Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Scotch Whisky Regulations! Followed by the Coming Clash with the Loch Lomond Distillery

Starting yesterday, some new wide-ranging regulations have gone into effect in Scotland: Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009. Here is the BBC story, here is the Scotsman.com story, and here is the full text of the new legislation.

These regulations have been greatly welcomed by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), as SWA's chief executive, Gavin Hewitt, said: "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 labelling rules provide a unique opportunity to promote consumer understanding of Scotch worldwide."

Among the new regulations are the following key provisions:
* Five categories of Scotch Whisky are defined for the first time; Single Malt Scotch
Whisky, Single Grain Scotch Whisky, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, Blended Grain Scotch
Whisky, and Blended Scotch Whisky.
* These compulsory category sales terms will be required to appear clearly and prominently on all labels.
* A requirement to only bottle Single Malt Scotch Whisky in Scotland.
* New rules to prevent the misleading labelling and marketing of Single Malt Scotch
* A ban on the use of the term ‘Pure Malt’.
* A ban on the use of a distillery name as a brand name on any Scotch Whisky which has not been wholly distilled in the named distillery.
* Protection of five traditional whisky regions of production; Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown.
* A requirement that Scotch Whisky must be wholly matured in Scotland.
* Clear rules on the use of age statements on packaging.
* Designation of HM Revenue & Customs as the verification authority for Scotch Whisky.

Now for the "techie" bit...

The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 is the new definitive legislation establishing what is, and what is not, acceptable [the "Scotch Whisky Act 1988" is repealed by its enactment, likewise the "Scotch Whisky (Northern Ireland) Order 1988"(b) is revoked].

So the new definition of Scotch whisky is:

1. "A whisky produced in Scotland that
(a) has been distilled at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been—
(i) processed at that distillery into a mash;
(ii) converted at that distillery into a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems; and
(iii) fermented at that distillery only by the addition of yeast;
(b) has been distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8 per cent so that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production;
(c) that has been matured only in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres;
(d) that has been matured only in Scotland;
(e) that has been matured for a period of not less than three years;
(f) that has been matured only in an excise warehouse or a permitted place;
(g) that retains the colour, aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation;
(h) to which no substance has been added, or to which no substance has been added except — (i) water; (ii) plain caramel colouring; or (iii) water and plain caramel colouring; and
(i) that has a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40%.

2. In these Regulations —
*“Single Malt Scotch Whisky” means a Scotch Whisky that has been distilled in one or more batches—
(a) at a single distillery;
(b) from water and malted barley without the addition of any other cereals; and
(c) in pot stills;
*“Single Grain Scotch Whisky” means a Scotch Whisky that has been distilled at a single distillery except —
(a) Single Malt Scotch Whisky; or
(b) a Blended Scotch Whisky;
*“Blended Malt Scotch Whisky” means a blend of two or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies
that have been distilled at more than one distillery;
*“Blended Grain Scotch Whisky” means a blend of two or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies that have been distilled at more than one distillery; and
*“Blended Scotch Whisky” means a blend of one or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies with one or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies.

Operationally, this has various consequences enumerated in the "general interpretation" section. Of special relevance in this section, note the following:


(1) A person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any drink as Scotch Whisky or Scotch if it is not Scotch Whisky.

(2) A person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any drink in any other way that creates a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public as to whether the drink is Scotch Whisky.

Movement from Scotland to another country

(1) A person must not move any of the following categories of Scotch Whisky from Scotland to another country in a wooden cask or other wooden holder:
(a) Single Grain Scotch Whisky;
(b) Blended Malt Scotch Whisky;
(c) Blended Grain Scotch Whisky; or
(d) Blended Scotch Whisky.

(2) During the period until (and including) 22nd November 2012, a person must not move any Single Malt Scotch Whisky from Scotland to another country in a wooden cask or other wooden holder.

(3) On and after 23rd November 2012 a person must not move any Single Malt Scotch Whisky from Scotland to another country except in a bottle (made of any inert material) that is labelled for retail sale.

(4) For the purposes of this regulation a person is regarded as having moved Scotch Whisky from Scotland to another country if they: a) physically move the whisky from Scotland to another country; or (b) arrange (whether directly or through a third party) for another person to physically move the whisky from Scotland to another country.

Compulsory sales descriptions

(1) The category into which a Scotch Whisky falls must be stated on:
(a) the front of a container of Scotch Whisky; and
(b) any individual packaging used for the transportation of the container, or used for display purposes during the marketing of the whisky, unless, in both cases, the front of the container is clearly visible through that packaging.

(2) The categories are:
(a) Single Malt Scotch Whisky;
(b) Single Grain Scotch Whisky;
(c) Blended Malt Scotch Whisky;
(d) Blended Grain Scotch Whisky; and
(e) Blended Scotch Whisky.

(3) The name of the category must be:
(a) printed in a conspicuous place in such a way as to be easily visible and legible to the naked eye and indelible so that it is clear that it is the sales description of the whisky;
(b) printed in a way that gives equal prominence to each word making up the name of the category; and
(c) as prominent as any other description of the whisky on the container or packaging, except for: (i) any separate use of the description “Scotch Whisky”; (ii) any statement relating to the year in which the whisky was distilled, the year in
which it was bottled, the period for which it was matured or the age of the whisky;
and (iii) any descriptive word or words forming part of the brand name.

(4) The name of the category must not be:
(a) overlaid or interrupted by other written or pictorial matter; or
(b) used in conjunction with any other words.

(5) But paragraph (4)(b) does not prevent the name of a Scottish locality or region from being appended to the name of the category of the whisky to indicate where the Scotch Whisky was distilled if —
(a) it appears immediately before the name of the category;
(b) the whisky was distilled in the named locality or region; and
(c) the use of that name does not otherwise contravene regulation 10 (re: locality and region geographical indications).

(6) A person must not label, package or sell any Scotch Whisky in a way that does not comply with paragraph (1), (3) or (4).

(7) A person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any Scotch Whisky as falling within a category if it does not fall into that category.

Locality and region geographical indications

(1) A whisky or whisky-based drink must not be labelled, packaged, advertised or promoted in a way that includes the name of a protected locality or a protected region unless:
(a) in the case of whisky, the whisky is Scotch Whisky that has been distilled in that locality or region; or
(b) in the case of a whisky-based drink, the only whisky in the drink is Scotch Whisky that has been distilled in that locality or region.

(2) But paragraph (1) does not apply in the circumstances specified in Schedule 3.

(3) A whisky or whisky-based drink must not be labelled, packaged, advertised or promoted in a way that includes any reference to a name that is similar to the name of a protected locality or protected region if, having regard to the presentation of the product as a whole, the reference may create a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public as to where the whisky or whisky-based drink was distilled.

(4) A person must not label, package, advertise or promote any whisky or whisky-based drink in a way that contravenes paragraph (1) or (3), or sell any whisky or whisky-based drink that has been labelled or packaged in that way.

(5) The protected localities are:
(a) “Campbeltown”, comprising the South Kintyre ward of the Argyll and Bute Council as that ward is constituted in the Argyll and Bute (Electoral Arrangements) Order 2006(a); and
(b) “Islay”, comprising the Isle of Islay in Argyll.

