A new dawn for Scotch whisky

27 Apr 2010
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As Scotland gets ready to celebrate Whisky Month, the country’s industry has delivered a timely reminder that even something beautiful can be improved.

Record annual exports worth £3.13 billion were announced for Scotland's celebrated whiskies, but it's the country's new distilleries and producers that are making the headlines across the world. From new island whiskies to environmentally-friendly products, Scotland continues to guide the rest when it comes to the water of life.

Hebridean renaissance

In the last two years, £500 million of expansion plans for the Scotch whisky industry have been lodged or passed. One of the most noteworthy developments was the production of the first bottle of whisky from the Isle of Lewis for 160 years.

Abhainn Dearg or Red River distillery is a new operation on Uig on the west of the island. Recently, the first two casks of the 'Spirit of Lewis' were drawn from the smallest still in the country. One went to a Glasgow pub, MacSorleys Bar, and sold out rapidly. The other was purchased by Alba Import, who launched it at the Limburg Fair in Germany. The first 1000 bottles for private sale disappeared weeks before. Already, plans for increased production are being made.

"The Outer Hebrides is a forgotten region, really. Hopefully we are back on the whisky map now," says Marko Tayburn, the man behind Abhainn Dearg.

"We are bringing whisky back to its roots. This will be from the field to bottle, all from the Outer Hebrides. We have great water. We won't be shipping in barley from Denmark or Sweden, either. It will all come from Lewis."

Environmental spirit

While international collectors attempt to secure a rare Spirit of Lewis for their vaults, it won't be long before the first malt will be leaving the production line at the new Roseisle distillery, described as the 'greenest in the world'.

Twelve months ago, Diageo opened its £40 million operation in Speyside near the Moray Firth. It is the first whisky manufacturing plant to be constructed in Scotland for 30 years and provides a model for the production of the future. Waste heat from the distillation of renowned brands like Cardu and Caol Ila will be re-used in the maltings plant. Any liquid by-products are returned to water and the cycle begins anew.

Islay's new darling

Another celebrated region, Islay, continues to produce flavoursome whiskies from its peaty water. It is also capturing the attention of lovers of new varieties.

The tiny Kilchoman Distillery is a farm operation, built in 2005. It uses barley grown in the surrounding fields and the first 8300 bottles of single malt sold out in days. Matured in bourbon barrels, then finished in oloroso sherry butts, the Autumn 2009 release was equally successful. In March, the third whisky left the premises, gathering excellent reviews along the way. US magazine described Kilchoman as 'one of the most impressive new distilleries anywhere!'.

A smuggler's dream

At Portsoy, once a hotbed for smugglers, Glenglassaugh Distillery's return to activity has also produced award-winning new releases. In 1986, the operation fell silent but Glenglassaugh Distillery Company brought the operation back into production in 2008, spending £1 million refurbishing existing buildings and reviewing the maturing stock. Earlier this year, the Glenglassaugh 21 year old won a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits competition, proving there is huge potential in this lesser known region and in Scotland, in general.

"I think Scotland continues to be seen as the benchmark," says Stuart Nickerson of Glenglassaugh Distillery. "In the main, distilleries appearing in other countries are being designed and constructed in Scotland using our expertise. One of the reasons is the history and the legacy of what has gone before and our adherence to quality standards in this country."

Scotch with ice

Whisky lovers with an eye for novelty and investment continue to find opportunity and interest in the Scottish market. A bottle of the world's oldest single malt, a Mortlach 70 year old, was recently opened at Edinburgh Castle. At £385 a shot, whisky lovers sampled a true global vintage in an unrivalled location.

For anyone with £50,000 to spare, one bottle remains of a Springbank distilled in 1919. Three have been purchased by the World Whisky Index, which promotes whisky as a financial investment. Those with an eye for history will be watching Whyte & Mackay's attempts to recreate the whisky recently recovered from Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic hut. Two crates have been stuck in ice for a century in the expedition base at Cape Royds.

It is surely an indication of Shackleton's desperate situation, that he left such a precious haul at the South Pole.

For those eager to share in whisky's continuing success story, Whisky Month offers two fantastic festivals. The Spirit of Speyside Festival celebrates the region's mouth-watering malts with a splash of music and culture added. There is even the opportunity to learn the skills at The Whisky School. The Islay Festival of Music and Malt rounds off the month smoothly, with the Whisky Tasting Ceilidh a highlight of the event.

Find out more about Scotland's booming whisky trade

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