gavin smith




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Whisky News, January 2008

by Gavin D Smith

Rouble in Paradise

Following the sale of Whyte & Mackay to India's United Breweries Group last May, the latest piece of the Scotch whisky industry destined to fall into overseas hands is Glenglassaugh distillery. A consortium of Eastern European businessmen, including a number of Russians and a prominent Latvian, is set to sign a deal for the distillery and its stocks in the very near future. The consortium is believed to have existing interests in Cognac. Glenglassaugh dates from 1874 and is classified as a Speyside distillery. It is attractively located on the outskirts of Portsoy, overlooking the Moray Firth. Currently owned by The Edrington Group, the
  
plant was silent for much of the 20th century, being largely rebuilt in a style that can most politely be described as 'functional' during 1959/60. However, the distillery closed again in November 1986, though its Victorian warehouses continue to be used by Edrington for maturing stock. Such is the current scarcity of mothballed Scotch whisky distilleries, that in a buoyant international market, Edrington received three separate approaches for Glenglassaugh. Unofficial reports put the purchase price at between £2 million and £3 million, but that figure could well be higher, depending on the amount of stock included in the deal. A similar sum is likely to be spent rejuvenating the distillery and beginning to restore the single malt brand. The Russian market for single malt Scotch whisky is currently extremely strong, with Edrington's Macallan leading the way, along with Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie. Exports grew from £5 million worth of stock in 2000 to £20 million in 2005.

Roseisle to Rise


   A contract has been awarded by Diageo for the construction of its Roseisle 'super distillery' near Burghead, close to the Moray Firth. Inverness-based ROK Tulloch has won the contract, and the company's north regional construction director Thom Macleod says “We are very pleased to
undertake the Roseisle project and the aim is for completion by December 2008.This would allow production to begin at the distillery from January 2009. We have carried out a number of contracts for Diageo in recent years, but this new-build is the largest." Although a number of small-scale distilling enterprises such as Kilchoman, Daftmill and Loch Ewe have been established in the last few years, the only major Scottish distilleries built since the 1970s are the 4.5million litre-capacity site at Kininvie in Dufftown, opened by William Grant & Sons Ltd in 1990, and the same company's recently-completed Ailsa Bay distillery at Girvan in Ayrshire. Diageo's 27 malt distilleries in Scotland are running at close to their 63 million litre capacity, and Roseisle will add an annual amount of 10 million litres to that total. In addition to the £11.5 million Roseisle project, Rok Tulloch is also working on the refurbishment and enlargement of Diageo's Cameronbridge grain distillery in Fife, another part of Diageo's total investment of some £100 million in the infrastructure of its Scotch whisky business.

Celtic Bottle

Black Bottle is the 'Official Festival Blended Whisky' of this month's Celtic Connections 2008. Now in its15th year, Celtic Connections is staged in Glasgow between 16th January and 3rd February, and offers more than 300 musical events. Some 1,000 artists from 20 countries will be venturing to Scotland for the festival,
  
where they will join up with a wide array of home-grown talent. Black Bottle will be on sale at Celtic Connections' venues, and John MacLellan, distillery manager at Bunnahabhain on Islay, will be running sampling sessions and master-classes throughout the festival. Black Bottle already sponsors the annual Islay Jazz Festival, and David Allan, Brand Manager for Black Bottle says “We are delighted to be involved with Celtic Connections as Official Blended Whisky. This ties in perfectly with Black Bottle's close links with music”. For more details of events visit www.celticconnections.com

Trailing with Macleod's


   Burn's Night (25th January) will no doubt be celebrated in style during Celtic Connections, but if you plan to raise a glass to the Bard at home, a new offering from Ian Macleod Distillers may be of interest, particularly if you are celebrating with friends less well versed in whisky than the average visitor to this site. 'Macleod's Scotch Whisky Trail' is a miniature tasting kit, which contains a bottle each of 8-year-old single malts from the Lowlands, Speyside,
Highlands, Islands and Islay, along with an Isle of Skye 8-year-old blended whisky. The intention is to emphasise the uniqueness of each region, and the six 5cl bottles are packaged in a gift box, complete with tasting notes. Costing around £19.95, the Whisky Trail is available from specialist stores and in travel retail outlets.