(6) The protected regions are:
(a) “Highland”, comprising that part of Scotland that is north of the line dividing the Highland region from the Lowland region;
(b) “Lowland”, comprising that part of Scotland that is south of the line dividing the Highland region from the Lowland region; and
(c) “Speyside”, comprising: (i) the wards of Buckie, Elgin City North, Elgin City South, Fochabers Lhanbryde, Forres, Heldon and Laich, Keith and Cullen and Speyside Glenlivet of the Moray Council as those wards are constituted in the Moray (Electoral Arrangements) Order 2006(b); and (ii) the Badenoch and Strathspey ward of the Highland Council as that ward is constituted in the Highland (Electoral Arrangements) Order 2006(c).

(7) In this regulation “the line dividing the Highland region from the Lowland region” means the line beginning at the North Channel and running along the southern foreshore of the Firth of Clyde to Greenock, and from there to Cardross Station, then eastwards in a straight line to the summit of Earl’s Seat in the Campsie Fells, and then eastwards in a straight line to the Wallace Monument, and from there eastwards along the line of the B998 and A91 roads until the A91 meets the M90 road at Milnathort, and then along the M90 northwards until the Bridge of Earn, and then along the River Earn until its confluence with the River Tay, and then along the southern foreshore of that river and the Firth of Tay until it comes to the North Sea.

Use of the words ‘pure’ and ‘malt’ and derivations

11. A person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any Scotch Whisky in a way that includes:
(a) the phrase ‘pure malt’ or any derivation of that phrase; or
(b) the words ‘pure’ and ‘malt’, or any derivation of those words in a way that, although the words are separated from each other (whether by text or otherwise), the word ‘pure’ (or any derivation of it) is used adjectivally in connection with the word ‘malt’ (or any derivation of it).

Maturation, age and distillation statements

12. --(1) Without prejudice to the obligation to comply with the directly applicable requirements of Article 12(3) of Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 (which requires, among other things, that any maturation period or age may only be specified in the description, presentation or labelling of a spirit drink where it refers to the youngest alcoholic component in the drink), a person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any Scotch Whisky in a way that includes a reference to its maturation period or age unless the maturation period or age is expressed in years.

--(2) A person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any Scotch Whisky in a way that includes a reference relating to when it was distilled unless:
(a) the reference relates to a single calendar year;
(b) all of the whisky in the drink was distilled in that year;
(c) the presentation of the whisky also includes a reference to: (i) the year of bottling of the whisky; (ii) the maturation period of the whisky; or (iii) the age of the whisky; and
(d) the reference to the year of bottling, the maturation period, or age of the whisky appears in the same field of vision as the reference to the year of distillation.

(3) A person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any Scotch Whisky in a way that includes a reference to any number (however expressed) if the reference to that number may create a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public as to whether the number relates to the maturation period of the whisky, its age or when it was distilled.

The remaining dozen+ pages of the regulation stipulate even more techie and administrative details, enforcement procedures, appeals processes, penalties, etc.


One of the interesting side-effects of all of this is the narrowed focus on the "pot-still". The Loch Lomond Distillery produces a single malt using a mix of pot-stills and what are known as "Lomond-Stills" which are basically hybrid stills modified with a special rectifying head which mimics aspects of the Coffey or Column still (that is, the lyne arm is replaced by a system of horizontal parallel plates, but it is still a batch process rather than continuous) -- so the Lomond-Still is more efficient and widely considered "green" or more environmentally friendly than a traditional pot-still...but thus would seem to run afoul of this new regulation. See the Whisky Magazine story here; here is the Guardian's story. [This picture highlights the two different still designs -- pot still and Lomond still, from the Dumbarton Distillery which was mothballed in 2002; an interesting article on the Lomond Still can be found here].

John Peterson, distilling director of Loch Lomond, commented: "We have a method that produces a very good malt spirit but are being penalised because we are innovators... We want to make the process better and save considerable amounts of energy. As it is, we prevent more than 1,400 tonnes of CO2 being released every year and they want us to go back to the old inefficient ways... The SWA wants us to call it grain whisky, but it's not; if anything that's an even more misleading description. Politicians are quick to shout about climate change and how industry has to find new ways to reduce carbon output, but when we try to do something innovative we get slapped down for it."

The SWA, meanwhile, was having none of it, as a spokesman noted: "Producing a malt mash in a single still as Loch Lomond Distillery does is simply not traditional practice. Consumers understand that single malt Scotch whisky is produced in a copper pot still and therefore a malt mash distilled in a column still will not be able to continue after the regulations come into force."

I have not yet been able to determine what, if anything, has become of Loch Lomond's process which accounts for about 20 million bottles per year of "High Commissioner" blended Scotch whisky, the 3rd most popular brand in the UK.

More re: Tamdhu Distillery Closure from the Malt Advocate Blog

OK, Over at The Malt Advocate blog, John Hansell, Publisher and Editor of that fine publication that published my article on the George Washington Distillery, posted the story about the Edrington Group's decision to mothball the Tamdhu distillery, and it has sparked an interesting and ongoing discussion. Per usual, I have written way to much. You can check it all out in situ by clicking here.

For posterity, here it is (from the Malt Advocate blog):
Edrington mothballs Tamdhu distillery
Posted by John Hansell

Sad, but given the current economy, not surprising. You can read about it here.

1. Luke says:
November 22, 2009 at 6:36 am
Bad news, but we can almost certainly expect worse in the New Year.
I won’t tempt fate by naming names, but expect some well-know casualties in 2010.

2. [Here is what I had to say]:
November 22, 2009 at 12:45 pm
Very sad indeed. Edrington has been doing well too…just imagine how other players in the industry will handle the projected slimming of shareholder’s profits. This is a hell of a Christmas gift for roughly 30 families and the local Moray economy. Very, very sad.

3. Red_Arremer says:
November 22, 2009 at 3:22 pm
Tamdhu 10, the only distillery offering, was clearly conceived of as a “bang for the buck,” which it really was. It represents a time before the price-jacks on Macallan 18, when the idea of a value-product with distinctive character was thought to be a pretty reasonable brand concept. There were a lot of items like that back then and I’m sure to marketing people right now, the rationale behind all of them looks unintelligible. This discontinuation of this one goes right along with the price-jacking with arguable improvement of tomatin 12, auchentoshan 10, laphroaig 15, glen garioch 8, and many others. It’s too bad.

4. Todd says:
November 22, 2009 at 8:53 pm
Sad, but there may silver lining behind this closure if Edrington sells the distillery to someone who will love it and promote it. Why should Edrington work hard on developing a hidden gem like Tamdhu when they can continue to coast on Macallan, the default Xmas present for the boss and valued clients?

While the OB Tamdhu 10 has always struck me as Glen-like-whatever, I’ve tasted some outstanding Tamdhu indie bottlings over the years both young and old. A 1985 Tamdhu 12 yo bottled at 59.5% in 1997 by Adelphi, cask 9048 was a stunner, and Duncan Taylor released a number of vintage 1969 Tamdhu bottlings about 5 years ago that were excellent, showing that this spirit can age well. So I am certain this distillery is capable of excellence.

It’s worth reflecting on resurrection of Bruichladdich or the terrific job the Walkers are doing with Benriach and Glendronach in unfortunate circumstances like this.

