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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Diageo

The Nightcap: 19 November

Big news this week as Heineken buys Distell, Gordon’s Gin has a new look, and there’s been a Fok Hing mess for a Hong Kong gin brand whose brand name…

Big news this week as Heineken buys Distell, Gordon’s Gin has a new look, and there’s been a Fok Hing mess for a Hong Kong gin brand whose brand name was deemed offensive. It’s the Nightcap: 19 November!

November continues to speed along but we’re not racing to Christmas just yet because there’s plenty to enjoy. Getting to wear big coats again. Eating casserole after casserole. And learning what the world of booze is up to this week. It’s always something and it’s usually entertaining. This week is no different. Let’s get stuck in.

But first, we had #WhiskySanta back on the blog to give you the chance to Super Wish your way to a bottle of Bunnahabhain 40 Year Old, before we had our own giveaway for The Macallan 25 Year Old Sherry Oak. We then gave you the opportunity to take a virtual tour of Pernod Ricard’s new whisky distillery in China, heard Dr. Nick Morgan’s warning about whisky investment firms, and learned from Lauren Eads that bourbon is more dynamic than you might think. We also tasted the world’s first biodynamic whisky, mixed up a winter classic, cast an eye on the new Wine Cask series from That Boutique-y Whisky and That Boutique-y Rum, and enjoyed some warming whiskies with a distinctly smoky profile.

But we’re not done yet. Now it’s time for The Nightcap: 19 November edition!

Bunnahabhain Nightcap: 19 November

Soon this will be owned by Heineken

Heineken buys Bunnahabhain parent, Distell 

Big news came from Heineken this week who revealed plans to buy South African wine and spirits maker Distell Group Holdings in a €2.2 billion deal. If approved, the transaction will include an internal restructure of Distell to create two new businesses: Newco and Capevin. The former will combine Distell’s portfolio of spirits, wine, cider and ready-to-drink beverages with Heineken’s Southern Africa and export markets business, which includes Namibia Breweries and South African whisky distillery James Sedgwick. Capevin will include the company’s remaining assets, including its Scotch whisky business, consisting of the Deanston, Tobermory and Bunnahabhain brands. As part of the agreement, Heineken will own a minimum 65% stake in Newco, while Distell’s largest shareholder Remgro will retain control of Capevin. “Together, this partnership has the potential to leverage the strength of Heineken’s global footprint with our leading brands to create a formidable, diverse beverage company for Africa,” says Distell CEO Richard Rushton. “I am excited for what lies ahead as we look to combine our strong and popular brands and highly complementary geographical footprints to create a world class African company in the alcohol beverage sector.” We’re intrigued what effect this move will have on some of our favourite single malts.

“Know when to stop” warns Diageo this Christmas

Diageo’s latest campaign is a long way from the clever and witty adverts of the past (see some of our favourites here). It’s called “know when to stop” and it consists of a series of short animations warning people of the dangers of over indulgence over Christmas. Not just with booze but online activity, eating and home decorating. They were created by the exquisitely-named Cari Vander Yacht, an award-winning illustrator. She explained, “I wanted to visually capture the sort of manic nature of ‘too much of a good thing’ which was central to the overall idea of moderation.” Kate Gibson, global director of Diageo in society (where do they come up with these job titles?) added: “We know the holidays are an important time of year for people to be getting together and celebrating. This campaign is a fun, festive reminder that there’s a happy limit to everything and the holidays are best enjoyed in moderation, be that drinking, eating, or binge-watching.” The global campaign refers viewers to Diageo’s DRINKiQ site. It’s part of the company’s Society 2030 plan, to suck all the joy out of life, sorry, “to educate people on the risks of the harmful use of alcohol.” All very laudable, the trouble is the films are just not terribly memorable and become irritating after just one view, especially with the Peppa Pig-esque music. We worry they might have the opposite effect to the intended.

Kinahan's digital brand ambassadors

What will the future be like… in 1992

Kinahan’s brings you digital brand ambassadors

During lockdown, digital tastings proliferated. We all got used to tasting whisky and chatting with brand ambassadors like Boutique-y Dave or Georgie Bell from Bacardi, virtually. Now Kinahan’s has had the brain wave: since we don’t need to meet BAs IRL, then why not cut out the human entirely? Fiendishly clever and more than a little sinister. This week the Irish whiskey brand unveiled some “digital brand ambassadors”. These frankly rather rubbish-looking creations (see photo) will start appearing on digital platforms from this week. Irish whiskey writer Bill Linnane caught the look when he said “Lawnmower Man but whiskey.” At the moment, it all seems very much in the development stage but apparently they will become fully interactive thanks to the magic of AI. Director Zak Oganian tried to explain: “Building meaningful relationships with consumers is an integral part of our brand longevity. For Kinahan’s, implementing new technologies is going to be a journey of trial and error. Once we get it right, the next generation of whiskey drinkers will enjoy a new enriched reality”. But what we want to know is: will these digital BAs be able to go off on a tangent like Colin Dunn from Diageo? 

Nikos Sourbatis Head Bartender Clumsies

Head bartender Nikos Sourbatis. He doesn’t look very clumsy, TBH

The Clumsies pop-up coming to London this December

Do you fancy visiting one of the world’s great bars, The Clumsies, but can’t face the ever-changing rules about air travel? Well, you’re in luck because the award-winning Athens bar will be putting on a London pop-up at Hotbox Spitalfields on Wednesday 8 and Thursday 9 December. There you can try The Clumsies trademark “perfectly imperfect” cocktails such as ‘X-tasis’, a sweet and sour mix of buttered aged rum, passion (fruit we assume though it might just be raw Greek passion), pineapple, fermented milky oolong tea, or ‘Intimacy’ which features Tequila blanco, mezcal, beetroot kvass, pandan, turmeric, and London Essence Rosemary and Grapefruit Tonic. The team has also prepared its own interpretation of the Negroni called ‘Eden Garden’ containing London dry gin, sandalwood Campari, Mancino Sakura vermouth, and eden flower. In fact everything on the menu sounds delicious. Bookings are recommended though you may be in luck if you turn up on the off-chance. And if you can’t get in, then at least you haven’t travelled that far. That’s assuming London is closer to you than Athens. 

Gordons_bottle

New Gordon’s bottle! It’s a lot like the old one!

Gordon’s Gin reveals new bottle

Gordon’s Gin has a new look. The updated bottle design pays homage to the rich history of Gordon’s and emphasises the flavour experience of each variant with highlighted taste cues. It’s also made from up to 85% recycled glass as part of owner Diageo’s commitment to making its packaging widely recyclable by 2032. This is a big deal as 40% of gins purchased in Britain are Gordon’s core expression, at least according to the brand. Some things haven’t changed, however, the Royal Warrant, the same scripted Gordon’s font on a green glass bottle since the inception of the brand in 1769, and the classic boar’s head. “We are incredibly proud to launch the latest fresh and stylish design for Gordon’s gin, which builds on our rich history and familiarity whilst highlighting the taste cues and making the bottle even more attractive,” says Mark Jarman, global head of Gordon’s Gin. “On top of the eye-catching aesthetics, this bottle is also part of our journey towards our wider sustainability targets, ensuring all packaging is widely recyclable by 2030. So, we are incredibly proud of this latest development.” The brand new bottle design has already started to be rolled out globally, so expect to see it sooner rather than later. 

(Im)perfect Martini - Lyaness - 11NOV_Caitlin Isola

That’s an (Im)perfect Martini (credit: Caitlin Isola)

Lyaness launches brand new menu

London bar Lyaness has a habit of producing menus that are full of drinks that sound so good we want to try them all (not in one night, drink responsibly). Its new cocktail list, featuring five house-made ingredients and a culinary-driven approach, is no different. Named the ‘Lyaness British Cookbook’, it is the first new menu since the pandemic and has a particular focus on iconic flavours which have global resonance, looked at through a British lens. Ingredients such as green sauce liqueur, oyster honey, and blood Curaçao, an ingredient inspired by the fruity richness and body which blood can bring to a dish – think black pudding. The process behind each of them will take a cook’s approach to flavour and focus on ingredients rather than drinks themselves. The 15-serve menu was designed by the bar team, who are sure to wow guests with their usual brand of unusual and unique processes. Expect delightful creations like the (Im)perfect Martini (Discarded Grape Skin Vodka, grass amazake, Fierfield birch, overripe ‘nectarine’), the Chestnut Rabble (Hendrick’s Gin, green sauce liqueur, St Germain, beeswax, chestnut orgeat, pineapple leaf soda), and the Brackish Rickey (Martell VSOP Cognac, smoked passionfruit, oyster honey, ocean soda). It launches next week so we highly advise you to check it out.

Valentian Vermouth

Dominic Tait enjoying his own vermouth (credit: Kirsty Anderson)

Scottish vermouth brothers hit crowdfunding target in two days

Gone are the days when the choice of vermouth came down to French or Italian. There’s Regal Rogue in Australia, Asterley Bros. in England, and representing Scotland, Valentian. Now this award-winning Scottish brand is expanding. Thanks to the magic of crowdfunding, it has raised £120,000 from 170 investors in just two days. Valentian Rosso was created by the Dominic and David Tait (what is it with brothers and vermouth?) in 2019 and blends Scottish new make spirit with Italian wine and botanicals. The extra money will go to hiring a full-time staff member, launching new products, a secco and a bianco, and there are plans to open a brand home in the Borders region. Dominic Tait commented: “Our post-crowdfunding plans are well under way, and it’s incredibly exciting to be looking at locations for our HQ. We are looking forward to bringing our first full-time employee on board in January with a focus on the west of Scotland, where we see huge opportunities in Glasgow in particular. This will augment the significant strides we have already made in Edinburgh and the east. We are beyond pleased with the plans for our new brand home, and very optimistic about the sites we have identified. Once the feasibility study is complete, we will then look to move onto the next stage with planning. It’s too early to say exactly when it will open, but we will have an update soon.” Exciting times for Valentian.

