Whisky News, March 2012
by Gavin D Smith
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is the trade body charged with protecting the integrity of the product all over the world, and later this year the SWA celebrates its 100th anniversary. The occasion is being
marked by the staging of an exhibition about the history of Scotch whisky at the Scottish Parliament, while Scotland's 'Makar' or national poet, Liz Lochhead, is to write a commemorative poem.
Lochhead will read her poem for the first time at an event in Edinburgh during June, while the exhibition, titled 'Scotch Whisky: From Grain to Glass,' opens at the Parliament building on 29th November and
runs until 25th January next year.
According to the SWA's chief executive Gavin Hewitt, "This year is about celebrating the colourful past and looking forward to a successful future for Scotch whisky. Our centenary gives us an
excellent opportunity to raise awareness of this globally successful industry."
Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament Trish Marwick explains that "The exhibition will bring together the tools of the trade, the artwork and maps of Scotland's distilleries to show how
Scotch whisky became a national icon."
More on the role of the SWA and its centenary celebrations at scotch-whisky.org.uk.
As Indian entrepreneur DR Vijay Mallya contemplates selling off 49 per cent of Whyte & Mackay Distillers in order to pay off increasingly burdensome debts among his varied business interests, French drinks giant
Pernod Ricard, whose vast Scotch whisky interests come under the auspices of The Chivas Group, is musing on the possibility of 'doing a Diageo' and building a brand new distillery.
Chivas already plans to bring its mothballed Glen Keith distillery, near Strathisla, back into production next year, and chairman and chief executive Christian Porta declared recently that "If we believe the Scotch
whisky industry will continue to grow we will consider opening a new distillery."
Chivas has already greater enhanced its production capability by expanding Glenburgie distillery and re-opening Allt-a'Bhainne and Braeval, while The Glenlivet distillery was extended in 2010, and now has a
potential annual output of 10.5 million litres.
However, last month Chivas revealed that half-yearly sales of The Glenlivet had risen by 19 per cent, while Chivas Regal had enjoyed 13 per cent growth.
It is not just Chivas who are in expansive mood, either. Despite spending £40 million creating the Roseisle 'super distillery' (picture © Keith Hunter) just two years ago, Diageo has also recently expressed interest in developing another new facility to ramp up output of malt spirit even more.
Staying with Chivas Brothers, the organisation's Ballantine's blend portfolio is being augmented by two Signature Distillery Editions of Ballantine's 17 Year Old. These are part of a new four-strong collection of whiskies that highlight the influence of the signature malts that contribute to Ballantine's 17 Year Old.
According to a Chivas spokesperson, "Specially created by Master Blender Sandy Hyslop, each limited edition aims to showcase the unique contribution of one of four distilleries - Scapa, Glenburgie, Miltonduff and Glentauchers - by accentuating their characteristics within the limited edition blend.
"Ballantine's 17 Year Old Signature Distillery Scapa Edition is a 43% ABV blended Scotch that dials up the influence of Scapa, the single malt that gives Ballantine's 17 Year Old its rich, sweet top dressing, while contributing to the initial burst of fruity, floral flavours. As a result, this whisky is bursting with a zesty, fruit sparkle of sweet orange and peach flavours but remains incredibly smooth, creamy and luxurious.
"Ballantine's 17 Year Old Signature Distillery Glenburgie Edition is a 43% ABV blended Scotch that highlights the influence of Glenburgie, the single malt that sits at the heart of the Ballantine's blend. Glenburgie distillery produces a fruity, floral and rich-flavoured malt. As a result, this limited edition provides smooth aromas of apples and blackcurrants with a honeycomb sweetness, whilst maintaining the soft, elegant and balanced style of Ballantine's."
Sandy Hyslop adds that "Ballantine's 17 Year Old is a blend of more than 40 different malt and grain whiskies from all over Scotland, but Scapa, Glenburgie, Miltonduff and Glentauchers stand out as having played a monumental role in the blending process of our master blenders over the years. These stunning limited editions offer the whisky drinker an insight into blending and the role that these malts play in the original and much-celebrated Ballantine's 17 Year Old blend."
Sadly for most of us, Ballantine's 17 Year Old Signature Distillery Scapa Edition will only be available in limited quantities in Korea while Ballantine's 17 Year Old Signature Distillery Glenburgie Edition will appear exclusively in a number of duty free outlets.