5. John Hansell says:
November 22, 2009 at 8:58 pm
Todd, you have a very good point. This may be the best thing for Tamdhu.

6. [Here is what I had to say]:
November 22, 2009 at 11:16 pm
Todd and John, yes, hope springs eternal that someone will swoop down and save or even revitalize Tamdhu distillery.

On the other hand, Scotland is littered with the corpses of closed distilleries – true gems among them. For every Ardbeg or Bruichladdich there is a Port Ellen, for every Bladnoch there is a Rosebank and a St Magadlene.

I would hazard to guess that Edrington probably has enough stock aging to keep the Tamdhu-generated revenue flowing for 5-10 years before they really feel the pinch, much less re-think or second-guess their strategic planning. Indeed, given that the major part of the production from the Tamdhu Distillery is used in the Famous Grouse, J&B and Cutty Sark blends, it is not too difficult to imagine that Edrington might have zero plans to unload the distillery, thinking that it will eventually need to bring it back online for blending needs down the road…in the fullness of time. Might even happen too.

Then again, it might just as easily stay mothballed indefinitely. Time will tell if this will be a Benriach or a Dallas Dhu (or a Banff, or Ben Wyvis, or Braes of Glenlivet, or Caperdonich, or Coleburn, or Convalmore, or Glen Albyn, or Glencraig, or Glen Keith, or Glenlochy, or Glen Mhor, or Glenugie, etc., etc.).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a knuckle dragging, fiscal-libertarian-leaning free market warrior. Edrington can do what it likes with its assets. I have no stake in the risks, costs or profits. I’m just a consumer in a foreign market with an armchair quarterback’s view of the game, and an idealist’s sense of what ought to be. Yet I can’t help but feel that a little bit of Scotland’s heritage has taken a beating here.

I also can’t help but think of the 20-30 families that are most directly affected by this decision. Moray is not exactly a booming center of employment at the best of times. Edrington might not feel the loss of Tamdhu’s production for the better part of a decade (or more), but the same may not, I suspect, be said of the dozens of soon to be unemployed members of Edrington’s corporate “family.”

As you said, John, at the start of this thread — not surprising, but very sad.

7. sam k says:
November 22, 2009 at 11:32 pm
And what will be the effect of Diageo’s gargantuan Roseisle distillery on some of the smaller plants under their care? If the fallout is already occurring elsewhere, why would we not think that this would be a factor in the new economy?

I’m not really a scotch guy, but I am concerned, so I’m asking those of you who are…Joshua?

8. [Here is what I had to say]:
November 23, 2009 at 1:52 am
Good question, Sam. One that has come up on John’s blog before, like back in July when Diageo announced plans to close a distillery and bottling plant, and to lay off hundreds of employees. I’m sure plenty of others will have a more intelligent and concise answer than whatever I hammer out here.

For what it is worth and at the risk of unleashing yet another long, rambling missive… Yes, I am concerned. I think most Scotch drinkers are, or would be (keep in mind that most folks take no interest in the business side of this industry).

[Let me pour myself another dram of Tamdhu – I suggest anyone choosing to read on do the same.] Now like I said earlier, I’m a capitalist, free market kind of guy. I get it that business is, well, business.

Strategic commercial decisions are made to benefit the company, not destroy their investments. Companies like Diageo, or Edrington or Whyte & Mackay, etc., are doing what they think is for the best.

Certainly I’m in no position to second-guess anyone’s economic decisions with any authority. Still, business decisions, like economic forecasts, are hardly infallible and the future of our beloved tipple potentially hangs in the balance of such decisions.

I’d like to believe that there is some happy middle ground between misty-eyed, tradition-loving whisky conservatives (like myself), and the industry number-cruncher accountants charged with making cold, cost-benefit, profit-loss calculations that eventually inform the decision makers. Though this is easy for me to say, as my only “loss” or “risk” here is as a consumer coping with rising costs and relative scarcity (in one section of one region of but one market).

At a certain level it is obviously presumptuous for a non-player/outsider to second guess a local small businessman, much less a multinational conglomerate – much less the world’s largest multinational drinks company. On the other hand, who’s to stop me.

So, yes, I am concerned. Yet, all of that said, I remain at least blandly optimistic that, on balance, the Scotch whisky industry is still essentially going from strength to strength.

Don’t forget that the history of the Scotch whisky industry is generally a story of growth, acquisition and diversification, with all the usual boom/bust and expansion/contraction cycles. This history is rife with all the myriad positives and negatives of amalgamation, corporatization and entrepreneurship.

Further (and at the risk of getting even more tedious here), Diageo has been helping to shape the industry, both as dynamic juggernaut and as sluggish behemoth, for over 130 years. That is, ever since the 1877 formation of the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL; an amalgamation of six lowland grain whisky distilleries). By the 1920’s DCL was so large that it soon swallowed up the three major blending firms of the day (James Buchanan, John Dewar, and John Walker).

Then, when Guinness bought DCL in 1986(or 87?), it became a player so monstrously huge as to boggle the mind. Yet even this set of conceptual parameters was smashed to all hell when Guinness plc merged, in 1997, with Grand Metropolitan plc. Together they formed Diageo plc, which, as we all know, became and remains the largest multinational beer, wine and spirits company in the world.

Diageo has thus helped shape and create much of the current Scotch whisky market that we enjoy and sometimes decry. So if and when Diageo chooses to cut whisky jobs or close distilleries, it is only business, and Diageo will simply be trying to maintain its competitive edge and long-term commercial health.

This is little solace, obviously, to any employees, and their families, facing unemployment in a down-economy, or to a region perennially in non-to-slow-growth mode at best. Sometimes life is very hard indeed…what can one say, but pass the whisky.

Tonight, I’m drinking Tamdhu and thinking of those folks sadly being chucked out and kicked off to the side.

[Wow..sorry to be such a bore here.]

9. patrick says:
November 23, 2009 at 6:01 am
What is found surprising, is that they don’t INTEND to close only the distillery but also the maltings.
So far, I understood that the maltings at Tamdhu were profitable.
Let’s wait and see.

10. Red_Arremer says:
November 23, 2009 at 10:23 am
1. That would be really nice, if Tamdhu were sold to and rehabilitated by some passionate whisky entrepaneur. I’ve tasted quite a few Tamdhus– all distinctive– Imagine maybe a 15 year old Tamdhu with a port finish!

2. Johsua, The “happy middle ground” that you are looking for, between “misty eyed” and “number crunching,” is to be found in a genuinely critical attitude toward the industry– an attitude that is all too often invoked only so that it can be carefully put to rest.

The question isn’t whether or not an Edrington-Group-outsider is qualified to second guess the excrutiatingly well informed survivalist machinations of an insider. It is whether or not you, or I, or any interested person judge the Group’s market strategy to be good.

How do you like it? How do you like the closing of Tamdhu? How do you like where the prices have gone on Macallan, where they probably will go on Highland Park? Will you take a critical stance or chasten yourself, raise the flag of the “free market warrior” and subordinate your interests to those of some over-paid higher ups in the world of corporate business?

11. Lew Bryson says:
November 23, 2009 at 3:59 pm
As long as people continue to come up with reasons to pay the higher prices for these whiskies, and the whiskies continue to sell, critics of the practices will have little effect. A ‘free market warrior’ can mostly only do two things: buy or not buy, and encourage others to do likewise. The options of those who are not free market warriors…look starkly similar.

