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.
Every year, several books or compendia of the best whiskies are published and nominate various whiskies from all over the world as their top 20, or top 10, or top five, whiskies—and newspaper headlines broadcast whatever the top nominee is. And very often the whisky is not Scotch.
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.
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.
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.
There’s no doubt Scottish distilleries are becoming, along with Nessie and famous castles, big magnets attracting ever more tourists to Scotland. The Scotch Whisky Association reckons 1.7 million people visited Scotland’s distilleries last year. I can only urge those distilleries that haven’t yet contemplated a visitor centre to open one.
THE 20th Century saw many changes and improvements to whisky production – the use of drum maltings, stills heated by steam coils rather than direct fires underneath and condensers replacing worm tubs, to name but three.
The role of the cask in whisky making is crucial and entire forests of white oak are planted, grown and managed in the US to supply the barrel makers. They supply the bourbon industry and the ex-bourbon barrels come to Scotland, either complete or knocked-down. Pre-used casks from Spain, Portugal and France also find their way here – the Scotch industry can never get enough of them.
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.
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.