Poppy Delevingne Batch & Bottle

“Oh this old thing?”, Poppy Delevingne casually enjoying a batched cocktail

Poppy Delevingne announced as the face of Batch & Bottle

Did you think you’d get through an edition of The Nightcap without a celebrity booze project? Think again! The latest famous face is Poppy Delevingne, British model, actress, and, according to the press bumf, ultimate dinner party hostess, who was announced as the face of the Batch & Bottle range of pre-bottled cocktails. “I love nothing more than having my friends over for cocktail parties or intimate dinners. Having hosted a few in my time, I know how daunting it is when all eyes are on you, which is why I am always looking for simple pleasures that can easily elevate any occasion and make your guests feel special,” Delevingne said. “That’s why I’m so excited to be partnering with Batch & Bottle, the cocktails are delicious and add a bit of glamour to any party. Each offers something slightly different – from the sweet Reyka Rhubarb Cosmopolitan to the dry but elegant Hendrick’s Gin Martini, it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite. It’s like having your very own bartender in a bottle. What cocktail dreams are made of.” The range is made of four pre-bottled cocktails, completed by the Glenfiddich Scotch Manhattan and Monkey Shoulder Lazy Old Fashioned. Now you too can truly party like the stars – though we reckon we probably won’t be waiting until an extravagant dinner party to crack these out.

a-bottle-of-fok-hing-gin-1024x696_646w

It’s a Fok Hing funny story

And finally… Hong Kong gin name ruled offensive

A Hong Kong gin has been forced by the Portman Group to change its name after it was deemed offensive. It was previously called Fuk Hing Gin. Stop giggling at the back. According to the brand, the name pays homage to Fuk Hing Lane, a street in Causeway Bay, on Hong Kong Island. Nevertheless, the producer, Incognito Group, changed the name to Fok Hing Lane after consultation with the industry watchdog. But the story doesn’t end there because a member of the public complained about the new name, stating: “Personally I wouldn’t want to see this product on family supermarket shelves or being promoted in an environment where children have access — such as most social media sites.” The complaint was made in relation to rule 3.3 – that a drink’s name, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not cause serious or widespread offence, according to a statement on the Portman Group website. The brand went on the attack on its social media pages, addressing “the Karen who got offended by our name …” It continued: “We have agreed to update the reverse label to be more descriptive of the details that inspired our brand, and look forward to introducing our UK fans to a little bit of Hong Kong history whilst they enjoy Fok Hing Gin during the forthcoming festive season and beyond.” Too Fok Hing right.

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How Scotch whisky opened up

Ian Buxton returns to take a look at how Scotch whisky opened up. He remembers a time when master distillers were unknown and unreachable, and whisky production was a secret…

Ian Buxton returns to take a look at how Scotch whisky opened up. He remembers a time when master distillers were unknown and unreachable, and whisky production was a secret kept by each distillery. Now the industry is much more open, accessible and diverse. Here’s how it happened. 

You probably noticed the recent announcement that, at the end of a distinguished career of more than forty years, Johnnie Walker master blender Dr. Jim Beveridge OBE is to retire soon and will be succeeded by a Dr. Emma Walker [no relation, Ed.].

Whisky stepped out of the shadows

Dr. Emma Walker is succeeding the legendary Dr. Jim Beveridge OBE

The illustrious women of Scotch whisky

This news has been extensively covered (rightly) so I won’t elaborate here other than to offer congratulations. Dr. Walker joins the many other highly capable women changing the face of the whisky industry. In the blending rooms alone we can count Maureen Robinson, also at Diageo, Rachel Barrie (BenRiach etc.) and Stephanie Macleod at Dewar’s among others – and that’s before mentioning the women in senior executive roles in finance, marketing and other key positions. Just a decade or so ago this would have been quite exceptional and widely remarked upon; today we take it for granted.

It suddenly struck me that this was just one of the very many changes that I can recount after my near-forty years in whisky. For an industry all too frequently thought of as resistant to change and overly traditional in its ways, I can reflect on changes that seem quite radical and profound. Never mind lady master distillers and blenders, the whole role and visibility of this once mysterious character has been transformed. Previously shadowy but powerful figures, they were invisible to the outside world – and hidden even from many of their colleagues. I started work in the mid-1980s for a well-respected firm of Glasgow blenders, now part of Edrington, in a middle management marketing role.

The marketer who asked to meet the blender!

One day, shortly after joining, I expressed a wish to meet The Blender (for so he – and it was always going to be a ‘he’ in those days – was styled and spoken of) and learn more about what he actually did and how this linked to marketing. Consternation! The Blender would be busy. The Blender could not be disturbed from his sacred work. The Blender did not concern himself with matters such as marketing and, if impertinent young marketing folks knew what was good for them, they did not enter his inner sanctum.

In actual fact, he turned out to be Paul Rickards (remembered today for his contribution to the development of the tasting wheel) and, once he recovered from the shock of talking to me, proved affable, engaging and very open to sharing his knowledge. He wasn’t terrifying at all and would probably have fitted right into today’s world where distillery managers and distillers are rock stars, highly visible on promotional world tours, presenting at whisky shows, signing bottles and posing for selfies. One wonders, on occasion, just how much blending and distilling they manage to fit into their busy week.

It’s about transparency, something that the industry has embraced to an astounding degree. Take visitor centres, or ‘brand homes’ as they are increasingly styled. Once, really not so long ago, distilleries were closed and secretive places. Believe it or not, it was quite normal for colleagues outside a production role to have to seek permission in advance to visit distillery or bottling facilities and expect to be questioned on the purpose of the trip.

Whisky stepped out of the shadows

Johnnie Walker Princes Street Experience demonstrates how public access to whisky is changing

How Scotch whisky opened up

The first visitor centres date from the late 1960s when both Glenfarclas and Glenfiddich had some limited – very limited by today’s standards – facilities for the public. However, with a few exceptions, in general the idea was firmly resisted by the rest of the industry for a further twenty years or so. Notably, the DCL (forerunner of Diageo) gave long consideration to the concept of building a small model distillery, codenamed the Bothy Still, which would open to the public thus avoiding the trouble and expense of visitors to their ‘real’ distilleries. In the event that plan was abandoned in favour of a modest exhibition above the public toilet block in a layby off the A9 by Kingussie (today it’s the privately-run Ralia Café and a great place for a short break on the tedious drive north).

Compare that attitude to the reputed £150m Diageo have just spent on the Johnnie Walker Princes Street Experience and its four satellite distillery centres. Public access to distilleries is now the norm and those that maintain a closed door policy a fast-diminishing minority.  They are frequently critical to the economics of many new boutique ‘craft’ operations where visitors are welcomed with open arms (and a ringing till).

Greater transparency

Alongside this transparency there has been a greater willingness to share details of production, blend make-up, cask regimes and so on that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. While some brands continue to resist, a new generation of more open-minded industry leaders have recognized that today’s well informed, media savvy and curious consumers cannot be fobbed off with PR platitudes, misty faux-heritage anecdotes and a few sepia-tinted photos of Victorian gents with resplendent facial hair and curious hats.

Distillers such as Waterford and Sweden’s Gotland provide astonishing amounts of information on their websites for all to see. Sometimes the detail can be overwhelming but the evidence seems to be that the more a brand shares the more the consumer (or some of them at least) will happily absorb and then come back for more. The distillers of my youth would require many a long and liquid lunch to overcome their apoplexy at such heretical disclosures.

So, many changes, though arguably more could and should be done. Notably, the whisky industry in the UK remains predominantly white and middle class, albeit with an improved and improving male/female balance, while ethnic minorities remain a rarity, certainly at any level of management. However, take some comfort from these few thoughts based on a lifetime’s observations. Don’t believe the historically ill-informed Jeremiahs who suggest that this is a stuffy and unduly conservative industry – hopefully this brief survey belies that view and provides hope for a better future.

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Diageo to build single malt whisky distillery in China

Diageo has announced that it will be building a US $75 million single malt whisky distillery in Eryuan County in Yunnan Province. Exciting news, but what does this mean for…

Diageo has announced that it will be building a US $75 million single malt whisky distillery in Eryuan County in Yunnan Province. Exciting news, but what does this mean for the future of Scotch whisky in one of its biggest export markets?

Back in September 2019, we reported on Pernod Ricard’s plans to build a US$150 million whisky distillery in China. Now, two years later, we have Diageo’s response. Called the Diageo Eryuan Malt Whisky Distillery, it will be a 66,000 sq metre (710,000 sq ft) single malt distillery with tourist facilities located in Yunnan Province in southwest China, near Tibet. 