12. [Here is what I had to say]:
November 23, 2009 at 5:39 pm
Hi Red,
I think there is an important distinction between raising prices to increase profits and closing distilleries and laying people off. The two issues are more constructively handled sperately, I think. Also, following up on Lews’ comments, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “critical stance.”

I suspect that Edrington cares not a whit about a few folks balking at paying such high prices for The Macallan or for Highland Park as it seems plain to me that their “luxury” marketing strategy has worked a charm. That is, there are more than enough folks who are indeed willing and able to pay such prices – and who do so frequently. Also, keep in mind that not ALL of the price rises are examples of greed or whatever (the pound remains much stronger than the dollar for one thing; also the costs of production are hardly static).

The most important or critical reception of any marketing plan is economic performance, however, not non-economic static by whisky aficionados. Sure, if enough of the bad-press or bad-rep static by dissatisfied whisky aficionados actually damages or drowns out the company’s branding, the corporate bigwigs would surely take notice…but so long as they are selling more whisky than not, why would they mess with a good thing?

IF or when sales falter, the producers may or may not determine that the price-point is the issue and that it needs to be adjusted downward. As Lew very concisely put it, the choices are really just to buy, or not to buy (and encourage folks to follow you).

Glenmorangie, for example, totally devalued their brand in the UK a few years back by being consistently the cheapest malts in the grocery stores. Sure they sold a lot of whisky initially but they also earned a reputation for being “cheap” and “common” rather than “classy” and “special” and sales grew flat instead of climbing. This is why LVMH rebranded soon after taking over – the packaging changed, the price went up, and the experimental output increased – all to their benefit in terms of profits, sales, and “brand value.” Edrington’s “The Macallan” is exactly the sort of “luxury” branding that many producers seek for their own brands. This is just good business sense. Would you rather your product be “the best” or “decent value” or “cheap”? You are only ever “overpriced” when the market consistently tells you that you are so (through economic performance).

Also, just as an aside, I didn’t mean anything too lofty with the “free market warrior” talk. I’m not especially ideological about this stuff. I was merely trying to strike a colorful balance to my genuine sympathy for those who are made worse off by shifts in the whisky market. Otherwise I was afraid I’d come off as a pitchfork waving socialist revolutionary type.

As Laphroaig US brand ambassador Simon Brooking’s motto has it — I’m merely trying to promote “world peace thro’ whisky, one dram at a time.” Amen to that.

13. [Here is what I had to say]:
November 23, 2009 at 5:40 pm
Yikes. Sorry for another long, rambling post there. I gotta get out more.

14. Red_Arremer says:
November 23, 2009 at 5:56 pm
“…only do two things: buy or not buy, and encourage others to do likewise.”

Lew, your reduction of whisky blogging and appreciation to economic functions can’t possibly be meant seriously. I understand your desire to deflate writing that aims to clarify thought, value, and expression (writing, which may be economically dysfunctional). But I believe that the possibility of such talk is one of the many things that makes whisky blogging valuable.

Josh, all I’m saying is that I notice that you second guess yourself a lot. You’re a knowlegeable and intelligent person. Give yourself more credit. Don’t take back so many of your insights on account of modesty and your fluctuating commitments to one or another economic systems.

15. Red_Arremer says:
November 23, 2009 at 5:58 pm
btw, Josh, I hadn’t seen your new post @12 when I wrote mine @14. You must have published it while I was writing mine

16. sam k says:
November 23, 2009 at 6:11 pm
Don’t worry about rambling, Josh! I for one appreciate your perspective. Well done!

17. Joshua_Bacarolle says:
November 23, 2009 at 6:12 pm
Interesting discussion…it’s sad to see Tamdhu shut down. The only point I’d like to make right now is related to Lew’s observation, that the only options we really have are to “buy or not buy.”

If you are not engaged with a product or service, then you might not care that your actions and feelings about a product or service could be reduced to “to buy” or “not to buy.”

However, this is a whisky blog, full of individuals who are passionate about the whisky. In this context, reducing yourself to a passive consumer, who is left with the “stark” binary choice in the influence they could exert over the industry is a disservice to the potential for a complex and passionate engagement with whisky, even in terms of how ONE individual could affect the “business” side of whisky.

Regardless of the influence you could have on large corporations’ business practices, a thoughtful, critical stance on the state of the whisky industry is important in its own right. I think everyone could agree on that…

But here’s the real beauty: one person CAN exert influence over the industry. Take John Hansell, for instance. He’s taken his active engagement with whisky to the extreme and I’m sure his public thoughts on whisky affect both industry insiders and consumers alike. His choice isn’t JUST to “buy or not to buy” but to inform, provide insight, and advise on a variety of whisky-related topics. It’s a complicated responsibility, but I think he does have the power to influence consumers and businesses. Of course we don’t all aspire to be or have the resources to be a high-profile whisky critic. But the point is, is that the potential does exist and this fact should be celebrated.

Another case in point: take John Glaser’s Compass Box. Whether or not you enjoy Compass Box whiskies, you can’t deny that Mr. Glaser took his passionate engagement with whisky and turned it into a business that offers a unique and successful product. In other words, an individual didn’t have to choose between “to buy” or “not to buy.” He created an interesting selection of vatted malts, and, as a result, gave whisky consumers a unique choice. Again, not everyone wants to or can achieve this level of influence over the whisky industry. But the potential does exist.

I certainly agree with Lew, that if a product is selling to its intended market at the best profit possible, then businesses will most certainly adopt an “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” attitude. A few irate comments from whisky-lovers on the malt advocate blog probably won’t influence managers’ pricing strategies. However, the potential for individual whisky lovers to engage with and influence businesses individual criticism does exist.

18. John Hansell says:
November 23, 2009 at 6:45 pm
A very interesting, passionate, discussion going on here. Thanks for taking the time to comment everyone.

It’s tough to see this happen to a distillery, isn’t it? Even if it is something we should expect at this time.

19. sam k says:
November 23, 2009 at 7:40 pm
Sticking up for Lew…he did say that the “‘free market warrior’ can MOSTLY only do two things: buy or not buy, and encourage others to do likewise.”

It’s true…MOSTLY it’s all we can do. There is certainly the occasional shining exception, and I’m sure Lew would agree entirely with the passion side of the argument, but at the end of the day, mostly all we can can do is buy or not.

20. Scotty Freebairn says:
November 23, 2009 at 10:28 pm
I had the pleasure of visiting Thamdhu in 1984 and again in 1990. Charming distillery and an ingredient in The Famous Grouse. I have several bottles, and one or two 15 year olds, and find them quite excellent. Edrington seems to know what they are doing but I regret that such a fine distillery is being “mothballed.” Maybe worldwide demand will improve and the distillery yet may have a bright future. Let’s hope so!

21. [Here is what I had to say]:
November 23, 2009 at 11:23 pm
Red and Sam, re: post #14 and #16: Aw-shucks guys, your making me blush

Joshua (from post #17), I actually agree with much of what you say, though I think you’ve glossed over one profound aspect of your point. I think we do all agree that deeper engagement with whisky, through discourse like this, and through taking a “thoughtful, critical stance on the state of the whisky industry is important in its own right.” Indeed, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

On the economic side though, I think your examples of John Glazer and John Hansell are spot on, but in support of a slightly more nuanced point.

