Whisky News, April 2011
by Gavin D Smith
Some positive news to begin with, as the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has just announced that 2010 was a record year for Scotch whisky exports.
Global shipments were valued at £3.45bn, a 10 per cent increase on 2009, and Scotch whisky exports have actually increased by 60 per cent since the turn of the century, adding an extra £1.29bn in value. Export value broke the £100 a second barrier for the first time, contributing an additional £10 every second to British exports compared to 2009.
The figures reflect continued premiumisation across the industry, with export value increasing, despite a marginal decrease in volume. The SWA reported encouraging growth across different Scotch whisky categories, with single malt exports increasing by 18 per cent (to £577m) and bottled blended Scotch whisky shipments rising by five per cent (to £2.6bn).
Eight of the top ten markets grew in value, with a strong performance in the USA (+19 per cent to £499m), which remained Scotch's largest export market by value. The 'BRIC' markets continued to develop, with exports growing to Brazil (+12 per cent to £67m), China (+24 per cent to £55m), India (+46 per cent to £41m) and Russia (+61 per cent to £31m).
SWA Chief Executive Gavin Hewitt says that "Scotch Whisky is a world class industry that consistently delivers for the UK. This year's strong performance - contributing £109 a second to UK exports - demonstrates that distillers are playing a key role in export-led recovery."
Caol Ila to close
Diageo's Caol Ila distillery is to close, but Islay fans should not panic. The closure is merely temporary, and will be undertaken order to accommodate a significant increase in production capacity. Some £3.5 million is to be spent expanding and upgrading the distillery, with a pair of new 62,000-litre washbacks being installed to increase potential output from 5.7 million litres per annum to 6.4 million litres. Additionally, a new stillroom control system and mash tun will be fitted.
The distillery is to shut down in June, soon after the Islay Festival of Malt and Music (Feis Ile), with work expected to take six months, during which there will be no public distillery tours, though the shop will remain open.
Kevin Sutherland, Diageo's Senior Site Manager on Islay, says that "This is great news for Caol Ila and great news for Islay. An investment of this scale is fantastic for the local economy and it signals Diageo's deep-rooted commitment to the Islay whisky industry.
"Caol Ila is a wonderful distillery of which we are very proud and I am delighted we are going to be able to produce even more fantastic single malt as well as contributing to the growth of Johnnie Walker and Diageo's other leading global Scotch brands."
Meanwhile, the existing Caol Ila range has recently been augmented by Caol Ila Moch, which follows the current trend for giving Gaelic names to new whisky expressions. Moch is Gaelic for 'dawn.' According to a Diageo spokesperson, "Moch is the first single malt from the distillery to be selected entirely on the basis of its taste, rather than age, cask wood, strength or finish. It is an absolutely straightforward, no nonsense Caol Ila. Crisp, assertive, direct, and unmistakeable."
Caol Ila Moch has been bottled exclusively for registered Friends of the Classic Malts, and will soon be available in the UK, France and Sweden, having initially been launched in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
See www.malts.com to become a 'Friend' and for more details of Caol Ila Moch.
The team at Bruichladdich on Islay is noted for its innovative and sometimes irreverent approach to Scotch whisky, but its latest
release takes things to a whole new level. According to a 'Laddie spokesperson, "The world's first ever biodynamic whisky has been distilled at Bruichladdich distillery from barley sown, grown and harvested according to an astral calendar. Biodynamic Bruichladdich is über-organic; the barley being grown according to the controversial agricultural principles of the messianic Dr Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925).
"Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, educationalist, spiritualist and lecturer, is considered the 'Galileo of organic science;' to critics, he was just a cosmic nutter. To counter the over-dependence on agrochemicals, Steiner set out a holistic approach to agriculture, where the farm unit becomes 'biologically dynamic.'
"Steiner codified the 18th century farming ways, an accumulation of 8,000 years of agricultural know how, when man was more in tune with earth's natural cycles. Farmers are guided by a cosmic calendar, where phases of the lunar and astral cycle indicate the ideal time for sowing, pruning or treating - not only the tides."
Fifty per cent of all barley used by Bruichladdich is grown on Islay, and 50 per cent is organically cultivated on the Scottish mainland. Barley is to whisky what grapes are to wine, and the Bruichladdich spokesperson points out that many of the world's leading wine-makers use bio-dynamically grown grapes. The new Biodynamic Bruichladdich single malt is likely to be available from 2018.
The latest Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is staged from 28th of this month to 2nd May, with reports of a strong uptake on event bookings, especially from Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German and Dutch whisky fans. Indeed, advance ticket sales show a 15 per cent increase on this time last year, exceeding a value of £50,000.
More than 40 of over 200 events have already sold out, and particularly popular are visits to distilleries not normally open to the public, such as Mortlach, Auchroisk and Dailuaine. Also sold out are tours around the Seven Stills of Dufftown and the Five Stills of Elgin, as well as some of the train tours from Dufftown to Strathisla distillery and several whisky and food pairing events.