The Diageo Eryuan Malt Whisky Distillery, barrel room

The spectacular proposed barrel room

High altitude distilling

Ground was broken on the project on 2 November and construction is planned to start in 2022, while it’s scheduled to begin distilling in 2023. The site is at a high altitude, over 2,100 metres above sea level, and apparently, it was chosen partly for its plentiful supplies of spring water. In line with Diageo’s Society 2030: Spirit of Progress initiative, the distillery aims to recycle all the waste water, produce zero waste and be carbon neutral.

President of Diageo Asia Pacific and global travel, Sam Fischer explained: “China is the world’s largest beverage alcohol market, and the demand for whisky is growing rapidly among middle-class consumers who are keen to further discover and enjoy fine whiskies. Today we celebrate another significant step forward, and one which builds upon our local insights and combines those with Diageo’s global whisky expertise in order to delight the next generation of Chinese whisky consumers. The natural surroundings and the Eryuan landscape will allow us to craft a world-class, China-origin, single malt whisky that will capture the imagination of premium whisky lovers in China.”

This isn’t Diageo’s first whisky initiative in China. Back in April 2019, it created Zhong Shi Ji whisky in collaboration with a Chinese baijiu producer, Jiangsu Yanghu, which it described as “premium taste of east and west.”

The Diageo Eryuan Malt Whisky Distillery, visitor centre

Artist’s impression of the visitor centre

What does this mean for Scotch whisky?

China is a $1.7 billion whisky market, and much of it comes from Scotland. This new distillery does rather beg the question as to what happens to Scotland’s premium brands when products from Diageo’s (and Pernod Ricard’s) distilleries go on sale.

We published an article by Ian Buxton in 2019 on Pernod Ricard’s Chinese venture which now looks alarmingly prescient:

“The more drinkers are persuaded that great whisky can be made anywhere in the world, the more that Scotch whisky’s premium cachet and exclusivity will fade. This is the start of a very slippery slope and today’s confidence can all too easily be revealed as tomorrow’s complacency.”

Only time will tell whether he is right or not.

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The Nightcap: 6 August

Settle in for the latest edition of our weekly news round-up featuring Tanqueray’s Summer Garden, regrettably drier Antarctic research stations, and a crafty, vodka-loving festival-goer plus some big news from…

Settle in for the latest edition of our weekly news round-up featuring Tanqueray’s Summer Garden, regrettably drier Antarctic research stations, and a crafty, vodka-loving festival-goer plus some big news from Johnnie Walker. It’s all in the Nightcap: 6 August edition. 

Since we last went Nightcapping seven days have passed and that means a whole fresh batch is required. Luckily we’ve just upgraded our boozy news oven so we’ve got a particularly tasty set of stories for you to get your teeth stuck into this week. We find that a dram of something delicious makes for the perfect pairing too, so why not pour yourself something tasty and enjoy. 

This week the MoM blog became home to TWO new competitions giving you the chance to bag some Japanese or American whiskey goodies courtesy of Suntory and Jack Daniel’s. Meanwhile, our guest contributors had a busy week as Lucy looked into the history of Campari, Millie caught up with some of the drinks industry’s most avid glassware collectors and Dr. Nick Morgan joined us for the first time to pen an explosive article on the murky relationship between the Scotch and Japanese whisky industries. Elsewhere, there was still time for Adam to enjoy some rule-breaking Cognac and for Henry to sample an intriguing gin flavoured with Tokaji grapes as well as the delightful Rebujito cocktail.

Now on with the Nightcap: 6 August edition!

The Nightcap: 6 August

We’ll be heading to the opening event and will report back soon!

Tickets on sale for Johnnie Walker Princes Street

It’s been a long time coming but finally, Johnnie Walker’s swanky new brand home on Edinburgh’s Princes Street is open. Well, nearly, the building will open to the public on 6 September, but tickets are already on sale now (go here for more information.) The building was meant to open last year in time for Johnnie Walker’s 200th anniversary. Barbara Smith, managing director of Diageo’s Scotland brand homes, explained the reason for the delayed opening: “Over the past year we have faced unprecedented challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic but now we can finally start the countdown to the opening of Johnnie Walker Princes Street”. Spread over 71,500 sq feet of prime New Town real estate, the building features the 1820 bar with views across the city and the Label Studio which will offer live events. Meanwhile, you can learn the 200-year-old story of Johnnie Walker, from its beginnings in a grocer’s shop in Kilmarnock, to being the biggest whisky brand in the world! Smith elaborated: “Johnnie Walker Princes Street will offer something unlike any other visitor experience in Scotland. It will be a venue for everyone, whether that’s visitors to Scotland or local people in Edinburgh, Scotch whisky lovers, or those savouring Scotch whisky for the first time. We can’t wait for you to join us.” We’ll be reporting from the opening on 6 September, so watch this space for more Johnnie Walker news. 

The Nightcap: 6 August

It’s another incredibly impressive range

Diageo announces new Prima & Ultima whiskies

More news from Diageo as the whisky giant announces the arrival of a new batch of Prima & Ultima releases. This exclusive set of eight whiskies from various distilleries are sure to get enthusiasts excited. How exclusive? Well, there are two bottles from ‘ghost’ distilleries: a 1984 Convalmore, and 1980 peated Brora. Then there’s a Linkwood 1981 aged in a mixture of PX, Oloroso and new American Oak, an unusual experimental Singleton of Glendullan 1992 aged first in refill casks before maturation in two small ex-Madeira barriques for further fourteen years, plus a 1979 Talisker, 1992 Lagavulin, 1974 Auchroisk and 1995 Mortlach. If you have to ask the price, you probably can’t afford a set, RRP is £23,500 for the collection. It was put together by master blender Maureen Robinson who commented: “This is a selection of very special single malts – some that have never before seen the light of day and others that are the fleeting and final examples of their kind. Each bottling shares a glimpse into the history of Scotch and one that I am honoured to have witnessed in person. I remember choosing to hold back the cask filled at Auchroisk knowing it would be special for the future and the anticipation and excitement of the maturation trials we undertook with Linkwood and The Singleton, now realised in these releases. Some of these casks I helped to lay down, and have taken great pleasure in tending to them since, so I chose them with rich memories in mind. Each has its own unique style, which you can now explore for yourself.” We’ll be tasting some of these whiskies shortly and will report back. Yeah, it’s a tough life. 

The Nightcap: 6 August

The house whisky can be bought online

Fife Arms launches whisky with Dave Broom & Adelphi

This May, The Fife Arms hotel in the Highland village of Braemar opened a new whisky bar called Bertie’s, inspired by the famous Royal bon viveur, King Edward VII, also known as ‘Bertie’. This is very exciting because Dave Broom helped curate the 365-strong-selection (one for each day of the year!) which will be arranged by flavour profiles such as Fragrant, Fruity, Rich & Smoky. But what’s even more exciting is that The Fife Arms has marked the opening by commissioning its own whisky! The Fife Arms Braemar Whisky was made in collaboration with Broom and Alex Bruce, managing director of independent bottler and distiller Adelphi. The Fife Arms celebrates Scottish history and culture, so the team set out to create a whisky reminiscent of the signature styles enjoyed in the era when the hotel first opened in 1856. That’s why they used sherry butts, the cask type most widely used during this time, and smoky whisky from Ardnamurchan Distillery to create a classic 19th century-style blend. The hotel’s house whisky will launch on 13th September and will be available to purchase from the hotel’s shop and its online shop, retailing at £95 a bottle. Plus, there’s more to come as later this year, as the hotel will launch a collection of single cask whiskies in partnership with Broom and Bruce.

The Nightcap: 6 August

It’s all international summer vibes courtesy of Tanqueray

Tanqueray Gin’s Summer Garden lands in London 

Tanqueray Gin’s Summer Garden has just opened in Flat Iron Square, London, giving us a chance to visit Seville, France and India through the different Tanqueray gins and botanicals. In classic British style, it was  wet and rainy when we attended, but we just renamed it the English Summer Garden and drank our cocktails under a bit of shelter – we’re all used to the weather by now. Thankfully the rain did clear up and we were able to sit on a fetching swing bench covered in orange flowers and orange trees, wander around the fountain flowing with actual Negroni, and try some delicious food.  These included a chicken bao bun, pumpkin boa buns, and pink(!) pasta. But we were really there for the gin. You can treat yourself to a gin masterclass where you taste the Tanqueray range, including five cocktails and snack pairing. You can also get stuck into a magnificent gin tree, taking you all around the world through different Tanqueray & Tonics: Tanqueray Rangpur, Blackcurrant Royale, and Flor de Sevilla all feature, or you can build your own. There is even the chance to win weekly prizes if you can find the hidden QR codes dotted around the garden. We particularly enjoyed playing a spot of boules, which is the perfect way to spend your day while sipping on a cocktail. You can book a visit here – it’s running until 30 August.

Bowmore and Aston Martin’s new collaboration

You might remember back in 2019 Bowmore and luxury British car maker Aston Martin teamed up to create Black Bowmore DB5 1964 whisky which was presented in a bottle incorporating a genuine Aston Martin DB5 piston. This was followed by the first automotive offering, the DBX Bowmore. Now the duo is launching a new range, the Designed by Aston Martin collection. It has given three classic Bowmore whiskies a new look, inspired by some of Aston Martin’s rarest and most influential cars. The new-look limited-edition collection features Bowmore 10, 15, and 18 Years Old single malts which will be released annually exclusively in global travel retail outlets. The Bowmore 10 Years Old is paired with the Aston Martin factory Team Car, the LM10, which first raced at Le Mans in 1932; the 15 Years Old takes inspiration from the Aston Martin Atom, and the 18 Years Old celebrates the Aston Martin DB Mk III. “These limited-edition releases not only celebrate our partnership but also give some of our wonderful whiskies a whole new look which I know will excite Bowmore fans and collectors around the world,” says David Turner, Bowmore distillery manager. “By bringing together our skills and passions, we are inviting drinkers to explore our stunning and exclusive GTR collection whilst also showcasing how our shared commitment to heritage and craftsmanship can truly come to life.” Travelers can find the collection in Duty-Free stores from this month. 

