If there is one place in Britain where I suspect the Scottish Government is the No 1 pet hate, it is in Cornwall and the West Country. Why? Because their minimum pricing policy has effectively decimated sales of cider in Scotland. A two-litre bottle of supermarket’s-own cider has spiralled from £2 to £5 (that’s 150%) and canned ciders have also suffered crippling price rises.
It happened a third of a century ago, and to many it’s an event as distant as Flodden or Agincourt. However, the battle for Distillers, Scotland’s then-biggest whisky firm, in the mid-1980s proved a mega-earthquake that shook the whisky industry, the City, the Stock Exchange and, frankly, the whole of Britain as never before. And, for good or ill, it ushered in an unscrupulous way of doing business that, sadly, has become almost wholly the norm.
For the most part, the big-name blends and malts seem to have an immortality all their own. Somehow their names and repute liveth for ever in the public mind, ensuring they remain on the shelves and whisky websites decade after decade.
Aberdeenshire, and the North-East generally, have lost many distilleries over the decades, but those which have survived are currently thriving. These include Fettercairn, Royal Lochnagar, Glengarioch, Macduff/Glen Deveron, Ardmore, Glendronach, Glenglassaugh and the quaintly-named An Cnoc.
It is interesting to contemplate how certain drinks (or brands) acquired their names. Wines are often named after their home village or area. Single malts are named after the distilleries that produce them. Other drinks are named after the company founder, be he Johnny Walker, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam or Mr Heineken.
Britain’s recent surge of new distilleries largely stems from law changes that opened up distilling to small firms, even private individuals, for the first time in more than two centuries.
As someone who has banged on for years about the great potential of whisky tourism, I must applaud Diageo’s recently-unveiled £150 million plans to boost the cratur to our visitors.
Although all whisky fans have their own favourite malt, many agree the best “all-round malt” is Highland Park. It has that combination of nose, mouthfeel and finish that makes it many aficionados’ first or second choice. However, one wonders how a distillery beside Kirkwall in Orkney got called Highland Park, as the nearest Highlands are miles south across the stormy Pentland Firth.
One thing we tend to forget when we buy our favourite single malt or blend is the huge and complex supply chain that ensures your bottle is sitting there on the shelf waiting for you to buy it.
Last week I covered the bigger names in Irish whiskey. This week we look at some newcomers — 10 have opened in the past few years and 22 are at the planning or building stages. Should they all be built, Ireland will have more distilleries than during its 19th century heydays.