The binary choice of “buy” or “not buy” is not a limitation of the capacity of the individual; it is a reality of consumerism. That is what a consumer does – buy or not buy from among competing products. It is not that consumerism is passive – far from it actually, which is why competition can be so fierce and, in part, why the marketing industry emerged. But in economic terms, the product engagement of blogging, talking passionately to one’s friends and acquaintances, reading up on every little factoid, etc., amounts to little more than “static” or background noise except insofar as such voices can shift consumer preferences. This is a part of why marketing exists – and why whisky brand ambassadors and the like help craft pre-packaged stories and present sometimes simplified, air-brushed histories for us to savor. It is soft attempt to manipulate our natural tendency to positively engage and to form preferences out of such positive engagement.

What makes John Glazer or John Hansell different is that they effectively decided to not limit themselves to playing the role of “consumer,” but to enter the market with product – Glazer with whisky, Hansell with whisky media. That is, they elevated their interest from the limited consumer role to one of active market participant. This is a different, more dynamic role than the consumer.

Like I said before, “non-economic static by whisky aficionados” will not dramatically affect the market, but becoming a viable market player is different and can, indeed, change the market. Glazer not only added competition with some damn fine whiskies, but he also brought a dynamic and passionate entrepreneurialism that the more conservative SWA members were not wholly prepared for (e.g., the Smoke Tree controversy). The whole process adds greatly to the whisky industry, whether everyone likes it or not.

Likewise, John Hansell isn’t merely an anonymous whisky aficionado who started a blog; he is an entrepreneur who started a magazine which offers a constructive, honest and independent voice. Likewise his putting together of WhiskyFest offers a social/economic forum which helps to bridge the gap between consumer and producer, and allows us greater or expanded access to products – and we all have a great time in the process of this engagement. This blog, like WhiskyFest, is a direct extension of the market role he has built. It is because John (and Lew and the rest of the Malt Advocate team) maintain this role with such vibrancy and positive energy that the industry has responded accordingly with embrace rather than rejection or avoidance. Thus our discourse on this blog, more than on most blogs, is read by industry folks because of their engagement with John Hansell and the Malt Advocate

So yes, individuals can make a HUGE difference, even to the Scotch whisky trade. Market actors do so with economically viable activity. Consumers do so by voting with their pocketbooks — whether it is with or without passion is more immediately important to the consumer than it is to the boardroom executive (who generally has only spreadsheets, market research and gut instincts for guidance).

Phew! OK, enough from me for now. Another dram of Tamdhu is in order.

22. Red_Arremer says:
November 24, 2009 at 2:44 pm
Who cares if this discussion can have any impact on the whisky industry. The question is can it have any impact on us.

The “put your money where your mouth is” attitude that only big market players are qualified to have critical perspectives on events like the closure of a Tamdhu is positively villainous.

Anyways, you all don’t know me, but I am in fact a billionaire tycoon. If I wanted to reopen Tamdhu I could. But I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to do a bunch of things that you won’t like with my money and you had all better recognize that you can’t do anything about it and refrain from discussing or criticizing me at all.

JK guys, it’s all good

23. [Here is what I had to say]:
November 24, 2009 at 5:56 pm
Red, I agree with your first point – I probably wouldn’t bother otherwise. Your second point though, is misplaced — you are confusing “is” with “ought.” Straightforward description of the way something IS should not be taken as a value judgment or argument about the way it “ought” to be. [It isn’t a matter of qualifications, and no one here has yet expressed the view that "only big market players are qualified to have critical perspectives."]

Critical perspectives are important, but the old saw that “actions speak louder than words” is directly relevant here. Until pontification of this sort affects sales, there isn’t space for it on most Excel spreadsheets. That isn’t, perhaps the way it OUGHT to be, but it IS, at present, a fact.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tamdhu Distillery to be Closed by Edrington! Very, Very Sad News.

The Edrington Group (the folks who own The Famouse Grouse, The Macallan, Highland Park, Glenrothes and Glenturret, and have a stake in Berry Bros. & Rudd Ltd's Cutty Sark), have just decided to close the Tamdhu Distillery after 112 years of operation. Roughly 31 men and women in Scotland are losing their jobs with Edrington.

In other news, meanwhile, did I mention that the Edrington Group cleaned up 2008-9: Group turnover UP 44.0% at £419.9m (2008: £291.5m); profit before tax (excluding exceptional items) UP 30.5% to £94.8m (2008: £72.6m)s; Shareholders´ earnings (excluding exceptional items) UP 12.5% to £41.4m (2008: £36.8m); dividend UP 6.3% to 18.6p (2008: 17.5p); The Famous Grouse became the #1 blended whisky in UK (it has been #1 in Scotland for 29 years); and they successfully launched a sales and distribution alliance with Beam Global in 24 markets. As Edrington's Chief Executive Ian Curle commented:
"...Once again, we managed to grow shareholders´ earnings despite a softening of demand in a number of our main markets due to the global economic slowdown. Whilst this will affect our growth ambitions in the short to medium term, we remain confident about our long term prospects."
Too bad for Tamdhu and the 31 employees projected to lose their livelihoods that this largess isn't being reinvested in them so as to ride through the economic downturn! Bastards.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a knuckle dragging, right-wing, fiscal-libertarian-leaning free market warrior. Edrington can do what it likes with its assets. I have no stake in the risks, costs or profits. I'm just a consumer in a foreign market. Yet I can't help but feel that a little bit of Scotland's heritage has taken a beating, and clearly at least 30 families in Moray, Scotland will NOT have nearly as Merry a Christmas or as Happy a New Year. Very, very sad.

Here is the Scotsman.com's story on the move:

Dram shame as bosses close down distillery after 112 years
Published Date: 21 November 2009

ONE OF Speyside's leading distilleries is to close with the loss of more than 30 jobs after a review by a major whisky producer.

The Edrington Group plans to put its Tamdhu distillery and maltings in Aberlour in "care and maintenance" from April.

It will then concentrate production at its three core distilleries – The Macallan in Craigellachie, Glenrothes in Rothes and Highland Park in Orkney. Glenturret distillery in Crieff is unaffected by the proposals.

Tamdhu, meaning "little dark hill" in Gaelic, was founded in 1897 and currently employs 20 staff.

The company said the planned changes would result in a net reduction of up to 31 jobs from Tamdhu, The Macallan, Glenrothes, Highland Park and Buchley warehouses in Bishopbriggs, East Dunbartonshire, with some leaving through voluntary redundancy and others being relocated.

In a statement, the company said: "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, said that the proposed package of measures was designed to ensure the long-term sustainability of Edrington's Scotch whisky operations.

"It would allow us to ensure that our business is the right size and shape to support current and future activity levels."

Chief executive Ian Curle said the company remained confident about its long-term prospects though it was adopting a cautious approach.

Edrington employs about 2,200 people across the globe, with 840 in Scotland. It has invested over £42 million in its Scottish operations in the last five years.

The group owns the leading blended whisky, the Famous Grouse and other brands such as Cutty Sark and Brugal rum.

The news was greeted with disappointment last night.