The Nightcap: 6 August

Glen Grant is one of the distilleries that benefit from Forsyth’s expertise

Forsyths opens Irish division 

Forsyths has big news this week as the Moray copper still maker and fabrication firm has opened a division in Ireland. Meeting increasing demand from the distilling industry, the Rothes-based group is involved in a number of projects in the country, including the construction of a new distillery in which U2 rock star Bono is a shareholder. Richard Forsyth, managing director of the family-run business, said it had launched a facility north of Dublin, where a coppersmith and pipefitters are based. “Business has been very buoyant for us in Ireland,” he added. “The famous Bushmills Distillery has just been doubled in production and we are also building a distillery called Monasterevin”. Forsyths’ international operations have been in full flight recently, having just shipped a distillery to China not long ago, with Mr. Forsyth confirming activities in the Far East market were “continuing to flourish.” It’s a demonstration of how much the Irish whiskey industry continues to thrive and grow and it’s fantastic to hear that the category will be welcoming the copper works experts, who have been supplying the whiskey world with copper stills and distillation equipment since the mid-1850s. 

Frazer-Thompson-and-Mark-Harvey

Frazer Thompson (left) and Mark Harvey from Chapel Down

Frazer Thompson leaves Chapel Down after 20 years

Big news in the world of wine as Frazer Thompson who has helmed England’s largest wine producer Chapel Down for two decades announced this week that he is retiring. He said: “Over the last twenty years we have started to change the way people think about English wines forever. There is still much to do, but there has never been a more exciting time for our young industry and our business in particular.” Thompson will be replaced by Andrew Carter who is currently MD of Chase Distillery in Herefordshire, which was acquired earlier this year by Diageo. Thompson was full of praise for Carter: “I know he will bring the energy, enthusiasm, experience and the skills to drive the business to even greater heights.” He has some big shoes to fill as it was under Thompson stewardship that Chapel Down became England’s largest wine producer and, according to chairman Martin Glenn: “helped put English wine on the map.” But it hasn’t all been glorious, the team never managed to make the Curious Beer and Cider work, and ended up selling off the brands and the Curious Brewery and Restaurant earlier this year. Meanwhile, the Kent-based company is currently conducting a crowdfunding campaign to raise £7 million. So far they have raised 90% of the total, £6.3m, from around 3,600 investors. So it’s an interesting time for Carter to take over. 

The Nightcap: 6 August

Cold, harsh, and unforgiving. The new policy will not be popular.

Antarctic research stations alcohol allowance halved

For those living and working in remote Antarctic research locations, making homemade beer has been something of a tradition. A new policy change, however, means that the alcohol allowance has been slashed at Australia’s four stations as the dangerous conditions have prompted representatives in the region to strike a cautious note. The controversial new ruling bans homebrewing outright and halves the amount of alcohol that people living and working in the research stations are allowed to drink, citing the division’s inability to “safely manage consumption, hygiene standards and alcohol content” as the reason behind it. This amounts to a pretty measly sum of seven cans of beer, one and a half bottles of wine, or half a bottle of distilled spirits per person per week. “Antarctica is a unique environment, and very small mistakes can lead to very big consequences,” AAD division director Kim Ellis told American television channel ABC. She pretty bluntly added that, while it is perfectly possible to sit out in the yard and stargaze after having a drink in Australia, “If you do that in Antarctica – you’re drunk and you go stare at the stars – we will find your body in the morning.” Regardless, it’s going to be an unpopular decision, particularly given Italy’s neighbouring station offers beer, wine, and spirits alongside food items.

And finally… Man digs up hidden bottle of vodka at festival

A Lollapalooza festival-goer is being hailed as the star act of the weekend. Why? Because he went through the effort of burying a bottle of vodka in the field weeks before the event and then digging it up once inside the festival. The video of him demonstrating his creative side went viral, understandably. There is something truly wonderful about somebody rallying so hard against paying marked-up prices that they went through the trouble of burying a bottle of Tito’s Vodka and digging it up a reported three weeks later. One tweet showing the man in action has currently racked up over 22k likes, commenting “Guy buried a bottle of vodka at Grant Park a week before Lollapalooza and dug it up when he got inside…..gotta give it up to the man it’s a straight up pro move”. It’s a straight-up pro move, indeed. Although, we do like to think we can put booze in your hands at least slightly more efficiently than this.

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Great whisky marketing fiascos

Do you remember Bailey’s whiskey, or J&B -6°C? Don’t ring a bell? Well, they weren’t around for long but Ian Buxton remembers these and other product launches that failed to…

Do you remember Bailey’s whiskey, or J&B -6°C? Don’t ring a bell? Well, they weren’t around for long but Ian Buxton remembers these and other product launches that failed to take off. Here are some great whisky marketing fiascos from the recent past.

“Success”, or so the saying goes, “has many parents, but failure is a real bastard.” While God may love a trier, bold attempts to market new approaches to whisky are not always crowned with success. I’ve been looking at some of the more notable campaigns that have crashed and burned, frequently taking a previously glittering career with them. But, if your track record includes one of these disasters, you can relax because I name only brands, not the individuals behind the story.

But it does raise the question that while failed products, aborted launches and other inglorious failures are rapidly written out of a brand’s history, wouldn’t it be advisable for the industry to retain at least a corporate memory of catastrophe, if only to prevent making the same mistake twice? I offer these recollections then, not with a sense of schadenfreude but in a helpful spirit with the hope that these words might prevent some hapless marketer from repeating an embarrassing and expensive blunder.

Black & White Extra Light

How could it have failed with ads like this?

The lighter shade of pale

Since the 1960s, the whisky industry has looked on the rise of vodka and white rums (chiefly Bacardi) with increasing concern. This was particularly the case in the USA where the success of lighter styles of whisky such as Cutty Sark and J&B Rare led DCL (forerunner to today’s Diageo) to the conclusion that its brand Black & White, then a major force in that market, would benefit from the launch of a paler version. Enter Black & White Extra Light, launched in 1963 to almost total incomprehension and confusion, especially amongst bar staff, vitally-important in the US trade. 

It was speedily withdrawn but the damage had been done. All was not lost for DCL, however. While Black & White faded into relative obscurity, Johnnie Walker stepped up to take its place. A virtual walkover, you might say.

However, the belief that whisky’s colour and pronounced flavour deters some drinkers lingers on. There may be an echo of those fears in the launch of Haig Club but, whatever the views of committed whisky enthusiasts on that product, at least it has not suffered the ignominious fate of J&B’s -6°C. It was launched in 2006 and withdrawn in under a year. The curious name was, in fact, a commendably clear description of the product which had been chill-filtered to strip out virtually all the colour (and much of the flavour) in an explicit attempt to attract vodka drinkers.

The clarity of the description certainly matched the clarity of the liquid itself which was extremely pale. In contrast to the faces of the sales and marketing team, doubtless blushing deepest red at the whisky’s pallid reception. Or perhaps they were ashen-faced in sympathy; history does not record.

The proof of the pudding

J&B -6°C lasted less than a year. However, that’s nearly a year longer than the February 2013 lifecycle of Maker’s Mark 84 Proof. Attributing the change to very high levels of demand the brand announced that the strength of this much-loved bourbon was being reduced from 90 Proof. Now, a cut of just 3% ABV may not seem hugely significant and the company went to great lengths to explain that their own extensive testing had been unable to detect the difference and to outline the reasoning behind the change.

However, their commendable transparency was rewarded with a storm of outrage on social media and many forceful emails to Rob Samuels, the unfortunate COO (chief operating officer). Conventional media reported the story with some glee, feeding the barrage of commentary and the story became self-sustaining. Within a fortnight Maker’s Mark reversed their decision and resumed shipping supplies at the previous, higher strength, Samuels issuing an abject mea culpa, writing “You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.” No lasting harm appears to have been done.

But two weeks is almost an eternity compared to the still-born whiskey from Bailey’s. Yes, back in March 1998, the ever-popular Irish Cream liqueur ran a Dublin test market with their own ‘Bailey’s The Whiskey’ – finished in casks previously filled with the cream liqueur. Expectations for the product ran high and, to be fair, this came from the new product development team at IDV/Grand Metropolitan who had an impressive track record of success in developing new brands and line extensions.

However, corporate change and whisky’s politics soon overtook the fledgling spirit. December 1997 had seen the creation of Diageo (in the process absorbing Grand Metropolitan) who soon took over the project. With Irish whiskey then a small and largely moribund category, Bailey’s Irish was promptly killed over fears of a tiresome dispute with the Scotch Whisky Association and EU regulations. As a matter of fact, Bailey’s The Whiskey would have been legal but in the turmoil surrounding Diageo’s birth it appeared an unnecessary diversion of corporate effort.

Bailey's Whiskey.

