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Whisky News, June 2007

Whyte & Mackay

Last month a deal was finally concluded between Whyte & Mackay supremo Vivian Imerman and Vijay Mallya's United Spirits Ltd, with the Glasgow-based distilling company changing hands for £595 million. United Spirits is the world's third-largest spirits maker, and part of the UB Group. According to a spokesman for the organisation, “Whyte & Mackay is a key strategic acquisition for The UB Group and its Chairman Dr Vijay Mallya. In the last four years, Whyte & Mackay has been transformed by a team led by Vivian
  
Imerman. The company has delivered strong revenue and profit growth as a result of internationalising its premium brands and maximizing the returns from its attractive bulk whisky assets. "Whyte & Mackay recorded sales of nine million case and case equivalents in the last 12 months. United Spirits recorded sales of 66 million cases for the year ended on March 31, 2007. Whyte & Mackay's bulk Scotch inventories of 115 million litres are not only very valuable but allow United Spirits the opportunity to meet their own growing requirements for their brands in India." Vijay Mallya says "We have a large and growing business in India and have made recent forays into Russia and China. Until today, the only missing link in our portfolio has been Scotch and due to the shortages and rapidly increasing prices of Scotch whisky, we needed a reliable supply source to secure our future considering that we use scotch in our Indian blends. The potential for premium Scotch whisky in India is enormous and, with the acquisition of Whyte & Mackay we now have a strong portfolio of internationally recognised brands that we will immediately introduce into the Indian market." With its acquisition of Whyte & Mackay, UB has secured Dalmore, Jura, Fettercairn and Tamnavulin malt whisky distilleries, along with the large Invergordon grain distillery, north of Inverness. Present capacity at Invergordon is 40 million litres per annum, but Vijay Mallya recently announced that production is to be doubled, ideally within the next 12 months, with grain spirit from the plant being shipped to India for blending. The Scotch whisky industry has broadly welcomed the deal, with the Scotch Whisky Association declaring "This announcement again shows that Scotch whisky has a global appeal and that international confidence in the Scotch whisky industry's future prospects is strong. We look forward to working closely with Whyte & Mackay's new owners on matters of mutual interest to protect and promote Scotch whisky in India and other international markets." After months of uncertainty, Whyte & Mackay 600 staff should now be able to look forward to a stable future, and one made sweeter by outgoing chief executive Vivian Imerman's generous gesture in spending £25 million of his own money on bonuses, giving each worker the equivalent of three months' wages. Then again, he and his immediate family did pocket the best part of £400 million from the deal...

Cream of the Barley


   As predicted by our 'malt mole' last month, Huntly businessman Euan Shand hopes to create a new distillery, and has submitted plans to renovate and develop a former creamery on the outskirts of the Aberdeenshire town. Shand is managing director of whisky merchants and bottlers Duncan Taylor & Co, and the project is expected to cost around £3.5 million. The creamery stands in around two acres of land and has been disused for the past decade. Shand's plans include not only a distillery but also a bottling plant, which would replace the existing Duncan Taylor bottling facility next to the firm's retail premises in Huntly
town centre. The distillery itself is expected to be highly innovative, and will include not only pot stills to produce malt whisky but also a four-column neutral grain plant. This will make grain whisky, gin and vodka, providing an income source while the malt whisky being distilled on site is left to fully mature. "The idea is to produce single malt and neutral grain, which is unusual," says Shand. "The plans will provide 10 to 12 jobs in Huntly, and a visitor centre will be an integral part of the project, designed to attract more tourism to the town." Annual production is likely to be around 750,000 litres, and the new plant may be the first 'carbon-neutral' distillery in Scotland, with the intention being to incorporate environmentally-friendly features from wood chip fuel to turf roofing. If planning permission is approved, development work will begin immediately, and Shand hopes to have the new distillery up and running next year.

Warehouse Grouse

The Famous Grouse Experience at Glenturret distillery near Crieff in Perthshire, has added to its range of visitor attractions with a new and individualistic experience. 'Warehouse No 9' offers guests a detailed insight into the world of The Famous Grouse by allowing access to areas normally closed to the public. A group of up to 12 people get a chance to experience at first hand a tutored nosing and tasting of The Famous Grouse malt range in a specially built sample room within a traditional bonded warehouse. When visitors first enter the warehouse, they are immediately hit by the dark atmosphere and the smell of maturing casks. Then the lights in the sample room are switched on, and as the tutor lifts each of the bottles in turn and talks about the blended malt, the casks which are marrying at the front of the
  
warehouse are lit to showcase the age being discussed. Beth McMillan, marketing manager for The Famous Grouse Experience, says "We hope that this new experience will inspire customers to tell others about this unique place and that they leave feeling that they've sampled some very special whiskies. The Experience is the only place in the world to sell the entire malt range produced by The Famous Grouse - now it is the only place in the world where you can sample it from the cask." The new venture forms part of a newly-opened 'whisky school,' but visitors may also book it for a cost of £35 per person, or link it with a distillery tour for £40. See www.famousgrouse.co.uk.

Black Beauty


   Burn Stewart's Islay-influenced Black Bottle blended Scotch whisky has become the official whisky of Scottish horseracing, and is now the exclusive blended whisky available for sale in all bars and hospitality areas at Ayr and Musselburgh racecourses. According to Jonathan Garratt of the sport's promotional body Scottish Racing, “The best sponsorship deals are struck when each party is truly proud to be associated with the other. Black Bottle and Scottish Racing make an excellent partnership and we shall take great pleasure in introducing Black Bottle to our customers, who come to Scotland from all over the world in order to experience our famed hospitality and quality horseracing.” Marco Di Ciacca, spokesman for Black Bottle, says “This is a fantastic opportunity for both Black Bottle and Scottish Racing and we intend to grow this sponsorship over the coming years through sustained investment in the sport. This is a great opportunity to affiliate Black Bottle with Scottish Racing. Through research we have learned that many Scotch whisky
drinkers are horseracing enthusiasts and vice versa, therefore we see this as a perfect opportunity for both Black Bottle and Scottish Racing to forge a strong partnership going forward."