Whisky Good as Gold?
According to whisky investment specialist Andy Simpson of Whisky Highland, the market for what he terms Investment Grade Scotch (IGS) is continuing to outperform other alternative investments and commodities.
Four year figures, from 2008 to the end of 2011, reveal that an investment in the top ten performing whiskies would have achieved a gain of more than 400 per cent. An investment in the top 100 would have returned a 245 per cent gain, whilst the top 250 would have returned 180 per cent. By comparison, gold, which has experienced a renaissance in recent years, has risen 146 per cent over the same period, and diamonds by just 10 per cent.
A total of 8,500 bottles were last year sold at auction compared to 1,500 four years ago. The value of that auction market reached £4 million in 2011 and is expected to rise to £17 million by 2020. Global investor and collector bottle retail sales confirm that the retail sector is also booming with bottle sales thought to total 85,000 per year, worth around £44 million.
The fourth quarter of 2011 saw a significant jump both in sales and volume, with more than 3,000 bottles coming up for auction in the UK, with sales totalling more than £600,000, compared to less than 2,000 a year earlier, with sales reaching around £400,000.
Commenting on the latest market data, Andy Simpson says that "Over the last twelve months, the market for whisky investment has begun to catch the eye of the investment community. Some of the rare and limited bottlings from the top performing distilleries such as The Dalmore and The Macallan are achieving eye-watering returns at auction, outperforming most other forms of alternative assets.
"I'm confident that it won't be long before whisky is viewed in the same light as art, wine or classic cars, offering a genuine and creditable alternative to these more established asset classes. We can already see this happening with the growth of the dedicated whisky auction market. Where you would previously see a few bottle of whisky bolted on the end of a wine auction, there are now a number of dedicated whisky auctions taking place across the UK and further afield in countries such as Hong Kong."
Simpson clearly has a strong point, but if an early retirement on the back of a portfolio of whisky investments beckons, bear in mind that you need to be extremely selective in what you buy and that Simpson's impressive figures do not take account of transaction charges, such as the sizeable buyers' and sellers' premiums demanded by auction houses.
Eating with Highland Park
Orcadian single malt Highland Park has forged strong links with the world of gastronomy, sponsoring The World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards, introducing sampling programmes at food events across the UK and forging strong links with the Slow Food UK organisation.
A Highland Park spokesperson declares that "With shared beliefs and values, promoting a passion for flavour and craftsmanship, Highland Park and Slow Food UK have launched a dynamic new initiative, the Slow Food Chef Alliance. The new initiative will engage with Britain's chefs in actively supporting Slow Food UK, by championing small scale producers and sustainably-sourced quality produce."
On a local level, Highland Park has helped establish Slow Food Orkney which was successfully launched at the distillery recently by Slow Food CEO Catherine Gazzoli. For more details see www.slowfood.org.uk.
The Return of 21
Still with Highland Park, a 21-year-old single malt has been introduced into the brand's UK portfolio for the first time, though only limited stocks of the 21-year-old, which was named 'best whisky in the world 2009' in the World Whisky Awards, are available.
Matured principally in American oak Sherry casks, Highland Park 21-year-old is described by its producers as "Full-flavoured, with hints of candied orange peel and spicy dark chocolate, leading to a rich smoky sensation. It is Orkney sunset reddish gold in appearance, with a complex sweet smoky finish."
Gerry Tosh, Global Marketing Manager, Highland Park adds that "Bottling the 21 year old at 47.5% gives this particular expression maximum flavour delivery, which is always a priority for Highland Park. It also has drier, smokier notes, allowing whisky drinkers the opportunity to taste another side of Highland Park. It is fantastic to be bringing this to consumers in the UK. "
Highland Park 21 year old is available from specialist retailers, the Highland Park distillery and www.highlandpark.co.uk with a recommended retail price of £100.
World Whisky Day: it's such a simple idea it's a wonder nobody has thought of it before. World Whisky Day. After all, we have National Diarrhoea Week (don't ask), so why not join Aberdeen University student Blair Bowman and the 7,000 people who have signed up to celebrate on 27th of this month?
Bowman, who has created his own blended Scotch for the occasion, urges anyone interested to visit www.worldwhiskyday.com and register to participate. Anyone for National Hangover Day on 28th?