Looking rosy for Scotland’s distilleries

on 30/05/11 at 12:17 pm

Spirits

The river of whisky flowing through Strathspey is now in full spate.

Production has been cranked up to meet the surge in scotch whisky sales abroad. In the past decade the value of exports has risen by 60% to £3.45billion. Which, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, equates to more than £100 a second.

I mention Strathspey because it has been the engine room of the whisky trade for over a century. Thanks to a late Victorian building boom, the region has far more distilleries than any other and its malts supply the heart of most of the top-selling blends. There are also some cracking Speyside single malts that deserve to be better known – Glenrothes, Cragganmore and Longmorn, to name but three.

And now there is Roseisle – the first of perhaps a new generation of whisky distilleries, which opened in 2009 a few miles west of Elgin and which I visited recently. There has been the odd boutique distillery built since the 1970s, but nothing on this scale. Given that it pumps out 10 million litres of spirit a year, roughly the same as Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, there is nothing remotely boutique about Roseisle.

Shaped like the main hull section of an upturned tanker, with a huge maltings next door, it hardly looks like your average distillery. There is no pagoda-like roof, no visitors’ centre, or kilted tour guides. Yet, inside, it all looks reassuringly familiar.

Fourteen classic pot stills in varnished copper are displayed in a still room that could be a modern art gallery. Radiating warmth and whisky 24 hours a day, seven days a week, this would have been a great place to have spent last winter.

The first spirit produced here won’t become whisky until 2012, when it has spent the statutory three years in cask. The official line from its owners, Diageo, is that there won’t be a Roseisle single malt, though I am sure a few bottles will slip out – and I would be very curious to try some.

Roseisle represents Diageo’s belief in its blends, particularly Johnnie Walker, but it also symbolises the whisky industry’s faith in future demand. By its nature, whisky is a long-term business and while those in production tend to be in it for life, those in marketing tend to flit from one brand of spirits to the next. Unfortunately it is the marketeers who make the forecasts.

If they have got it wrong, it will probably not be Roseisle that suffers. It is the greenest, most energy-efficient distillery in Scotland and its presence will make its Victorian neighbours feel vulnerable if there is a downturn. Hopefully the forecasts will prove correct and huge potential markets like India will finally open up – in which case they had better start building more distilleries, and fast.

Even more exciting would be if a serious cut in corporation tax persuaded the entire scotch whisky industry to come back to Scotland. Just imagine all the high-end jobs that would result if the likes of Johnnie Walker, currently residing in Amsterdam, returned home.

SOURCE: The Herald Scotland

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