Oldmeldrum

All marketing thrives on superlatives and what are termed USP's or 'unique selling points,' and heritage is central to Scotch whisky marketing. Thus, the people at Morrison Bowmore Distillers entrusted with selling the company's Glen Garioch single malt were thrilled to learn that its home at Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire may be the oldest working distillery in Scotland. Scottish Brewing Archive researcher Iain Russell discovered a reference which seems to clinch the accolade from under the noses of fellow contenders such as Bowmore, Glenturret and Strathisla. "A report in the Aberdeen Journal from 1785 refers to the sale of spirits at the Meldrum Distillery," declares Russell. "We believe this is almost certainly the former name of the Glen Garioch distillery. The owners previously believed the distillery was not founded until 1797." According to brand manager Mari
  
Laidlaw, “It is wonderful news. Scotland's oldest distiller is the title everyone wants. Heritage is one of our main selling points. It is worth millions.” And here we were naively thinking it was really to do with the quality of the whisky!

Auction Action


   Remarkably, an auction of spirits staged by Christie's in New York last month was the first since the imposition of total Prohibition in 1920. Clearly, the wait was worthwhile, with a 'whisky library' of 729 bottles of malts and blends selling to a UK collector for £50,000. Maintaining the buoyancy of the market, a bottle of The Macallan more than doubled its pre-sale estimate, with a bid of £27,000 securing the lot when the hammer fell. The 1926 Macallan was bottled in 1986, and was one of just 40 produced by the Easter Elchies distillery. It becomes one of the most expensive bottles of whisky sold at auction. According to Frank Coleman of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, "The instant Scotch collection of more than 700 malt, vatted and blended whiskies, some from distilleries no longer in operation, was the biggest I've seen. But the fact it sold for around £70 a bottle shows just how highly sought after whisky is now. Who knows - some whisky drinkers in Scotland may be sitting on a goldmine."

Renegade Rum

Renowned for its up front and independent approach to distilling and marketing whisky, the team behind Bruichladdich distillery on Islay has recently launched The Renegade Rum Company to offer limited edition, rare, unvatted, single-distillery Caribbean rums. According to CEO Mark Reynier, “We started three years ago to explore rum, tracking down casks from single distilleries; even specific legendary stills, many now defunct, and we bottled them under our Murray McDavid label. The rum market is similar to the whisky world in many ways: both are dominated by multinationals, big marketing, and blended spirit destined for mixers and cocktails. Equally the distilleries. Scotland's Port Ellen, Brora and Lochside were history before anyone
  
could discover their true star status. So it has been in the Caribbean." Reynier points out that many Caribbean plantations were developed by Scots. “That overseas money led to a Scotch distilling boom - and a hint of post-colonial and slavery-induced guilt I expect,” he says. “Perhaps it's this puritan aura of ill-gotten gains that has prevented rum from being taken too seriously. Pirates created legendary awareness if not the quality reputation. Here we have single distillery provenance, but we have also added our own cask expertise - using exceptional quality French oak for extra complexity and texture. “This is rum 'unplugged': bottled naturally, without chill-filtration and colouring-free, on the Isle of Islay where it is reduced to 46% with our island spring water. Renegade Rums are not intended for mixing with coke. They're for single malt aficionados and Cognac enthusiasts, for savouring on their own - with deliberation. Those rum clichés of palm trees and beaches, pirates and sailors, cocktail umbrellas and coconuts certainly don't apply here. At last, this is true rum for the real connoisseur.” The Renegade Rums' first release consists of a total of around 5,000 bottles of spirit, distilled during the 1990s, and representing four distilleries. These are Enmore and Uitvlught in Guyana, Hampden in Jamaica (founded by the Scottish Farquharson and Stirling families) and Don Jose in Panama. Prices per bottle range from £34 to £42. For more information visit www.renegaderum.com

The Breast of MacPhunn

And finally, to Argyllshire, where they do things slightly differently. A new single cask, Sherry-matured malt called The MacPhunn has been developed by local laird Sir Charles Maclean (no, the other one) in association with Richard Joynson of Loch Fyne Whiskies in Inveraray. The MacPhunn is an 18-year-old Speyside, and Sir Charles declares “You drink it neat. It hasn't been watered like many other malts you buy, so you get an explosion of taste.” However, the legend that gives rise to the new whisky's name does not involve neat consumption of the spirit. Far from it. The story goes that during the 17th century, the clan chieftain MacPhunn was charged with sheep stealing and was duly hanged in Inveraray. His corpse was immediately collected by his young wife, but while being rowed home across the loch for burial, Lady MacPhunn saw her husband's body twitch. She poured a
  
measure of illicitly-distilled whisky into a cup and expressed some breast milk into before raising the cup to her husband's lips. “Uisge beatha,” he is said to have whispered, as the innovative cocktail revived him. Perhaps whisky and breast milk will turn out to be the Next Big Thing in terms of spirits marketing. I'm sure that great roué Robbie Burns would have approved…

  

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