I have frequently commented in this column on how prices of whiskies from lost distilleries have skyrocketed in recent years as a combination of increasing rarity and speculation have driven prices through the roof.
It has often struck me that different nations and cultures, for all their differences, share certain aspects of folklore in common.
For all the current mushroom growth of new distilleries is a welcome boon after the 1980s-90s when so many distilleries closed, I worry that many of the new ones will struggle long-term to survive.
One growing phenomenon in the whisky industry is special cask finishes—after 10 years or whatever in standard bourbon casks, a single malt is transferred into a port, sherry or other cask for its final year or two of maturation. Those last two years give the spirit the extra colour and deep taste which adds that final panache to what is already a fine whisky.
Some years ago, I mentioned one of the great, if now largely forgotten, names in the history of Scotch whisky, that of Charles Doig. Born on a farm near Lintrathen and originally employed in an architect’s office in Meigle, he eventually moved to Elgin and became the greatest distillery architect of all time.
One slightly overused cliché in the whisky business is The Angels’ Share, that 2% or so annual evaporation through the oaken walls of casks where the whisky sleeps until it is ready for bottling.
When historic hotels get a facelift, all too often the interior is remorselessly gutted and starkly modernised, with just the façade and possibly the cellar bar left unaltered.
As someone who has banged the gong for whisky tourism and urged distilleries to open visitor centres, I’m delighted to see that everyone from the Scotch Whisky Association to VisitScotland is singing from that same hymn sheet.
Angus Dundee Distillers are one of these firms whose importance is in inverse proportion to their coverage in the media. Put simply, it’s a firm you have hardly ever heard of but they are a big player in the industry. Roughly 5% of the whisky that leaves Scotland in bottles or tankers is supplied by them. In a £4 billion-plus industry, we may be talking about £200 million-plus.
The Scotch whisky industry is in some respects quite unique. True, the market is dominated by the big firms, such as Diageo, Pernod-Ricard and Edrington, and their big brands—such as Johnny Walker, Chivas Regal and Famous Grouse—but it is still possible for smaller firms to start up, find a foothold and eventually expand and thrive in a such a competitive environment.