Balblair distillery, located on the southern shore of the Dornoch Firth, was for years one of those off-the-beaten-track, out-of-the-headlines distilleries that attracted little exposure — until it became the setting for the film The Angels’ Share.
Although Scotch whisky is doing exceptionally well at the moment, it is always worth looking a year or even several into the future to see where the industry is heading and where it might be a decade or so from now.
Whisky is, sadly, still a drink that many people, including countless Scots, do not really take a shine to. Indeed, Scots drink more vodka by volume than whisky, a fact that totally flummoxes any foreign tourist I tell that to. Scots drink more vodka than whisky? Come on, pull the other one…
It seems the range of Scotch whiskies—malts, blends, blended malts or single grains—mushrooms by the day. Some single malts now exist in 12 or 15 different variants (or expressions, as the chosen term seems to be), blended whiskies also come in different versions and prices and hardly a week goes by without a new blended malt or range of malts from different areas hitting the shelves.
I recently spent a week in Wales and visited the odd supermarket in Cardiff, Aberystwyth and Llandudno to browse around the wines and spirits department. It was a dispiriting experience to see drinks at prices they used to be, and ought to be, were it not for the Scottish Government’s minimum pricing policy.
It seems that single malt whiskies have all but matched the status of chateau-bottled great clarets. A good single malt, once the age statement is in double figures and the abv reading is 46% or cask-strength, has an aura that commands respect – and an increasingly high price tag.
I have often wondered whether human taste buds are affected by “outside factors”, both actual and psychological. I recall once drinking a wine in Cyprus that tasted absolutely magic in a sunny, open-air restaurant above the Med. I brought two bottles home but, drinking them indoors under leaden British skies, they did not taste remotely as good.
Once in a blue moon, whisky history buffs like me stumble unexpectedly upon an unknown goldmine. That happened a few weeks back on a quiet, cobbled street in Belfast when I passed a whisky shop called, whimsically, The Friend at Hand. I went in – and it was an hour before I emerged.
I’ve often thought a whisky distillery would be a great asset, and visitor attraction, at Scotland’s historic castles or stately homes. In the past, all castles and stately homes brewed beer, for both the lairds and the lads, and today their souvenir shops offer their own-label beer and whisky, blend or malt, supplied by one of the major distillers or blenders.
Edrington’s recent decision to end the Famous Grouse Experience at Glenturret Distillery near Crieff and sell the distillery reflects the whisky industry’s years-long push to increase the output of single malts and market them as widely and extensively as they can.