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Irish Fling, Scottish Jig

Ian Buxton

With the current worldwide boom in the sales of both Scotch and Irish whiskies, it isn't surprising to learn that many of the major players are expanding their distilling capacity. Clearly they believe that there is a lot more growth to come from the developing markets in Latin America, Africa, India and China. Based on some upbeat projections, Diageo, Chivas Brothers, Dewar's, William Grant and Irish Distillers have all either re-opened old plant or built or are hastily building new distilleries, some very large indeed.


Site of the new Kingsbarns Distillery in St. Andrews, Scotland. PHOTO: JOHN GIUSTINA

What is a little more unexpected is the raft of micro-distilleries (and some slightly larger operations) also hoping to capitalize on whisky's new-found fashionability. Since the tiny Kilchoman distillery on Islay began operating in 2005, a considerable number of other craft distillers have announced their intention to open their doors. They're inspired by a new generation of younger drinkers, by the example of craft distilling in the U.S., where more than 500 small operations are flourishing, and by recent changes to legislation in the U.K. which make obtaining a distillery licence for a small operation considerably easier than it was in the past.

Let's look at a few on these newbies. They may not represent a significant increase in the amount of whisky being made, but they do offer variety and an entrepreneurial approach that brings color to the scene.

IRELAND

Irish whisky is enjoying a major revival. The major player is Pernod Ricard's Irish Distillers Ltd., and I reported on their Midleton distillery expansion in the October issue of THE TASTING PANEL. But that's a huge operation. On a smaller scale the following projects look exciting.

Kilbeggan Distillery, in County Westmeath, is allegedly the oldest operating distillery in the world. and the historic site is open to visitors. The original distillery no longer works but a small plant was installed there some years ago. The company (Cooley) was recently sold to Beam Inc. of the U.S. for $95 million, and they are revamping the distillery and facilities.

Tullamore, in County Offaly, is now owned by William Grant & Sons (Glenfiddich). New visitor facilities have recently been opened and Grant has invested close to $50 miliion on a new distillery that will open in late 2014.

The Teeling family, who sold Cooley, have restarted bottling and brokerage operations and plan to open a new distillery with public access in Dublin, possibly on the Marrowbone Lane site of the old William Jameson distillery, which closed in 1923. The Teelings have also entered into a venture to convert an old brewery in Dundalk into The Great Northern Distillery


  PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DINGLE DISTILLERY
Europe's westernmost distillery was opened in December 2012, in Dingle, making around 100,000 bottles of whiskey annually. In addition, new boutique distilleries are planned or under development in Belfast, Carlow, Horse Island and elsewhere. Plans for these have been publicly revealed and all feature visitor facilities to a greater or lesser extent.

By far the most significant new entrant however, is the Illva Saronna company of Italy who have bought an unspecified shareholding in the Walsh Whiskey Company (makers of The Writers' Tears brand) and will build a $35 million new distillery near the River Barrow at the Royal Oak, Bagenalstown in the southeast of Ireland.

SCOTLAND

If Ireland is on a roll, then Scotland is dancing a jig, with new operations underway almost everywhere one looks, from the Border region to the south to the far-flung Shetland Islands in the north. There Stuart Nickerson, fresh from rescuing and reviving Glenglassaugh plans to open Shetland's first (legal) distillery ever on a redundant RAF airfield. At the opposite end of the country, Professor David Thomson's plans to restore distilling at Annandale, once part of the Johnnie Walker empire, should come to fruition in the next 12 months.


Before and after at Annadale Distillery.; top: bonded warehouses; center: the kiln; bottom: maltings, kiln, mash house and mill.
All photos copyright 2012 Annandale Distillery.


St. Andrews' first distillery, at Kingsbarns, should also be up and running soon. It is now owned by the Wemyss Malts group and restoration of the ancient farm buildings is well underway. Nearby, at Daftmill, local farmer Francis Cuthbert actually started making whisky in December 2005 but has not yet released any to the market, being able to warehouse his spirit until convinced it was completely ready.

Both are close to the historic birthplace of Scotch whisky, Lindores Abbey, where in 1494 Friar John Cor is first recorded making "aqua vitae." There, Andrew McKenzie Smith, whose family has owned the land the ruins of abbey stand on for a century, is seeking investors for an $8 million distillery project.

Elsewhere, there are plans for further operations on the islands of Harris and Barra; near Falkirk, where a group plan to re-create the iconic lost Lowland distillery of Rosebank but on a new site; and in central Glasgow on the banks of the Clyde.


Architect's rendering of a new distillery on the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow.


The team behind the new distillery in central Glasgow. Front to back: Tim Morrison, Glen Moore, Kenneth McAllister and Tim's son, Andrew Morrison.
There, a group including former Morrison Bowmore Director (and part owner) Tim Morrison aims to build a $16 million single malt distillery by 2015. He says, "We see this project as having huge potential-not only for Glasgow, but for the tourism industry, the Scotch whisky trade and the whole Scottish economy. Our vision for the new distillery and educational visitor center is that it becomes a part of Glasgow's busy tourist trail—we anticipate it will attract more than 50,000 visitors each year."

Visitors are a key part of most of these plans but, surprisingly, don't feature in the most recently announced project—a new $10 million distillery to be established in Fife following a tie-up between Indian drinks group Kyndal and Perthshire distiller John Fergus & Co.

The two firms have entered into a joint venture for a micro distillery and bonded warehouse in Glenrothes which could be operational by 2015. The facility will focus on exporting to markets in India, Africa and the Far East and create 15 new jobs.

India, Africa and the Far East—that's where we came in. A lot is riding on these markets behaving as predicted and developing a huge thirst for whisky.  If they do, the future looks rosy for a number of these ventures. But their whisky will also be of great interest to enthusiast drinkers in the U.S. and the bar owners and retailers who serve their passion. Be sure to track these developments over the coming months and be first to get their bottles onto your shelves.

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