John Russell, chair of Moray Council's economic development committee, said: "This is very bad news for staff who will be losing their jobs, particularly as the area offers very little alternative employment."

Moray MP Angus Robertson said: "It is important that those who are affected by these job losses are given as much support as possible in the coming weeks and months."


WHISKY tycoon William Grant was the driving force behind the creation of Tamdhu distillery, buying land beside the Knockando Burn, north of the River Spey, in 1896.

Grant, director of Highland Distillers, raised £19,200 from 15 partners including Robertson & Baxter, to fund his new venture. Designed by architect Charles Doig, of Elgin, it was commissioned in the summer of 1897.

Despite disputes over water sources, by June 1898 the distillery had produced 214,476gallons of good quality malt whisky.

The distillery was closed for the 1911 and 1912 whisky distilling seasons due to the decline in demand, then reopened output until 1925. In 1928, Tamdhu fell silent again, this time reopening in 1947 and in the post-war period the whisky built up a strong reputation among blenders. The number of stills increased from two to four in 1972 and there was a further expansion to six in 1975.

Here is the Aberdeen Press and Journal's story on this decision by the Edrington Group:
Closedown of distillery could mean 30 lost jobs
Blow for Moray families in run-up to Christmas
By Emma Christie

Published: 21/11/2009

More than 30 whisky jobs could be lost after a major producer announced plans to close a Speyside distillery and maltings and scale back operations.

The Edrington Group announced it was likely to shut its Tamdhu Distillery, at Knockando, as the firm concentrated its efforts on its Easter Elchies site for The Macallan at Craigellachie, at Glenrothes, and at Highland Park in Orkney.

Last night local politicians said it was a blow to families across the area.

Edrington employs around 840 people in Scotland. The company is proposing to restructure the organisation, however, in response to the current economic downturn.

Chief executive Ian Curle said when Edrington announced its annual results in June that there had been reduced demand in a number of main markets due to the global economic crisis.

He said the company remained confident about its long-term prospects, but was adopting a cautious approach in the meantime.

The proposed changes, which could come into place by April, would result in up to 31 job losses across workforces at Tamdhu, The Macallan, Glenrothes, Highland Park and at Buchley, Bishopbriggs.

All employees have been told about the plans, which are out for consultation.

The company’s group operations director, Graham Hutcheon, said he hoped the proposals would ensure the long-term sustainability of its whisky operations.

“It would allow us to ensure that our business is the right size and shape in order to support current and future activity levels,” he said.

Last night Moray MP Angus Robertson said it was disappointing news.

“Following the news of job losses by Whyte & Mackay and Diageo in recent months there has been concern that other companies such as the Edrington Group would find themselves having to make decisions on cutting production and jobs,” he said.

“Unfortunately that concern has proved correct with the news of the mothballing of Tamdhu Distillery and other job cuts from the company.” Mr Robertson said it was important affected workers were given support to find new work.

The area’s MSP, Richard Lochhead, said it was bad news for local families. “With only a few weeks to go till Christmas it is going to be a stressful time for the families affected and we can only hope that the pressure on the industry will ease in the near future.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Whisky served ice cold: 2 Crates of Whyte & Mackay Produced blended Scotch Whisky were found at the South Pole

It seems two cases of whisky that had been taken along to the South Pole by Sir Ernest Shackelton's expedition have recently been discovered, though not as of yet unearthed. Shackleton's failed 1909 polar expedition abandoned all sort of supplies, including these two crates of a long since discontinued brand of blended Scotch whisky called "McKinlay and Co." Although the whisky has long been out of production, the brand remains under the ownership of Glasgow-based drinks company Whyte & Mackay, and they are eager for a sample to evaluate. If it is still a good blend, after all, they are eager to restart production – it’s both a heritage exercise for the company’s image/brand, and a chance to capitalize on a cool story.

The well-chilled hooch was discovered by a Kiwi expedition in 2006. Antarctic Heritage Trust program manager Al Fastier, in New Zealand, is leading the group entrusted with the preservation of Shackelton’s expedition newly found artifacts and camp site hut that sits at Cape Royds, Antarctica; his group is in charge of preserving three additional huts found along that coastline. In an effort to alleviate some of the structural damage caused by the century-long accumulation of snow under the hut, Fastier’s team was digging out the ice when they made the whisky discovery. They also found felt boots and containers of linseed oil.

Even though the discovery was made in 2006, only now are they talking about drilling the whisky out. Indeed, Fastier and his team are set to drill in January 2010.

Enter Whyte & Mackay Master Blender Richard Paterson. Paterson has been requesting samples to taste and evaluate. Paterson has a 1907 letter from Shackleton to Whyte & Mackay acknowledging receipt of the cases of the “Charles McKinlay & Co” blended Scotch whisky; he also has an old photograph of the label. The presumption is that Whyte & Mackay donated the booze as a sort of sponsorship of the expedition.

Paterson comments on his blog:

"You may have heard me mention on the whisky podcast (or if you’ve bumped into me recently) that there’s two crates of whisky belonging to Whyte and Mackay down at the South Pole from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s trip in the early 1900’s that I might be getting a sample of soon.

In January a team from Antarctic Heritage Trust are going back to Shackleton’s abandoned base at Cape Royds (97 miles from the pole) that he used before abandoning his quest for the pole in 1909.

However two feet under the ice, just outside the hut, are two crates of whisky (which cost a pricely 56 shillings!). An old brand from McKinlay and Co called ‘Rare Old’ that was part of a consignment of 25 crates given to Shackleton for his expedition.

Now it’s hoped that if the bottles can be recovered, perhaps one or two can come back home, which seems right. It’s been laying there lonely and neglected. It should come back to Scotland where it was born.

The problem is there are international treaties preventing us taking it. However we may get one or two. Failing that, we may get a sample back (by putting a needle in through the cork). We might even get enough to be able to take a stab at recreating it.

But, judging by the questions I get sent to Ask Richard, what you all want to know is: how will it taste? To which the answer is: cold.

Seriously, whiskies back then – a harder age – were all quite heavy and peaty as that was the style. And depending on the storage conditions it may still have that heaviness. For example, it may taste the same as it did back then if the cork has stayed in the bottle and kept it airtight.

But if the whisky is on its side, the cork may have been eroded by the whisky or air may have got in some other way – especially if the corks have been contracting and expanding with the temperature changes over the years and seasons.

As I show to a lot of people, I’ve got the original letter from Shackleton about the whisky so it would be great to have a dram of the actual drink to put next to it.

And you can bet, I’ll be talking a lot about this in January."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who owns Scotland's Whisky?

OK, so this is an OLD story, but I only just read it. It appeared on August 8th, 2010 on the HeraldScotland.com website, click here for the original posting. The only author byline was "heraldscotland staff."
Who owns our whisky?

Diageo is cutting 900 jobs at Kilmarnock and elsewhere, and Indian-owned Whyte & Mackay is axing 100 more. But does it matter that conglomerates and firms outside Scotland own most of the whisky industry? Chris Watt has been finding out

DECADES of foreign incursion have turned the Scotch whisky industry into a fiefdom of the major conglomerates, according to the heir to one of Scotland's last independent spirits dynasties.

