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Whisky News, August 2008

Glendronach Going

You wait all year for a distillery to be offered for sale, then three come along at once! After last month's announcement that Glenmorangie has put Glen Moray in Elgin on the market, Chivas Brothers declares that a sale of its Glendronach distillery near Huntly is imminent, and the directors of Tullibardine have let it be known that they may be open to offers in excess of £15 million for the Perthshire distillery.
  

The disposal of Glendronach has been the subject of a great deal of secrecy, but whisky-pages' Speyside mole tells us that two preferred bidders have emerged, one of which is rumoured to be the South African consortium that currently backs the BenRiach operation. Glenronach reputedly comes with a price tag in the region of £30 million, and was acquired by Chivas' parent company Pernod Ricard as part of its purchase of Allied Distillers' assets in 2005. The distillery dates back to 1826 and in recent times was mothballed by Allied from 1996 to 2002. There have been whispers for some time that the highly-regarded Glendronach distillery and single malt brand did not fit into Chivas' operational and marketing strategies, and it seems that the projected expansion of its Glenlivet distillery and the re-opening of Allt-à-Bhainne and Braeval mean that the company does not need the malt capacity afforded by the plant. There may also be a feeling that we are currently seeing the 'top' of the market, and that the likely purchase price for Glendronach may never be so high again. On the subject of Allt-à-Bhainne, members of the public have the rare opportunity to see inside this 1970s plant, near Dufftown, and also Longmorn, south of Elgin, during August and September. Neither distillery normally admits visitors, but for the next few weeks, tours and tastings can be arranged via www.maltwhiskydistilleries.com

  

Campbeltown Cutback


   Meanwhile, down in Campbeltown, disturbing news comes from the iconic Springbank distillery, where production is to be cut back to an unspecified level, and perhaps suspended entirely. Owners J&A Mitchell & Co Ltd, cite "...the continuing instability of basic raw material prices, which have doubled within the last year," for their pessimistic plans. A company spokesman says that "The state of the materials market will be kept under continuous review," and adds that increased warehousing will be constructed to cope with future requirements. The rumour-mongers have been suggesting for some weeks that Springbank could be closing forever, but this seems unlikely in view of the intention to increase warehousing capacity. Unfortunately, staff redundancies seem likely in the short term at least, though the opportunity will be taken to carry out maintenance work while the distillery is not producing spirit.

According to Mitchell's, “There will be no impact on the availability of bottled Springbank whisky or the Kilkerran whisky from its Glengyle distillery as the company has ample stocks of young maturing whisky which will enable it to continue supplying its home and export markets as normal.” All of this is, of course, in marked contrast to the prevailing situation in the Scotch whisky industry, where distilling operations of all scales have been cranking up production to meet the voracious demands of export markets, regardless of the increasing costs of raw materials and energy. The move to close Springbank has come as a surprise to many industry insiders, and Campbell Evans of the Scotch Whisky Association says the decision seems “At odds with the direction the rest of the industry is going in.” He points to Kilchoman on Islay, which recently doubled its capacity, despite the continuing rise in costs. He adds that “We are seeing unprecedented investment in the industry; £400 million is scheduled between 2007 and 2010.” Let us hope that Mitchell's move does indeed prove to be a short-term, pragmatic response to spiralling costs. The once great Campbeltown distilling industry has surely suffered enough over the years, and Springbank is a single malt we really cannot afford to lose.

Irish Ayes

It is not just (most of) the Scotch whisky industry that is riding high at present; the situation across the Irish Sea is rosier than it has been for many years, according to a report from the authoritative online source just-drinks.com Diageo recently announced that it is to invest £1.5 million in the refurbishment and expansion of its Bushmills distillery in County Antrim, having already spent in excess of £6 million on the plant and brand since acquiring it from rival Pernod Ricard in 2005. Pernod is responsible for Jameson, which enjoys almost 60 per cent of global Irish whiskey sales, but analysts believe the arrival of Diageo in the market can only add greater competition and dynamism. According to the 'just-drinks' report, “Irish whiskey has displayed extraordinary success in a handful of markets, but especially recently in the US.
  

