Until quite recent times, Irish whiskies came from just three sources – Midleton in County Cork, Cooley at Dundalk, Co Louth, and good old Bushmills in Co Antrim. All three belong to bigger distilling groups, respectively to Pernod-Ricard, Beam Suntory and Diageo.
Apart from working as a journalist, I have spent many years working as a tourist guide. Many foreign groups I accompany around Scotland have at least one distillery on their holiday itinerary, others are just one long pilgrimage to one distillery to the next.
Amid the current mushrooming growth of gin distilleries, I have long intended to visit one. That finally came to pass some weeks ago when I saw a gin distillery that, for all it was in the most delightful and historic setting, reminded more of a medieval alchemist’s workshop than a 21st Century distillery.
Scotch whisky today is one of today’s great success stories — it contributes £5 billion to the UK economy and earns £4 billion a year overseas — whisky accounts for some 80% of Scottish food and drink exports and a quarter of UK food and drink exports.
What is really special about Lindores Distillery is its location and the site’s history. Although whisky buffs know all about Friar John Cor and his invoice, few people realise just how important the abbey was in its days before the Reformation.
AT first sight, a Kentish vineyard seems as far removed from a whisky distillery as it is possible to imagine. However, when I recently visited Biddenden Winery south of Ashford, Kent, little details kept popping up that reminded me of whisky.
Diageo’s announcement that long-embalmed Port Ellen and Brora distilleries are re-opening is great news. One might ask what took them so long? Both have been shut for decades and, as a result, each new edition of dwindling whisky stocks fetched ever-higher prices.
I have often commented on the Scotch industry’s current obsession with “multiple expressions”. That is, producing ever more variants of the same whisky. In the past, there was simply one Glen Splash malt or one Grey Mare blend. Today there can be up to a dozen variants of either.
It has often surprised — and saddened — me to hear so many people, including countless Scots, say they don’t like whisky and would never drink it.
Several times in Amber Lights I have urged distilleries without visitor centres to establish one, as it would be a good long-term investment. And I still adhere to that.