George Grant, the sixth generation of his family to work at the Glenfarclas distillery in Speyside, made the comments after Whyte & Mackay, owned by an Indian tycoon, announced nearly 100 redundancies in its Scottish heartland.

Overseas firms now control nearly half Scotland's distilleries, and of the 60% that remain within UK ownership only around half belong to Scottish companies.

Grant, who has lived at the Glenfarclas distillery site since he was three years old, said: "It's incredible the changes that have occurred. We're family-owned and run, but it's weird when you go across to the US or somewhere and tell them that most distilleries are owned by Diageo, or Pernod Ricard. Most people, unfortunately, don't care.

"The world we're in is a conglomerate state, unfortunately."

The Grant family firm - not to be confused with the larger W Grant operation, which also retains its independence - is one Scotch whisky firm that has held out against foreign buyers.

But of Scotland's 105 distilleries, only 20 or so remain the property of smaller independent operators, and some of those are newer firms opened in the last decade.

Approximately 17% of Scotland's whisky industry is owned by continental Europe, with the largest players coming from France. Pernod Ricard, Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), Gruppo Campari, and La Martiniquaise, which has recently purchased Glen Moray distillery, are among the largest European owners.

Japanese firms such as Suntory account for 5% of the Scotch industry but, perhaps contrary to public perceptions, the United States owns relatively little, with just 2% of Scotland's distilleries.

Of multinationals elsewhere in the world, Thailand owns a chunk through its InterBev holding, Indian multimillionaire Vijay Mallya owns Whyte & Mackay, and a number of Caribbean rum firms make up the balance.

The latest figures may chill the blood of traditionalists who seek to keep Scotch in Scottish hands, but commentators across the industry spoke out in defence of big corporations and international investors.

Alan Gray, a whisky analyst with 40 years of experience, said although recent decades have seen a dramatic shift towards foreign ownership, this has led to increased investment and accelerated growth.

According to figures he has compiled for his annual Scotch Whisky Industry Review, the proportion of distilleries owned by UK firms has dropped from 78% in 1980 to just 60% now. The popular imagination often bestows "Local Hero" status on smaller firms, but Gray was upbeat about the effects of foreign and big-business intervention.

"In the main, the firms have actually done quite a good job, he said. "Scotch is such an international drink - 91% is exported - that you could actually see it as positive. It shows the importance that foreign investors put in it."

Diageo owns almost a third of Scotland's distilleries, and Peter Smith, the firm's head of Scotch and regulatory affairs, said: "You've got these foreign companies seeing the strength of Scotch and buying into the industry. It undoubtedly has a positive effect and it's been very, very successful. Last year there were £3.5bn of exports."

And while Diageo's London headquarters means it is often viewed with suspicion in the Scotch industry, Smith was at pains to point out that 30% to 40% of the company's global staff are employed in Scotland.

Of those brands still owned and based in Scotland, many of the biggest sellers belong to two large operators: the Edrington Group and W Grant & Sons.

Edrington, which last month announced record pre-tax profits of £94.8m, is unusual among whisky producers in being controlled by a charitable trust. Established in Glasgow in the 1850s, The Robertson Trust is now funded mainly through profits from its whisky business, and last year gave almost £10m to various charities. Historically, the group has adopted a "safety in numbers" approach, helping its brands to hold out against foreign interest, and it has recently shaken up its business by expanding overseas with the acquisition of Brugal rum in the Caribbean.

W Grant & Sons, which vies with Edrington for the title of second-largest producer in the UK, is still family-owned in spite of its massive size. It has also expanded recently beyond its traditional business, launching Sailor Jerry rum and the award-winning Hendrick's gin.

And while the giants tower over the industry, several smaller players spoke with grudging admiration of the work of the larger firms.

Jonathan Brown from the family-owned Drambuie liqueur firm, said: "You hear the same sort of arguments about Scottish land-ownership, and I think my view is that it doesn't matter so much where the owners of the company come from as how they run the business and act as guardians of the product. There's a number of cases where significant foreign investment has benefited industries, whether in whisky or elsewhere."

George Grant added: "If it wasn't for companies like Diageo, the rest of us might actually struggle. They're out there educating people - they've got a team of 30-odd whisky ambassadors who run tastings in the States every night, and they're not afraid to tell people that there are other brands beyond Johnnie Walker. They move people into drinking malt, but once you drink malts you realise there are other brands out there."

Even as the debate over ownership rumbles on, the Scotch whisky market still has plenty of space for both larger and smaller producers, said Leonard Russell, who owns and manages the family firm that produces Glengoyne.

"As the industry has consolidated, the size of the niche market has become bigger and so we too have become bigger. We think of ourselves a moderately sized family producer as top of division two, with the big multinationals in division one," he said.

"They can get huge distribution and build large brands, but we can be quite lean and mean and choose our market. We're not looking at costs as much as them. I say to the people who make Glengoyne, just make the best whisky you can', and that gives them enormous job satisfaction."

Scotch Whisky Association spokesman David Williamson stressed the importance of the fact that all Scotch whisky must, by law, be made in Scotland.

He added: "International investment shows confidence in the future growth of Scotch and is good news for the industry, helping Scottish distilleries compete in 200 export markets worldwide."

But even as they sing the praises of foreign owners, Scotland's domestically-owned firms are proud to state that they will be retaining their homeland bases long into the future.

"My father and grandfather were approached by foreign buyers, but you can only sell a distillery once - after that, what do you do?" asked Grant. "It's a great honour I have as the sixth generation here. If I walk into the warehouse I can see my name stencilled on every cask. That has to mean something."


Who drinks our drams?

WITH an export market of more than 200 countries, Scotch whisky can truly claim to be the world's most global spirit.

More than 90% of whisky consumers live outside the UK, and overseas sales of Scotch account for more than £3bn annually - almost one quarter of UK food and drink exports.

Given the USA's wealthy population of approximately 300 million people, it is not surprising America leads the world in whisky consumption. More than £371m of Scotch whisky was sold to the US last year, accounting for more than 100 million bottles - though France is fast catching up with the States as the most lucrative export market.

Despite having less than a quarter of the US population, the French actually drank more Scotch over the course of 2008 than their American counterparts. Consumers in France tended to buy cheaper whiskies, meaning that export values were slightly lower, but the gap between the two countries is closing fast as whisky catches on with Gallic drinkers. Figures from the Scotch Whisky Association show that France already buys more Scotch in a month than it does Cognac in a year.

Coming in third in the global exports table is Spain, where whisky is a popular drink with young clubbers. Contrary to the UK market, which tends to be geared towards older connoisseurs, many Mediterranean drinkers favour light blends with ice and mixers.

The remaining places on the global export table are spread around the world, with Singapore, South Korea, Greece, Germany, South Africa, Taiwan and Venezuela all enthusiastic whisky fans.

As leading distilleries look ahead to the future, however, many have their sights set firmly on the emerging markets that are expected to dominate the next century. While India, China, Russia, Mexico and Brazil may not drink huge quantities of whisky at the moment, demand is expected to soar as disposable incomes increase.

Overcoming the popularity of domestic spirits, such as cachaca, rum and tequila, will be one of the toughest challenges ahead for Scotch producers, and local contacts are seen as one of the key advantages provided by international conglomerates.