Bailey’s Whiskey, here today, gone later today

The Cardhu debacle

It was not long, however, before Diageo found itself in another whisky dispute – and one accompanied by great bitterness. This was the ill-fated 2003 launch of Cardhu Pure Malt, an attempt to market a blended malt with a bottle and packaging closely modelled on the original Cardhu single malt, changing just one key word. Enter PR man Jack Irvine, a grizzled veteran of Scotland’s red top tabloids, armed with – allegedly – a blank cheque book from William Grant & Sons, and a brief to humble the industry giant. This he accomplished with some élan, as other industry players piled on to force Diageo into a humiliating climbdown.

Behind the scenes feelings and tensions ran very high, even at one stage threatening the future of the SWA who had approved the Cardhu packaging changes. One long-term result was new regulations for Scotch Whisky, eventually promulgated in November 2009. 

There are many more tales of corporate calamities such as these. Sadly, space does not permit discussion of Dewar’s hapless Highlander Honey, the star-crossed Loch Dhu Black Whisky or the flawed attempt to reposition Mortlach as a super-premium luxury whisky in half-litre bottles. The market soon gave its verdict on those but, in the ultimate irony, most of these doomed drams are now highly sought-after by collectors and sell for multiples of the original launch prices. Let’s hope the executives responsible tucked a few bottles away to soften the blow!

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Brora is reborn: ‘ghost’ distillery fills first cask in 38 years

Today, Brora is reborn as the first cask in 38 years was filled. After a four year refurbishment to return the legendary Scotch whisky distillery to its condition in 1983, …

Today, Brora is reborn as the first cask in 38 years was filled. After a four year refurbishment to return the legendary Scotch whisky distillery to its condition in 1983,  Brora opens its gates and is once again distilling. 

At 11 o’ clock this morning, a slumbering giant reawoke. Yes, Brora is reborn as it opened its gates and filled its first cask. We would have been there, but Covid restrictions meant that the whole thing had to be done virtually.

Stewart Bowman rings bells

Brora is officially open

First cask filled since 1983

Still, there was not a dry eye in the house as various Diageo types waxed lyrical about the rebirth of Brora. The film starts with master distiller Stewart Bowman opening the famous wild cat gates at the distillery. He oversaw the filling of the first cask this morning and rolled it into Warehouse Number One, where the dwindling reserves of Brora single malt Scotch whisky are kept. The reborn distillery will produce around 800,000 litres a year and aims to be carbon neutral, powered entirely by on-site renewable energy.

It’s been quite a journey since we announced back in 2017 that Diageo was spending £35 million to reopen both Brora in the Highlands and Port Ellen on Islay. Unlike with Port Ellen where much of the distillery including the stills were destroyed when it closed, Brora had just been left to decay after it filled its final cask in 1983.

Archivist Joanne McKerchar explained, “When we first opened the doors at Brora we walked into a time capsule. As a historian and an archivist for malts, I had never seen anything like that before. It was unbelievable just how untouched it was: as if the guys had just finished their shift and walked out – but, of course, nobody then came back in.”

Painstaking restoration

Yet, it was far from a working distillery. The whole place has been completely refurbished to exactly recreate the conditions of the old Brora right down to the traditional rake and gear mash tun and is using malted barley from Glen Ord maltings, just as before. Stewart Bowman said: 

“We have gone to every effort to replicate, as closely as possible, the conditions, equipment and processes from Brora in 1983 in order to recreate the spirit for which the distillery is famous. The original pair of Brora stills travelled 200 miles across Scotland to Diageo Abercrombie Coppersmiths in Alloa where they were refurbished by hand; we raised up the original pagoda roof to conduct intricate repairs, and rebuilt the stillhouse brick-by-brick using original Brora stone to restore this historic Victorian distillery.” 

But the rebirth isn’t just about using the right equipment, as master blender Dr Jim Beveridge OBE explained: “When I heard of the plans to bring Brora back, I recalled tasting Brora stocks of the 1980s – one of my early jobs at Diageo many years ago. By sampling remaining old stocks of Brora and using historic tasting notes, we slowly built a picture. With my colleague Donna Anderson, we were able to make this vision of the liquid a reality by reverse-engineering the production process.”

Stewart Bowman and family at Brora

Stewart Bowman welcomes his father and two other old Brora hands back to the distillery

Family connections

So once again Brora is distilling. And it’s particularly fitting that Bowman is overseeing it all as his father was Brora’s last exciseman. He explained: “In 1983, my father wrote in an old distillery ledger ‘Commencement of Brora Distillery silent season (undetermined period)’. Growing up in the village we often wondered whether Brora would ever return, but today we filled the first cask. It is with great pride that I can now say to my father, the Brora community, and all the ‘old hands’ that worked at Brora and helped to craft a legendary whisky, that the stills are alive and we are making Brora spirit once again.”

All this misty-eyed romanticism can’t hide the fact that the reopened Brora should be extremely lucrative for Diageo, long before any whisky comes on the market. The distillery will be open to the public from July with two distillery tours available, one costing £300 or you could go for the premium option at £600. Ouch! A reflection of the value of the dwindling stocks of mature Brora. Then there’s the recently-released Triptych, a snip at £30,000. The whisky world has changed considerably since 1983.

 

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A history of celebrity-endorsed drinks 

From Sean Connery advertising Suntory in the ’90s, to David Beckham with Haig Club, Ian Buxton looks into the history of celebrity-endorsed drinks. Nowadays you’re nowhere in celeb world unless…

From Sean Connery advertising Suntory in the ’90s, to David Beckham with Haig Club, Ian Buxton looks into the history of celebrity-endorsed drinks. Nowadays you’re nowhere in celeb world unless you’ve got your very own Tequila, whisky, gin or Prosecco.

I couldn’t help but notice that Sir Ranulph Fiennes is flogging rum these days. Celebrity-endorsed drinks adverts have been a long-standing fixture since, well, since there were celebrities and advertisements in which to feature them but looking into Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Great British Rum, it seems that those relationships are now more than skin deep.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes with Dr John Waters

Sir Ranulph Fiennes with Dr John Waters from English Spirit

Celebrity-endorsed drinks through the ages

Sometimes, the celebrity juxtapositions seem bizarre– hard to believe that even in 1949 actress Doris Day was the best salesperson for Harvester road rollers, for example. In alcohol, today’s audiences might look askance at Woody Allen promoting vodka (assuming any brand would think it a great idea) but, in 1966, he was apparently the ideal choice for Smirnoff to appeal to trendy young drinkers.

Fortunately for Smirnoff, its association with Mr Allen was long forgotten (except for this blog’s keen eye for gossip) before recent adverse publicity reflected badly on the brand. But in fact, the possibility of the celebrity turning toxic and damaging the partner is a real danger of celebrity endorsements.

That’s something probably well remembered by Bacardi’s marketing team who, in late 2003, had to withdraw TV commercials featuring ex-footballer turned thespian Vinnie Jones hastily following his involvement in an unfortunate air-rage incident. Unfortunate for both parties as he lost what was clearly a lucrative gig, and Bacardi had to dump at least one expensive advert that had yet to air.  

Once upon a time, it was simpler to use dead celebrities, as at least they could be relied on not to misbehave. Mark Twain (died 1910) and Rudyard Kipling (1936), were both disinterred to promote Old Crow bourbon in American press adverts in the early 1950s based on Twain’s reputed fondness for the brand. He could hardly argue the point or ask for a fee.

Old Crow Whisky

Just Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain enjoying a glass of bourbon

Take the money and run

Some years later, a fashion developed for publicity-shy but impecunious celebrities to endorse Japanese brands, confident that the association would not be picked up in the West, a trend wonderfully satirised by Bill Murray in the 2003 movie Lost in Translation. Murray stars as Bob Harris, a fading American movie star who is having a midlife crisis when he travels to Tokyo to promote Suntory whisky.

Who could he have been thinking of? Surely [surely shurely? Ed.] not Sean Connery’s 1991 promotion of Suntory Crest? Surely one of the world’s greatest Scotsmen would want to promote a fine single malt? Well, no single malt could afford his rumoured fee of $1 million but Dewar’s stepped up in 2004 with some digital magic in which Connery meets his younger self and advises ‘Some age, others mature’.

Doubtless Connery’s agent was happy with that deal and by the turn of the millennium any coyness about an association with alcohol had long been abandoned as more celebrities began to cash in. In fact, coy hardly describes Sharon Stone’s promotion of the William Lawson’s blended Scotch whisky, a sister brand to Dewar’s that’s popular in European markets. 

Leveraging the brand

But soon an even more astute generation of celebrities with a keen sense of their commercial value began looking for more than a lucrative payday, linking their personality uniquely closely with the brand by seeking first a royalty payment based on sales and, even more recently, taking an ownership position with equity in the brand itself.

This is a new development and demonstrates our continuing fascination with celebrity.  Never mind seeking out some obscure, artisan product – as consumers we’re proving little more than biddable sheep, anxious to secure the reflected glory of a well-known face and name.

The trend setters have been US hip-hop* artists such as Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, Puffy, Puff, etc) with his 2007 partnership with Diageo’s Ciroc Vodka. Fellow rappers had worked previously with various Cognac brands, such as Jay-Z with Chateau de Cognac’s D’USSE and Nas has been working as a brand ambassador for Hennessy since 2012. 

But P. Diddy changed the rules, treating the French vodka like a trainer brand and insisting on a 50/50 profit split and creative control of US marketing. Did it work? Ask Diageo, which when it acquired DeLeón Tequila was quick to cut a similar deal with Combs.