In 2007 it was one of the fastest growth categories in the market and, as so often happens in the US, it seems to have passed a tipping point where sales begin to accelerate exponentially." The USA is the largest international market for Irish whiskey by far, and has shown a compound annual growth rate of almost 14.5 per cent between 2002 and 2006, taking sales to 735,000 cases. While Jameson leads the way, Bushmills has eagerly followed, and sales of C&C International's Tullamore Dew brand are also on the rise. With current global sales of around 350 million cases, and increasing consumption among UK and Irish drinkers, there is a feeling that much more can be achieved in the future, with the independent Cooley operation also being well placed to cash in on the growing popularity of a 'drop of the Irish.'

Glenfarclas Museum Piece


   Proof that Glenfarclas single malt is a national treasure came with the announcement that the oldest unopened case of the Speyside whisky has gone on display as part of the National Museum of Scotland's new gallery Scotland: A Changing Nation. The gallery explores how cultural, social, political and economic influences have impacted on people in Scotland since the First World War. The history of the case of Glenfarclas is in itself intriguing. It was one of fifty shipped to H Albrecht and Company of Illinois in the 1930s, and an engineer by the name of Mr Shrive purchased six cases. Remarkably, by 1994 there was still one case and one bottle remaining, and Mr Shrive's son wrote to Glenfarclas offering them to the distillery. Company chairman John Grant flew to the USA to collect the whisky, which occupied its very own first class seat on the British Airways flight home!

Robert Ransom, Director of Sales and Marketing at Glenfarclas, says "We have no plans to open this remarkable case of Glenfarclas. It is fitting that it will now be on public display and form part of the Scotland: A Changing Nation gallery, thus helping to illustrate the importance of the whisky industry to Scotland."

Reading Matter

The latest addition to the ranks of books for the whisky lover is The Connoisseur's Guide to Whisky (£12.99), written by Helen Arthur. Already the author of The Single Malt Whisky Companion, Helen has worked in the whisky industry for 25 years, being involved in PR and marketing activities for key brands such as The Famous Grouse, The Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Highland Park and Teacher's Highland Cream. Having acted as archivist for Allied Distillers, she now occupies the same role with Pernod Ricard in relation to their Chivas Regal brand. The Connoisseur's Guide to Whisky includes the usual explanations of the practical business of distilling and the terms associated with it, but at its heart is a directory of more than 100 of the world's finest whiskies, embracing everything from Scotch to Japanese, and Canadian to Welsh. The book is attractively designed with a pleasing layout, and is yet another volume that really ought to be on all our bookshelves. See www.apple-press.com
  

And Finally (1)...


   There was embarrasment recently for those who sneer at supermarket 'own label' whiskies when Tesco's 12-year-old Highland Single Malt beat off the great branded names to lift the Ango Overseas Trophy for best singe malt up to 15 years of age at the prestigious International Wine & Spirit Competition awards. No doubt smiling wryly, Tesco spokesman Simon Dunn says that "This award will come as a real shock to the centuries-old whisky industry which is not noted for its keen appreciation of supermarket varieties. To beat world-renowned whiskies such as Laphroaig and Glenmorangie is some achievement, and will hopefully encourage all malt lovers to try it."

Also delighted with the trophy award is Whyte & Mackay Ltd, who supplied this particular expression to Tesco, though the company remains tight-lipped regarding the identity of the single malt in question. Perhaps Glenmorangie's French masters may regret pulling out of 'own labels' if such prestige is now going to be afforded to it...

And Finally (2)...

Heard the one about the whisky company which is wrapping its casks in clingwrap to prevent the angels getting their share? No, honestly. And not just any whisky company, either. If Diageo is doing it, then surely there must be something in this experiment.
  

Apparently the world's largest distiller has been carrying out secret tests over a period of five years, monitoring casks encased in clingwrap compared to those left uncovered. The results have been remarkable, with savings of up to 50 litres of spirit per cask projected over a ten year period. If 20,000 casks were treated in this manner it would produce annual savings of £1 million per annum. There are clearly questions to be answered regarding the chemical effects of this practice on maturation, which has long been thought to require casks to 'breathe' in order to achieve optimum results. Perhaps more worryingly, will the Whisky Gods object to their angels going thirsty and exact a terrible revenge on the Scotch whisky industry? Will this be the opportunity Irish whiskey has been waiting for? If it is, Diageo still has its bases covered thanks to its ownership of Bushmills...
  

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