Scotch producers are united in their optimism for the future. Whisky exports rose steadily from 952 million bottles in 1999 to 1.8 billion last year and as the appeal grows worldwide, so too do whisky firms, Scottish-owned or otherwise ...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Whiskypedia: A Gazetteer of scotch Whisky by Charles MacLean just arrived in the post today!

I only just got my copy today, so there is much I can say at this point about Whiskypedia: A Gazetteer of scotch Whisky by Charles MacLean (Birlinn Ltd July 31, 2009; 352 pages; $30). That said, it looks tremendously good.

Until I have a chance to review this, here is some of the marketing blurb:

Individual distilleries give their whiskies unique characteristics. These characteristics do not arise magically (as was once thought), nor are they the result of terroir or region (as is still thought, by some). They have their roots in the craft and custom of the distillery and of the district in which it is located, but the key influences upon flavour are the distilling equipment itself, how it is operated and how the spirit is matured. For the first time, "MacLean's Whiskypedia" explores the flavour and character of every malt whisky distilled in Scotland with reference to how it is made.In this title, introductory sections explain the contribution made by each stage of production and maturation, to elucidate the detailed notes about how malt whisky is made at each distillery. The distillery entries also provide historical notes and quirky facts. Malt whisky is the quintessential 'spirit of place', and this element of the story has been captured by John Macpherson's camera in specially commissioned images which compliment the text. This is a wholly new approach to understanding and enjoying Scotch malt whisky, by the foremost authority on the subject in collaboration with one of Scotland's leading photographers.

I should also point out that Charlie MacLean is a great guy, and an absorbing writer on whisky. Here is more blurb on the book from Charlie's website:

Why does Scotch whisky taste as it does? Where do the flavours come from? How might they have they changed over the years?

The flavour of Scotch is as much influenced by history, craft and tradition as it is by science. Whiskypedia explores these influences. Introductory sections provide an historical overview, an examination of regional differences, and an explanation of the contribution made by each stage of the production process.

The Gazeteer which follows is a comprehensive guide to all the distilleries in Scotland (both malt and grain). Each entry provides a brief account of the distillery's history and curiosities, lists the bottlings which are currently available, details how the whisky is made and explores the flavour and character of each make.

Charles MacLean has spent almost thirty years researching, writing and lecturing about Scotch whisky. Whiskpedia is the result of deep emersion in its subject. It will guide, entertain and inform novices and experts alike.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Led Another Single Malts Masterclass for 40 Folks in DC

OK, so I actually did this last week, but I then flew out of town for for a few days and have only just gotten back...sorry for the delay.

Last Thursday I led another single malts masterclass for tastedc.com. This one was held at the Embassy Row Hilton in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, DC. I don't recall how many of these I've done to date, but Charlie, the tastedc promoter/organizer, keeps asking me back, so I must be doing something right. ;-)

This particular tasting featured 8 single malt Scotch whiskies as part of the formal tasting and then another 20+ single malts for folks to sample while schmoozing. We had about 40 folks at this (at about $65 a head) -- not a bad turnout given the ongoing recession.

The 8 single malts I chose were:

1. Littlemill 16 (Gordon & MacPhail bottling)
2. Glenfarclas 10
3. Glenmorangie 10
4. Springbank 10
5. Arran Cognac Cask Finish
6. Talisker 10
7. Highland Park 12
8. Ardbeg 10

We covered all the basics of what is Single Malt Scotch Whisky? I ran through the usual terms: Whisky, Scotch Whisky, Single Malt or “Malt Whisky”, Single Cask, Cask Strength, Blended Scotch, Scotch Whisky, Blended Malt/Pure Malt/Vatted Malt, etc. We also covered the whisky "regions" of Scotland: Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, and the “Islands” like the Isle of Skye, Orkney, Jura, and Arran. I also ran through some of the various sub-divisions, and explained the marketing strategies of all of this and the centrality of marketing and branding to one's sense of and knowledge about the Scotch whiskies we drink.

Now all through this, I punctuate the "geeky" info with the formal tasting -- focusing on how to "taste," "nose," evaluate, drink, and enjoy single malt Scotch whisky. I also run through some of the general history of the distilleries for each of the eight whiskies being sampled (in real time).

On this night, as at every of these tastings, I was asked about adding water, using soda, ice, other mixers, etc. As always, I try to persuade folks that whisky is meant to be consumed for personal pleasure. So their ought not to be undue concern with rigid rules; drink it in whatever way you wish. IF you wish to maximize your sensory interaction with a dram so as to evaluate it connoisseur-like, then, YES, there is a very specific way to do this. Accordingly, I always run the tasting along these slightly more rigorous lines. But if folks prefer their whisky in their breakfast cereal, than so be it. THOUGH I DO ALWAYS ENCOURAGE RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION ;-)

The next big chunk of info I distill for the group are the various steps for making single malt Scotch whisky. Doubtless I went overboard on the sometimes technical info here, I'm sure I always do. Though as the questions usually come fast and furious throughout, who knows...maybe I could do even more. Charlie usually signals me to keep moving. We covered Malting, Mashing, Fermentation, Distillation, and Maturation.

I always discuss maturation in great detail, given how substantial the cask influence is on the final taste profile and quality of the whisky. We discussed why oak casks are used, and what different properties the different types of oak offer, and then discussed, at some length, the whole sherry cask or wine cask versus Bourbon cask distinction, as well as the preponderance for cask "finishing" or additional maturation in casks other than the sort the whisky was primarily matured in.

Along the way, I generally cover all sorts of trivia, history and miscellanea.

By this point we've gone through all 8 whiskies and covered about 90 to 110 minutes of material (though I generally keep everything fun and lively). After all, enjoyment is the ENTIRE purpose of these evenings and I firmly believe in going with the mood of the crowd (that is, if the crowd clearly isn't interested in too much detail I simplify and encourage folks to ask me more questions during the break or at the end).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Glen Grant is coming back to the USA!

Over at the "What Does John Know?" blog of Malt Advocate magazine's editor and publisher, John Hansell reports that his contact at Skyy Spirits LLC , sole distributor for Gruppo Campari (aka the Campari Group), informed him that they will be importing Glen Grant single malt Scotch whisky and that the first bottles will be available for tasting at WhiskyFest NY on November 10th, 2009.

Commenting on his blog post, I offered my own brief two-cents:

Finally! This is one of those Speyside gems that has been given short shrift over the years. It was the first distillery in Rothes, built in 1840. The vast majority of the malt has been going to Chivas Bros blends (now about 50% goes towards blends). In 2006 the Campari Group bought it and breathed some new life into the place, bringing back Dennis Malcolm, who was born at the distillery, as distillery manager (this is his second stint; he is one of only 8 distillery managers since 1840). Campari put some money back into the place and gave Malcolm some freedom to improve and rebrand a little. The downside, was that the Italians kept most of the single malt for their own market (it has been the #1 malt whisky seller there since 1961). A couple of years back, about 7 months after the sale to Campari, I spent a wonderful afternoon and early evening with Distillery Manager Dennis Malcolm touring the place, tasting the whisky, interviewing him and generally enjoying myself and his company. Glen Grant is a fun and lovely distillery to visit, and, more importantly, a first rate dram to savor and enjoy.

I'll have to update this soon with a full on distillery profile. Very exciting news methinks.