George Clooney Casamigos

The two amigos, George Clooney and Rande Gerber

In fact, this appears to be a particularly effective strategy for star-struck Diageo which has form in celebrity tie-ins with their brands – think David Beckham with Haig Club and George Clooney’s Casamigos Tequila, both following in Combs’ Ciroc footsteps.

Cashing in

The amounts of money are staggering. Casamigos changed hands for a reputed $1 billion if all the longer term targets are met, and August 2020 Diageo was back in business, having ponied up a cool $335m to buy Aviation American gin, with another $275m to follow if sales live up to expectations.

The fortunate celebrity here is Ryan Reynolds who we may safely assume will be able to stand his round for many years to come.

* For the avoidance of doubt the editor has suggested I confirm that I am unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Messrs. P. Diddy, Jay-Z and Nas though, full disclosure, I did once watch a James Bond film.

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The Nightcap: 30 April

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend and to kick things off in the right direction we’ve got a whole week’s worth of smoking hot booze news. It’s all in the Nightcap:…

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend and to kick things off in the right direction we’ve got a whole week’s worth of smoking hot booze news. It’s all in the Nightcap: 30 April edition! 

We’ve got a long weekend ahead of us as the May Bank Holiday has arrived, in the UK at least, everyone else is thinking, what the hell is a ‘bank holiday’? Anyway, we’re all hoping for a sliver of sunshine so that we’re not shivering in pub gardens or in those makeshift tent type things outside restaurants. Maybe bring a blanket, just in case. Of course, you don’t have to venture out if you don’t want to. You can always kick back and relax with a good dram and enjoy The Line of Duty season finale. Or some light reading. Like a round-up of all the interesting things that happened in the world of booze this week. Good thing there’s a new edition of The Nightcap here!

This week on the MoM blog we paid tribute to the remarkable Tomas Estes, who has sadly passed away. Be sure to raise a glass to the Tequila pioneer tonight.

Elsewhere, we launched two new competitions, one a #BagThisBundle which gives you a chance to stock up on some Duppy Share Rum and the other promising an amazing adventure to the Lakes District courtesy of the Lakes Distillery. We also helped you explore the world of rum with some of our favourite bottlings, made a classic cocktail that features in Charlie Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret, enjoyed the latest vintage of a great Champagne, uncovered the story behind Don Julio Tequila and found out what the heck a swan neck is.

Now, let’s enjoy what the drinks industry had to offer in the last seven days. It’s The Nightcap: 30 April!

The Nightcap: 30 April edition

It’s likely this whiskey was distilled sometime between 1763 to 1803!

‘World’s oldest whiskey’ to be sold at auction

If you want a chance at owning a whiskey billed as “the oldest currently known bottle” then put 22-30 June in your diary. Because that’s when you’ll be able to bid on a legendary bottle of Old Ingledew bourbon. Skinner Auctioneers are selling the remarkable spirit, which was originally thought to be from 1850. However, when Skinner rare spirits expert Joseph Hyman used a needle to extract a small sample of the liquid to be sent off for carbon dating, the results were even more incredible. It was revealed that the most likely date this bourbon was distilled (with 81.1% probability) was between 1763 to 1803. It’s impossible to place a specific age statement. But historical records confirm that it’s among the oldest distilled whiskey remaining on the planet today. We know a little bit about the history of the bottle thanks to a press release from Skinner Auctioneers. It was purchased by John Pierpoint Morgan (Yep, that J.P. Morgan) in Georgia in the late 19th century. It was originally stored in demijohn so Morgan paid a visit to a speciality grocer in LaGrange to have several decanters worth of the whiskey bottled. His son Jack eventually ended up with some bottles, giving a few away including to US Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Another recipient was James F. Byrnes, who subsequently gave the bottle to close friend and whiskey lover Francis Drake, who knew the value of what he had and for three successive generations, his family kept a cork in it. This is why we have this incredible, roughly 250-year-old, bottle now. Although we wouldn’t hold out too much hope that you’ll get your hands on this one. We imagine demand will be pretty high… 

Rémy and Usher team up to celebrate their roots

It wouldn’t be a Nightcap without a celeb/booze mash-up and we’ve got a particularly good one this week. Cognac house Rémy Martin has produced a video called “Team Up For Excellence” starring ‘00s music ledge Usher. The video, put together by composer Raphael Saadiq, director and choreographer Jake Nava, and Oscar-winning costume designer Marci Rodgers, tells the story of the links between Cognac and American music. “I was really inspired by creating the historical music scenes in a way that felt true to the spirit of that moment, but also relevant and eye‐catching to a young contemporary audience,” Nava explains. “This dual priority informed my direction of all the music, dance and Usher’s performance.” The video opens with Usher as a GI in World War I liberating France, moves to a jazz club and through the ages, taking in different musical genres. “Music doesn’t need Cognac to exist, and Cognac doesn’t need music to exist,” Usher said, “but what is beautiful is that they were meant to meet and when they did, they created cultural harmony.” The video is a cut above most spirits adverts and well worth five minutes of your time. 

The Nightcap: 30 April edition

If anyone does manage to get a taste of his let us know if it’s as good as it looks

Loch Lomond unveils 45-year-old whisky 

It just wouldn’t be The Nightcap without a remarkable and rare Scotch whisky to stare at longingly. And this next beauty will surely appear in auctions itself in the not too distant future. It’s a 45-year-old single malt from Loch Lomond Distillery, distilled in 1973 and matured in American oak casks, before finishing for one year in a first-fill Oloroso sherry cask. It’s bottled at 42.2% ABV without chill-filtration and there are only 200 individually-numbered bottles to be released out in the whisky wild, which goes some way to explaining the £3,450 price tag. It’s one the first of three releases in The Remarkable Stills Series of single malts, a collection that will shine a spotlight on the Alexandria-based distillery’s unusual straight neck pot stills. The stills are unique to Loch Lomond and give the distiller more control of the type of spirit produced, allowing for greater separation of flavours, helping to create the distinct fruity characters that Loch Lomond has become famous for. The launch of the significant Scotch follows a branding refresh and extension of the Loch Lomond Whiskies portfolio, which includes the introduction of a 21 and 30 Year Old to the range. A new webpage was also made to detail exactly how the liquid was created. So you can at least live vicariously through that info, because the sad reality is that most of us won’t be tasting this whisky.

The Nightcap: 30 April edition

The distillery is one of the most picturesque in the country

Glasgow Whisky buys Tromie Mills Distillery

Those of you familiar with Glasgow Whisky will know that, since being founded in 2007, the company has plied its trade in selling award-winning independently-bottled Scotch whisky like Speymhor and Cailleach. But now the company is venturing into the world of distillation after purchasing its first distillery site. Glasgow Whisky, not to be confused with The Glasgow Distillery Co., has bought Tromie Mills Distillery Limited, owner of the site in Drumguish, Kingussie, which is currently occupied by Speyside Distillers. The latter will continue to operate from the Drumguish site until its lease expires in Spring 2025 (and already has another distillery on the way) and then Glasgow Whisky will refurbish the building, working with local suppliers. While we’ll have to wait a while to see them take advantage of the new venture, we imagine owners Graham Taylor and Stuart Hendry will be excited to run one of the most picturesque distillery sites in Scotland in the magnificent Cairngorms National Park. The duo is said to be committing significant investment to build a sustainable, energy-efficient and contemporary distillery that will acknowledge the heritage of the site. “Our plans for the distillery will give us the opportunity to celebrate an established and known site, whilst bringing it into the 21st century in terms of distilling innovation, sustainability and production methods. We are extremely excited to have this opportunity to evolve our business,” says Hendry.

The Nightcap: 30 April edition

The swanky new distillery will be home to the creation of rum, gin, vodka, sambuca and more

English Spirit to open cutting-edge distillery

And in more distillery-based news, the folks over at English Spirit are set to open their new state-of-the-art distillery this summer. Over the past three years, the team has been converting a disused agricultural building in the ground of the historic Treguddick Manor in the rolling Cornish countryside. At the heart of the distillery will sit a custom 2,500-litre copper still, engineered by Dr John Walters, master distiller and owner of English Spirit, based on the original 200-litre alembic stills he designed for Great Yeldham Hall. And the team expects to produce 50,000 bottles of tasty booze by the end of 2021, so that still is going to be kept busy. When the distillery officially opens later this summer, tours and tasting experiences will invite the public to see how English Spirit produces its wide varieties of spirits from scratch. Walters says the brand wanted to open another site to “further our place in England’s high-quality food and drink industry and to show off what we do best, via educational tours, tastings and even cooking with spirits”. If you’d like to learn more about this unique brand, you can read all about our visit last year here!

The Nightcap: 30 April edition

We’re sad to see the lager go

Diageo calls last orders on Guinness spin-off Hop House 13

Fans of the Guinness-made Hop House lager might want to stock up on any bottles they can find because Diageo is calling time on the brand in the UK. As reported by Daniel Woolfson in The Grocer, the Guinness spin-off has been delisted and will soon disappear from supermarkets, pubs and bars. Diageo launched Hop House 13 in 2015 to ensure it wasn’t being left out of the craft beer boom and was an initial success. But sales have slumped during the pandemic. According to data from Nielsen, Hop House lost 8.7% of its value over the 52 weeks to 5 September 2020, falling £2.5m to £26.7m, with volume down by 12.5%. The drinks giant says it had undertaken a review of its beer portfolio and “taken the strategic decision to prioritise the main Guinness trademark in Great Britain”, adding that it was “a difficult decision to make, but one that we believe is right for Guinness in the long term”. The good news is that Guinness itself is still going strong. The good folks over at Nielsen revealed much more joyous stats about the classic Irish stout, showing that it added £27m to its value, rising to £104.5m over the same period – a 35% gain. If you’d like to get your hands on either, you can find them both here.

