the recent International Spirits Challenge.

   The Balvenie is distilled in the Speyside 'whisky capital' of Dufftown, and won gold medals for its Founder's Reserve 10 Year Old, DoubleWood 12 Year Old, NewWood 17 Year Old, PortWood 21 Year Old, Thirty and PortWood 1991 variants. The Belvenie's owner, William Grant & Sons Ltd, also landed four other golds for its Grant's Premium 12 Year Old, Grant's Deluxe 15 Year Old, Grant's 25 Year Old and The Gordon Highlander whiskies. This follows on from Glenfiddich's 2005 success in the International Wine & Spirits Competition, when it won more gold medals than any other single malt.

Commenting on the medal haul, David Stewart, The Balvenie Malt Master, said, "We have always believed that The Balvenie is one of the best drops of malt whisky around, but dominating such a large competition as the ISC and winning six gold medals is beyond our wildest dreams. All of the employees are delighted that the distillery has been given such a massive seal of approval, and they thoroughly deserve the credit for all the hard work they have put in to creating a great dram and a new industry record."


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