Crown Royal

Remaining with the sport of kings, or queens, Diageo has created the most expensive expression ever of Canadian Crown Royal whisky in order to commemorate HM The Queen's recent visit to the Kentucky Derby. Crown Royal Canadian Blended Whisky was originally formulated by Joseph E Seagram & Sons for the Queen's parents in 1939, to commemorate their Grand Tour of Canada. Today's Crown Royal blender Andrew MacKay selected rare casks of Crown Royal with a high rye content in order to create the new Crown Royal XR Extra Rare Heritage Blend, exclusively for the Queen. These casks were some of a limited number that were salvaged from the former Seagram's Waterloo distillery in Ontario following a serious fire there in 1993, the year after the distillery closed down. Diageo says that if the new blend was to be marketed, it would retail at upwards of $10,000 a bottle. The Crown Royal brand has a long history of supporting equine events, and sponsored the Crown Royal American Turf Stakes during the Kentucky Derby meeting, as well as
  
sponsoring the 'Festival in the Field' event, providing music by local and national acts at the Churchill Downs racing venue. Diageo also created the Crown Royal Turf drink specifically for the Kentucky Derby. It comprises three ounces of orange juice and one and a half ounces of Crown Royal, garnished with a sprig of fresh parsley.

The rest of this month's whisky news is dominated by dogs of one kind or another...

Balvenie Dog


   The Balvenie's long-serving coppersmith Dennis McBain has fabricated a copper 'dog' for the purposes of extracting whisky from casks, but the Dufftown distillery worker is not facing the sack for gross misconduct. Rather, the dog has been specially commissioned to allow visitors to Balvenie to remove samples of single malt directly from the casks and bottle them as part of their distillery experience. The copper cylinder is sealed at the base with a penny, and such 'dogs' were once a routine part of distillery life, with workers dangling
them through the bungholes of casks until full and then secreting them down their trouser legs or inside a Wellington boot. Since 2005 Balvenie has offered a 'connoisseurs'' tour, designed to complement the more mainstream visitor attractions of Grant's sister distillery of Glenfiddich. Each tour lasts for approximately two and a half hours and is limited to a maximum of eight people. Participants begin with a cup of coffee in the Distillery Office, where the tour manager outlines The Balvenie's history before setting off around the distillery. This presents the rare opportunity to see working floor maltings, a traditional warehouse and a cooperage in action, before sampling a range of Balvenie whiskies, from 'new make' spirit to the Balvenie Thirty. Tours must be pre-booked. Tel: 0 (44) 1340 820373.

BrewDog

We have seen several collaborations between distillers and brewers in recent years, resulting in the likes of Tullibardine Whisky Ale, Dark Island Special Reserve and Bruichladdich's Worts n' Ale. The latest comes courtesy of BrewDog's new micro-brewery based in the north-east Scottish fishing port of Peterhead, and is called Paradox Ale. BrewDog is the brainchild of 24-year-old Heriot Watt University brewing graduate Martin Dickie and former fisherman James Watt, who have already assembled an interesting and idiosyncratic line up of beers. Paradox Ale is an Imperial Stout, brewed to 8%ABV and is to be marketed in two varieties - a peaty-flavoured version which has been matured in ex-Islay whisky casks, and a more citrus style of beer which comes from ex-Speyside casks. The whisky influence increases the strength to 10.0%ABV at bottling. Both types of casks have been supplied
  
by Huntly-based independent bottlers Duncan Taylor & Co. James Watt describes Paradox Ale as "A connoisseurs' product" and reports strong initial sales in Japan, Denmark and the USA. BrewDog experimented with varying styles of beer, including IPA, but found the whisky influence overwhelmed everything apart from the Imperial Stout. Casks used to mature early batches of Paradox Ale include a Caol Isla 1996, a Bowmore 1968, a Highland Park 1990 and a Macallan 1991. The first to be bottled is from the Caol Ila 1996 cask, and the powerful Imperial Stout interacts well with the full-bodied, earthy, peaty and slightly medicinal Caol Ila influences. Watt is particularly excited by the Bowmore 1968 cask expression of Paradox, which is due on the market shortly.

And Finally...


   Highland businessman and keen sled-dog racer Alan Stewart has bought what must rate as one of the most expensive dogs in Scotland. And he paid for it in a rather unusual currency. The canine in question is the rather unfortunately named world class sled-racing dog five- year-old Alaskan Husky Too Slow, who is now settling into her new home at Alan Stewart's Cairngorm Sleddog Centre near Aviemore. Rather than pounds or dollars, Mr Stewart elected to pay for his new acquisition with 67 bottles and a 42-year-old empty cask of The Macallan. Too Slow was bred by Austrian surgeon and whisky-lover Dr Gerhard Offer, and Alan Stewart says “To be honest, the dog was worth a lot more than the cost of the whisky I gave to Gerhard, but money wasn't an issue for him. He was more concerned about where she would end up and he knew Too Slow will be well looked after and a much loved addition to our centre.” Bartering with whisky is nothing new to Alan Stewart, who previously swapped £1,500 worth of The Macallan for a giant 'hamster wheel' exercise machine. Such is his affection for the iconic Speyside single malt that Stewart's dogs even sleep in converted casks which formerly held The Macallan…

  

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