The Nightcap: 30 April edition

What a beautiful sight

The Craigellachie Hotel to re-open its doors

As pubs and bars all over the UK continue the glorious process of opening their doors once again we were delighted to learn that The Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside will be doing the very same. The 26-room hotel stands at the heart of the largest whisky region in the world and home to the Quaich bar, one of the world’s leading whisky bars, will open its famous Copper Dog Pub and new outdoor terrace area. A brand new menu created by newly-appointed executive chef and general manager William Halsall (of Le Caprice, 34 Grosvenor Square, and The Ivy fame) will be available, as will a take-away menu. Halsall says that the team has gone through “vigorous training in preparation for reopening without compromising our friendly, home from home experience”. The upgraded outdoor dining experience will offer seating for an additional thirty guests and there will be hand sanitising stations at every entrance and social distancing in place, as safety remains an obvious concern. Reservations are mandatory and can be made through sevenrooms.com or by calling 01340 881204, while the Copper Dog pub is open seven days a week between 10am-10pm. Accommodation will then open from 17 May and guests will be able to book online here. Just in time for the return of distillery tours too. It’s all coming together!

Stewart Buchanan Benriach

If you’re lucky you might find Stewart Buchanan behind the bar at Benriach

Benriach opens to the public for the first time

And talking of visiting Speysdie, there’s now a new distillery to visit, Benriach. Well, it’s not new as such, the distillery dates back to 1898, but from 21 May is the first time it’s ever been open to the general public. Brown-Forman has put a lot of thought and money into the refurbishment: there’s a bar, shop, and tasting lounge, and two ‘tasting experiences.’ You can book here. Beginners can enjoy the ‘Sense of Flavour’ while more experienced whiskiests can explore the flavours of cask maturation with ‘Barrels, Butts, and Barriques’, which includes a dram of Benriach 21 Year Old. Visitor centre manager Jennifer Proctor explained: “From cask tastings to cocktails, we’ll initially be offering two flight-style tasting experiences that allow customers to explore Benriach’s flavour spectrum. When restrictions allow, we will reveal our full distillery tour offering and announce the next phase of the distillery visitor centre development. Whether a local to Speyside or visitor from further afield, we look forward to welcoming guests from near and afar to discover Benriach’s world of flavour.” If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a visit.

Terrace bar at Clynelish

Nice view from the terrace bar at Clynelish

Johnnie Walker brand home opens at Clynelish 

Another day, another renovated distillery opens up. Must be something in the air. As part of Diageo’s £185 million investment in ‘Four Corners’ whisky tourism, Clynelish Distillery will be opening to the public as ‘Highland home of Johnnie Walker’. Glenkinchie opened up last year with Cardhu in Speyside, and the Princes Street location in Edinburgh both due to open later this year. Opening date for the revamped Caol Ila is TBC. The renovation at Clynelish includes an ‘interactive story room’ (whatever that is), a ‘modern retail space’ (shop), and a ‘terrace bar’ (we know what that is) overlooking the Highland scenery. The team has worked closely with disabled charity Euan’s Guide to make sure the place is as accessible as possible.  Barbara Smith, managing director of Diageo’s Scottish brand homes, commented on what we could expect from the visitor experience:  “We can guarantee that Clynelish won’t disappoint. We know that visitors and locals will be blown away by the distillery – by a visitor experience that is unlike any other.” Crikey! What could she possibly mean? Naturally, there’s a limited edition commemorative bottling, a 50.6% ABV 16 Year Old. Only 3,000 bottles at £195 each have been filled and you’ll have to visit the distillery in order to buy one.

Britannia, Boston Lincs credit: batemans

The Britannia, in Boston Lincs Photo courtesy of Batemans Brewery

And finally…. Get paid to go to the pub

In a bit of news that sounds too good to be true, Lincolnshire County Council is offering a £28,000 salary to someone to research the county’s historic pubs as part of its ‘Inns on the Edge’ project. The year long job will involve visiting various pubs along a 50 mile stretch of coastline from Grimsby to Boston. But it’s not all beer and skittles, the perfect candidate should be “someone who can interview people and get stories from them, but also collect photographs, historic photographs of the pubs and the activities that used to go on in and around and associated with the pub,” as Ian George from the council explained. The purpose of the project is to record a living history that is rapidly disappearing as pubs around the county (and the country) close. A process exacerbated by the pandemic. So not quite such a funny story to end on as it initially appeared. The moral is, don’t neglect your local, even if you have to stand outside shivering a bit.

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The Nightcap: 23 April

On this week’s Nightcap there’s new Ardbeg and Talisker to drool over, the ‘world’s first Tequila board game’ and a man pouring a pint of lager over his head. Its…

On this week’s Nightcap there’s new Ardbeg and Talisker to drool over, the ‘world’s first Tequila board game’ and a man pouring a pint of lager over his head. Its all in The Nightcap: 23 April edition.

Happy St George’s Day, everyone! We hope you’re having something delicious and English to celebrate, whether it’s whisky, gin, rum, sparkling wine, or whatever takes your fancy. Personally, we’re very much enjoying The Oxford Artisan Distillery’s first rye whisky. Sadly, there’s very little of it about, so you’ll have to enter our latest lottery for a chance to buy a bottle. But you don’t have to slay any dragons to get involved. So that’s something. 

Elsewhere, the MoM blog was the place to be if you love Japanese booze as we uncovered the philosophy of Suntory and recommended seven of the finest Japanese whiskies available now. Australian whisky was also on our mind as we unveiled That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s new series of delightful expressions, as was the role of the Scotch Whisky Association and the news that Elixir Distillers snapped up Georgie Crawford in a surprise transfer from Diageo. The forgotten Prairie Oyster, Glen Scotia’s special Campbeltown Festival release, Canaïma’s cause-led gin and the simple but sublime Cuba Libre also caught our attention in a packed week.

But we’re not done yet. It’s The Nightcap: 23 April issue!

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

The fearsome fire-breathing limited edition will be arriving at MoM Towers soon…

Fearsome fire-breathing Ardbeg Scorch unveiled for Feis Ile

Fèis Ìle might not be taking place IRL, but the distilleries are still doing plenty to keep the fans spending money. Sorry, happy. We’ve just heard the news that Ardbeg will be releasing a limited edition in time for Ardbeg day on 5 June. It’s called Ardbeg Scorch based on a dragon that apparently lives in Dunnage Warehouse no. 3. No this isn’t a St. George’s Day fool, the team really is releasing this whisky (though the dragon thing sounds unlikely, imagine the health and safety implications with all that flammable whisky.) It’s aged in heavily-charred ex-bourbon casks and bottled with no age statement at 46% ABV. Dr Bill Lumsden described it as “a fire-breathing beast of a dram!” The tasting note is quite something: “A long and heroic finale, with a subtle tarry aftertaste. A finish that will drag on, well into its happily ever after.” Blimey! Colin Gordon, Ardbeg’s new distillery manager, said: “This year will be my first Ardbeg Day ever: a baptism of fire! It’s a shame we Ardbeggians can’t enjoy it together in person, but the online event is shaping up to be tremendous fun. With a whole virtual world to explore, including fantasy inns, campfire tales, medieval feasts and live tastings, there’s plenty for people to be excited about this year.” Sounds fun! Ardbeg Scorch will be available from 27 May for £100 from your favourite online retailer. And it’s been a busy week for Dr Bill and team as they also unveiled X by Glenmorangie, a whisky that’s “made to mix.” Full feature on this mixable malt coming soon…

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

A remarkable liquid with a story that’s… well, it’s a story alright.

Talisker releases its oldest expression to date: 43 year old Xpedition Oak

In what might be the most convoluted bit of coopering ever, the latest release from Talisker called Xpedition Oak The Atlantic Challenge was finished in casks containing staves that sailed across the Atlantic. James Aiken took the unusual cargo on his yacht, the Oaken Yarn, for a 3,264 journey following the route of the rowers in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge from La Gomera in Spain to Antigua. The staves were then sent back to Scotland and made up into barrels which were used to finish a 43-year-old Talisker in. We’re not quite sure why. Still, 1805 bottles were filled at 49.7% ABV and should cost you around £3500. Bottle number one will be auctioned to raise money for conservation charity Parley for the Oceans. Brand ambassador Ewan Gunn commented: “This whisky is a sublime single malt that captures the pinnacle of the key aromas of Talisker – spice, sweetness, waxy and creamy, with a sense of the sea salt spray the morning after a storm. The four decades of maturation have given a full flavour, yet a softness to this bold dram resulting in a rounded and elegant experience.” We were given a little sample and can only agree with Gunn, that Talisker DNA just shines through even after 43 years with an incredible lingering creamy sweetness. What a treat, though what effect the Atlantic voyage has on the flavour is not obvious to us.

