gavin smith




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Whisky News, December 2009

by Gavin D Smith

Farewell Tamdhu

Sad news from the world of Scotch whisky on which to end 2009 is that The Edrington Group plans to close its historic Tamdhu distillery and associated maltings on Speyside. The site is to be put on a 'care and maintenance' basis next April, and there are likely to be some 30 job losses, both at Tamdhu and at other facilities owned by the Group. These include The Macallan, Highland Park, The Glenrothes and Glenturret distilleries, along with the Buchley warehousing complex at Bishopbriggs in Dumbartonshire. An Edrington spokesman says that "Whilst Edrington's brands continue to perform well in international markets, and the Group is confident about returning to growth in the medium term, the current economic downturn has flattened sales over the past year. There are early signs of stability returning to the Group's markets. However, the downturn has required Edrington to rebalance its distillation capacity." Graham Hutcheon, group operations director, explains that the proposed measures are designed to ensure the long-term sustainability of Edrington's Scotch whisky operations, noting that "They will allow us to ensure that our business is the right size and shape to support current and future activity levels." Tamdhu is situated close to the River Spey, at Knockando, and dates from 1896/97, when the late Victorian whisky boom was at its height. The distillery is notable for operating the last Saladin malting system in the Scotch whisky industry, and currently its malt supplies not only Tamdhu itself but also other Edrington Group distilleries.   

And Newbridge too

   Also on the closure front, Chivas Brothers has announced its intention to sell the Newbridge bottling plant to The BenRiach-GlenDronach Distilleries Company Ltd, which operates two Speyside distilleries and is in the process of investing heavily in the future of its operations. The sale of Newbridge will involve cutting the workforce from 103 to just 24 next July. However, Chivas is giving up to 60 workers the chance to transfer to its other sites at Dumbarton and Paisley. A statement from Chivas Brothers' parent company Pernod Ricard declares that "If the sale proceeds, 24 employees will have the opportunity to remain at Newbridge and 60 will be offered alternative jobs at
our other sites. "We hope that many employees will take the opportunity to transfer so that the impact on employment is minimal. If they choose not to move, a generous redundancy package will be made available to them." The sale of the Newbridge facility is intended to "...maximise manufacturing efficiencies by fully utilising capacity at our larger sites," according to Pernod Ricard. Their spokesman adds that "We remain committed to the long-term growth and development of Scottish whisky and we will continue to invest in our brands and our business."

St George

On a more positive note, St George's distillery in Norfolk has just released its first three-year-old single malt, now officially 'whisky.' The English Whisky Company has already bottled various 'works in progress,' as featured on 'whisky-pages,' but as managing director Andrew Nelstrop says, "The launch of our first whisky release is extremely important to the English Whisky Company. It is very exciting to both the Nelstrop family and all our staff who have worked exceptionally hard to get us to this stage." St George's distillery, near Roudham, came on stream in November 2006, and the new whisky, the first to be produced in England for more than 100 years, should be on the shelves in the UK early next year. Expect a 'whisky-pages' review once we have received a sample.   

Scotch Protection

   New regulations designed to protect the integrity of Scotch whisky came into force on 23rd November. The measures include changes to labelling intended to benefit consumers and a ban on the practice of bottling anything sold as 'single malt Scotch whisky' outside Scotland. Speaking at a Scotland Office Food and Drink seminar in Edinburgh, Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy (left) stated that "The Government has worked closely with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) on these regulations which introduce a stronger legal framework to protect one of our most cherished products. "It is vital that we protect our key industries. We cannot allow others to trade off our good name and to pass off inferior whisky as being produced in Scotland. These regulations will help protect whisky customers across the globe.
"New labelling rules will also mean that customers will have a clearer understanding about precisely where and how their drink has been produced. This will enhance the education of many whisky drinkers, as well as their enjoyment." Welcoming the regulations, Scotch Whisky Association Chief Executive, Gavin Hewitt said that "This is landmark legislation for Scotch whisky, delivering important benefits for consumers, distillers, and the economy. Additional protection, including the requirement to bottle 'single malt Scotch whisky' in Scotland, helps safeguard Scotch from unfair and deceptive practices; the new labeling rules provide a unique opportunity to promote consumer understanding of Scotch worldwide. These regulations have the strong backing of the Scotch whisky industry." The new regulations at a glance:
  • Compulsory use of category descriptions, such as 'Blended Scotch Whisky,' will ensure consumers receive clear, consistent and accurate information;
  • New presentation rules provide a unique opportunity to promote understanding of every category of Scotch whisky, Single and Blended, to consumers;
  • Additional protection for Scotch whisky from unfair competition and deceptive practices, establishing a robust and comprehensive legal framework;
  • New rules to require the bottling of Single Malt Scotch Whisky in Scotland will protect this growing category;
  • New protection for the traditional regional names associated with Scotch whisky production and clear rules on product age statements;
  • Introduction of a strong enforcement mechanism, with HM Revenue & Customs designated as the Scotch whisky verification authority;
  • Use of the word 'Pure,' which is to be banned, as it has led to confusion, as 'Pure Malt' may come across as being superior, whereas the term is used to disguise the fact that the product is a blend of malts rather than a Single Malt;
  • There is also to be tightening up of the use of distillery and regional names:
  • These regulations will also serve to protect consumers as well as the industry through consolidation of the legal framework.