The five day 'dramfest', now in its twelfth year, is one of Europe's largest whisky festivals, annually attracting around 26,000 visits to events generating around £750,000 for the local economy.
This year's programme also features a selection of new events. For example, whisky lovers can become a Benromach warehouseman for the day, take part in 'Food and Whisky Tours,' try their hand at whisky-themed craft taster sessions and choose from a selection of traditional musical events and ceilidhs.
To find our more, visit www.spiritofspeyside.com
Meanwhile, Stirling also looks set to get in on the whisky festival act, with plans for an event in May 2012. Co-organiser Cameron McCann, who runs Drymen's Ealain Gallery and its adjacent art, whisky and gift shop with his wife, June is hoping that local residents will come up with a suitable name for the fledgling festival.
"We're looking for about 300 people to attend in the first year, 2012, and for it to grow from then on really," he says. "Invites are to be sent out to distilleries, and other local and national companies, to show off what they have to offer to members of the public.
"The festival is about the tasting and enjoyment of whisky, and its cultural significance - it's hoped some of the companies will take the opportunity to conduct a 'master-class,' so it has the potential to be educational, too."
McCann declares that "Whisky's Scotland's biggest export and we've got to get away from the sexist notion that it's a man's drink. It's not, it's for everyone. Different types suit different people. Just because someone may have had a glass of something horrible when they were at a party 20 years ago, doesn't mean whisky's not for them. It's a bit like choosing a wine. But I always say that you get wine connoisseurs, and whisky anoraks."
Suggestions for naming the festival should be addressed to Cameron McCann on +44 (0) 1360 660996 or at email@example.com. Whoever comes up with the winning entry will receive a pair of tickets to next year's festival and a bottle of 1989 Balblair single malt.
Bushmills on the Road
Diageo's Irish distillery of Bushmills in County Antrim has recently launched a global competition titled 'Make it 2 Bushmills,' which sees Colum Egan, Master Distiller, effectively take his distillery on tour.
According to a Bushmills spokesperson, "Colum is offering two friends the chance to work alongside him for two weeks, to learn the skills of whiskey-making that have been alive and well in the Bushmills area for over 400 years, before he packs up the best bits of the Old Bushmills distillery to go on tour. Destination? The winners' home country."
Egan says that "More than 100,000 people visit our distillery every year but there are millions of Bushmills fans the world over - so we thought it was about time that we visited them.
"We're going to bring two friends here, give them behind-the-scenes access to the distillery, £5,000 spending money, luxury penthouse accommodation and the chance to make their own unique blend of Bushmills Irish whiskey. Then we're going to take the distillery on tour, when we pack up some of the equipment, people and whiskey that make our distillery the home of the 'world's Best Irish whiskey,' and bring them to the winners' home country for the ultimate Bushmills party, where the winners and their friends will be the guests of honour."
To enter or find out more details, visit facebook.com/bushmills1608. Entry closes at 11.59pm GMT on Sunday 17th April.
What do you Ken?
Film director Ken Loach is planning to shoot his latest movie in Scotland this spring, and the plot revolves around Scotch whisky. Initial intentions to film at Islay's Bruichladdich distillery were thwarted by lack of accommodation for cast and crew members on the Hebridean island, and the action has been switched to a warehouse close to Glasgow.
Apparently, the thriller, with screenplay by Scottish writer Paul Laverty, involves the auction of a rare cask of whisky, which is replaced by a replica on the day of sale by a gang of thieves. More news from our movie mole as and when we get it.
Here at 'whisky-pages' we have long been fans of the sub-genre that is whisky fiction. By that, we don't mean the statements issued by some Scotch whisky marketing departments, but novels which take whisky as their central theme. Notable among these is the John Quigley-penned duo King's Royal and Queen's Royal, with the former making it onto the small screen during 1982/83.
The latest addition to the genre is Smokeheads, written by Doug Johnstone (Faber, £12.99). Ian Macleod Distillers' Smokehead single malt brand sponsored the book's launch event, held in Edinburgh's Voodoo Rooms, and the partnership also includes ongoing promotions and discounts, such as competitions to win copies of the book and bottles of Smokehead at www.faber.co.uk and www.waterstones.com, plus exclusive discount codes offering 10 per cent off bottles of Smokehead for readers.
Despite the obvious connections, this seems a slightly curious relationship, since the premise of this new novel is that four friends embark on a chaotic, drink and drug fuelled weekend visit to Islay and its distilleries. Whatever happened to the 'responsible drinking' mantra, guys?
Without giving too much away, the world of Smokeheads descends into murder and mayhem, with Islay's police officers up to their necks in it. Think Quentin Tarantino and Sam Peckinpah being commissioned by visitScotland.com and you'll get the idea. We've experienced some relatively wild times on Islay ourselves over the years, but nothing that made us realise the Queen of the Hebrides could be quite so scary...