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

Arnett is moving on to exciting new pastures

Former Jack Daniel’s master distiller to found $20m distillery

When Jeff Arnett left his role at the world’s biggest American whiskey brand back in September 2020, I think it was pretty clear to all of us that he was going to put his experience to good use. This week, the former master distiller of Jack Daniel’s revealed he’ll do just that at a new distillery being built in Tennessee. Following a US$20 million investment, Arnett’s Company Distilling project will open a 4,000 sq ft site with a tasting room and restaurant in Townsend, Tennessee in autumn 2021. It will be followed by the opening of a multi-functional ‘family-friendly’ facility in Springbrook Farm in Alcoa, Tennessee in 2022, which shows you how serious this plan is. The latter 20,000 sq ft site will eventually be home to the main distillery and manufacturing operations and will also include a tasting room, restaurant, brewery, and retail store with outdoor activities and entertainment hosted in 31 acres of space. There will be live music and games such as corn hole and pickleball (we have no idea what these but are guessing they are something Cletus from the Simpsons would play). Arnett is not the only significant figure in American whiskey at the centre of this project. It’s collaboration with Kris Tatum, former president of the Tennessee Distillers Guild; Heath Clark, founder of Tennessee-based H Clark Distillery; construction management professional Corey Clayton; and Clayton Homes CEO Kevin Clayton. Arnett is understandably excited about the project. He commented: “For years now, we’ve had this spirit in the back of our minds. It’s straight bourbon whiskey finished with maple wood to produce a sip like no other. It’s hard to believe it’s finally real. And it’s better than we ever imagined.” And there pickleball too!

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

It was quite the return to the world of in-person events for us this week

Bowmore and The Savoy team up to open Solas

This week did something truly amazing. We went to a bar for an event. Frankly, we’d have bit your hand off for an evening at Moe’s Tavern but we got to enjoy some a little more sophisticated at The Savoy. The London landmark was celebrating the launch of Solas (which means light, joy and comfort in Scottish Gaelic), an pop-up outdoor dining space in the historic Savoy Court that takes advantage of this age of outdoor hospitality. It’s a collaboration with Bowmore, which helped put together quite the menu. There’s an array of sublime cocktails that we got to taste as well as a raw seafood bar (mmmmm, raw seafood bar) that serves oyster selections, lobster rolls, gravadlax and scallop ceviche. The venue is a feast for the eyes too, but as you might imagine, it was the cocktails that really sold it for us. Standouts include the Pursuit For Perfection, a light, refreshing and elegant combination of Haku Vodka, peach, rosebud cordial and Champagne and Timeless, a rich, deep and complex mix of Bowmore 15 Year Old, Chezakette Bianco, Averna, Angostura, aquavit and sugar. It’s a truly impressive experience, to be honest. It looks great, the cocktails were delicious and the food? Well, Gordon Ramsey was there and he seemed perfectly happy. Solas is now open seven days a week until 21 June 2021 and I’d imagine reserving ASAP would be a good idea. 

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

The distillery has always had sustainability at the core of its business

Flor de Caña Rum to plant one million trees by 2025

With it being Earth Day yesterday, many brands have put the PR machines into overdrive in order to shout about how environmentally friendly they are. There are a few that aren’t simply greenwashing however, like Flor de Caña. It’s a sustainably-produced rum distilled with 100% renewable energy that’s carbon neutral and Fair Trade certified. It also has its own reforestation program, which has led to the planting of nearly 750,000 trees since 2005. Now it’s ramping up those efforts by pledging to plant more than one million trees by 2025. By partnering with One Tree Planted, its global campaign aims to raise awareness on the importance of reforestation and inspire consumers, bartenders and the general public to donate through the One Tree Planted platform. This guarantees that one tree will be planted for every dollar received. In turn, Flor de Caña will then match all donations received in order to have a greater impact. The global campaign, titled ‘Together for a Greener Future’, will also see the launch of several events with retailers, bars, restaurants and on social media (#TogetherForAGreenerFuture) to engage eco-conscious consumers. “Trees are essential for biodiversity and a healthy climate, so it’s great to work with a brand so committed to making a positive impact for reforestation and sustainability overall,” said Diana Chaplin, canopy director at One Tree Planted. Keep up the good work, guys!

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

Congratulations Mark!

Mark McClintock is Diageo World Class GB Bartender of the Year

Congratulations to Mark McClintock who fought off stiff competition to be crowned last night as Diageo World Class GB Bartender of the Year. The test consisted of two challenges. The first dubbed ‘Alive with Freshness’ used Tanqueray No. Ten and was judged solely on flavour and balance. The second was more complicated and involved contestants designing a dream whisky bar along with two cocktails, one made with Talisker and one with Johnnie Walker Black Label. World Class ambassador Jo Last praised McClintock’s “impeccable skills and hospitality throughout both challenges”.The judging panel was led by Pippa Guys who commented: “Mark has demonstrated a consistently high quality of drinks, knowledge, and personality ever since he stepped into the World Class programme.” McClintock himself said: “I am genuinely shocked and so honoured to go on and represent GB on the global stage”. In addition to the glory of going to the final 4-8 July (virtually), McClintock wins a 12-month contract with Global Bartending, WSET Level 3 spirits course, a personalised Cocktail Kingdom kit, and photoshoot. We wish him the best of luck for the final.

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

Loser has to sing The Champs – Tequila on karaoke.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Cazcabel’s ‘world’s first Tequila board game’

Last week we heard about Jose Cuervo’s plans to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, now Cazcabel has revealed how it will mark the event. The brand has launched the ‘world’s first Tequila board game’, La Lotería. A hand-illustrated version of the Mexican classic bingo-style game, the aim is to be the first to match all the pictures on the sheet, La Tabla, with those called out by the host from the deck of cards. Each La Lotería game, comes in a magnetic box complete with a deck of cards, eight reusable La Tabla sheets and pens, a rule sheet, and a Spanish translation guide. Cazcabel Tequila is also hosting a Mexican Fiesta two-hour virtual event filled with tequila cocktails and La Lotería at 6:30 pm on Thursday 6th May. It will be hosted by the brand’s global brand ambassador Nate Sorby, with tickets available via Design My Night for £25 per person. It also sounds great, but to be honest the idea of mixing up some Margaritas whilst playing a Tequila board game sounds hard to beat. You can pick one up from the brand’s website and grab your Cazcabel Tequila here

And finally… man celebrates end of lockdown by pouring a pint over his head

Here in England, we’ve unable to contain our excitement that the pubs are opening again so we can have a delicious pint of beer in the garden. But not as excited as one St Helens man who was so overcome with emotion at the thought of that first pint, that rather than drink it, he poured it over his head. 45-year-old Charlie Richards commented: “My mate was just doing a video showing everyone there really enjoying the day and it went onto me, and well I got a bit excited and ended up rubbing the beer on my face before pouring it over my head for a few laughs. I didn’t think too much of it really, but my mate posted it on Facebook and now it’s gone everywhere.” So this St. George’s Day, we raise a glass to a true Englishman. Cheers Charlie!

1 Comment on The Nightcap: 23 April

Elixir Distillers lands Georgie Crawford

There’s big news in the Scotch whisky transfer market! Elixir Distillers has just signed Georgie Crawford from Diageo to be the manager for the brand’s forthcoming Islay distillery. Today we…

There’s big news in the Scotch whisky transfer market! Elixir Distillers has just signed Georgie Crawford from Diageo to be the manager for the brand’s forthcoming Islay distillery.

Today we learned that Georgie Crawford will be bringing 14 years at Diageo’s Scotch whisky distilleries to a close soon as she moves on to pastures new and joins Elixir Distillers this summer.

A distillery with no name

She’ll oversee the construction of the distillery site (still without a confirmed name) on Islay’s south coast next to the town of Port Ellen, not far from Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg

Elixir Distillers is a creator, blender and bottler of spirits founded by Sukhinder Singh and Rajbir Singh (you know, from that other site. What’s it called? The Whisky Shop?). It’s the name behind brands such as Port Askaig Islay single malt and Black Tot Caribbean rum but until now it’s never had its own distillery.

Getting Crawford on board is something of a coup for the brand, as she brings with her nearly two decades of experience to the role. Most recently, she was manager for the Port Ellen Distillery Revival project, so she has plenty of know-how when it comes to Islay distilleries. 

Her career in Scotch whisky began at The Vaults in Edinburgh, the home of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in 2002. Crawford has since worked for the likes of Talisker, Glen Ord, Teaninich and Lagavulin.

GeGeorgie Crawford Elixir Distillers

It’s Georgie Crawford!

Sukhinder Singh comments

Sukhinder Singh, co-founder of Elixir Distillers, commented: “Having grown up on Islay, attending school a stone’s throw from our distillery site, Crawford’s love for the island and all its distilleries is unrivalled. She not only shares our passion for Islay whisky, but also our vision for the future and I know that she will bring both exceptional expertise and a fresh approach to a new Islay distillery.”

The plan is for the distillery to produce one million litres of alcohol a year and use floor maltings to process just over half of the barley needed. There will also be on-site housing for distillery workers, a visitor’s centre and a multipurpose educational facility, with further initiatives to support the local community and an apprentice programme for aspiring distillers to be pursued further down the line. 

Elixir Distillers revealed in February that the Argyll & Bute council planning committee granted planning permission for them to go ahead with the project, which was first announced in 2018. Now with Crawford joining the team, things should be moving fast. Perhaps she can help them come up with a name.

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