Smokehead Rocks

As though to emphasise that Scotch whisky is not just a drink for ageing men in tweed jackets (what's wrong with tweed? Ed) the Islay malt Smokehead was in big demand at the fifth Classic Rock Roll of Honour awards ceremony at London's Park Lane Hotel last month. Of course, Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey has long been associated with rock legends like The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, who is a living nightmare for those worthy souls charged with promoting responsible drinking campaigns. But Scotch has never quite enjoyed the same cache. However, the drink of choice at the Roll of Honour awards was 'Smoke and Coke,' with a Smokehead spokesperson declaring that "Aimed at the modern, discerning and adventurous drinker, like the music, Smokehead is powerful, intense and not for   
the faint hearted. Guests sampled the whisky's immense peaty flavours simply with a drop of water, over ice or in a classic combination - 'Smoke and Coke'" At the awards ceremony, Ronnie Wood was presented with the 'Outstanding Contribution' award, while Iggy Pop was named 'Living Legend.' Iron Maiden was crowned 'Band of the Year' and AC/DC won the 'Album of the Year' category. Classic Rock Magazine's Editor in Chief Scott Rowley declared "It was amazing to see a contemporary Scottish whisky go down so well with our international rock idols," while Iain Weir, Marketing Director for Ian Macleod Distillers, Smokehead's brand owners commented: that "It was fantastic how well Smokehead was received by the living legends of rock. The stylish and edgy personality of the whisky, combined with powerful smoky flavours, is perfectly suited for the heavy hitters of rock music." For more information visit smokehead.co.uk.

Malt Project

   The latest DVD from Jack Oswald's Malt Project is Volume VII, 'Islay Revisited and Hidden Treasures.' Having first filmed on Islay in 2002, Oswald decided to return in 2008 to update the island's whisky story, and the result, filmed in high quality digital format, provides a comprehensive study of the subject, featuring interviews with key personnel and sampling of new expressions. Islay's eight working distilleries form the contents of the first disc in this two-disc volume, while the second focuses principally on the mainland and 'hidden treasures,' which include Glenglassaugh distillery on the Moray Firth coast, filmed during its restoration to full working order. BenRiach, GlenDronach, Glenrothes, Glenallachie, Allt-a-Bhainne and Tormore distilleries also receive welcome profiling, while an interview with Mark Watt of Duncan Taylor & Co in Huntly explores in some detail the projected new Huntly distillery - still at the drawing board stage, due to the current economic climate. The Malt Project's work lacks the slick and sometimes superficial
approach and appearance of promotional material, and is all the better for that and for Jack Oswald's personal passion, knowledge and commitment. There is a vast amount of interesting material in these DVDs, and everyone who watches them will go away with greater insights into the world of Scotch whisky. Volume VII can be purchased at specialist whisky retailers or online for $36.95 from maltproject.com.

Spirit of Kilbeggan

Those great Irish innovators at Cooley distillery - responsible for December's Whisky of the Month - have come up with a novel product which would make the perfect Christmas present for anyone interested in whisk(e)y heritage. In 1988 Cooley acquired the historic Locke's distillery in the County Westmeath town of Kilbeggan, principally in order to utilise its warehouse capacity, but also with the ultimate aim of restoring whiskey-making at some future date. That date came in March 2007, when a refurbished 19th century pot still was re-commissioned, and to anticipate the release of 'mature' whiskey next year, Cooley has   
recently launched limited bottlings of 'aged spirit' distilled at Kilbeggan, This takes the form of 1,000 packs of a trio of six centilitre bottles, one containing spirit aged for one month, the second for one year, and the third for two years, enabling consumers to monitor the spirit as it matures. Cooley Distillers' Sales & Marketing Director Jack Teeling says that "For over 50 years the pot stills in Kilbeggan were cold until distilling recommenced in 2007. Since then there has been keen interest and intrigue in what style of whiskey the ancient pot still will produce. This limited release of the Spirit of Kilbeggan offers consumers a chance to anticipate the outcome." 'Spirit of Kilbeggan' is available for Euros 19.99 exclusively from the Visitor Centre Whiskey Shop at Kilbeggan Distillery (kilbegganwhiskey.com) and from the Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson Street, Dublin 2.

And Finally...

   Scotch and Ice? Polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton has long been a hero to Whyte & Mackay's Master blender Richard Paterson. Now, Whyte & Mackay has asked a team of New Zealand explorers to try to obtain a sample of Mackinlay's Rare Old blended whisky from a cache left behind by Shackleton and his team when they were forced to abandon their 1909 polar mission. Today, the Mackinlay brand belongs to Whyte & Mackay, and it is thought that the 25 cases of whisky taken by Shackleton on his ill-fated 1907-09 expedition were probably donated by Mackinlay & Co. Two of those cases are known to be frozen fast in the ice at Cape Royds, 97 miles from the South Pole, and the New Zealanders have agreed to drill out a bottle and send it to Paterson, who hopes to recreate the style after the spirit has undergone scientific analysis. At the very least, they plan to draw a sample with a syringe through the cork of one of the surviving bottles. Paterson anticipates that the whisky will remain in good condition and notes that
"When it was made it would have been quite heavy and peaty, as was the style in the early 1900s. If we could get a sample it would let us see - 100 years on - what a whisky from then was like and try to recreate this famous old brand." There is, however, something slightly ironic about all of this, considering that Richard Paterson's entertaining and energetic presentations always include a theatrical diatribe against adding even so much as one cube of ice to your dram...

  

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