Michael Alexander speaks to Fife entrepreneur Andrew Hogan whose recently established whisky bonding and bottling business brings back memories of Auchtermuchty’s 200 year old whisky industry heritage.
In his travels as a whisky ambassador, Andrew Hogan came across so many brands that did not reach their potential – simply because the brand owners were not aware of the demands of international markets, or simply did not have the contacts to build their brands.
That led him and his wife Holly to set up a business called Drinks Innovation UK Ltd that neatly joined up great brands with the right people and organisations.
Now, as managing director at The Auchtermuchty Bond Ltd – a recently established bespoke warehousing and bottling facility for the finest single casks of Scotch whisky – the 56-year-old, originally from Arbroath, is helping resurrect Auchtermuchty’s centuries-old whisky trade and tap into lucrative markets worldwide.
The purpose-built whisky bond and bottling planet premises on Station Road cater for both small brands and privately owned casks, with plans to expand and take on more staff in the years ahead.
How did it all begin?
A former pupil of Arbroath Academy who studied history at Dundee University, Mr Hogan told The Courier how he ended up working in the drinks trade “by default”.
“I was hanging around waiting to join the police,” he says, “and I had some months to kill so I got a part time job in Oddbins in Broughy Ferry.
“I was just there to stack the shelves at Christmas. At that time it was mostly about wine. Then suddenly I was involved in talk about grapes and countries and styles and taste, and I thought ‘wow what the hell is this? This is a whole new world’ – I was just taken by it.”
Mr Hogan stayed with Oddbins for more than 10 years. Gaining a wine qualification, he managed four shops in Glasgow and worked at head office in Wimbledon.
Much of his wine and cask knowledge was applicable to whisky, which became his passion, so by the time he left to work with the Bruichladdich Distillery in Islay, he knew it was the whisky trade he wanted to work in.
“I became Bruichladdich’s sales manager for Asia, so I was back and forth to Taiwan, Japan and China every couple of months,” he explains.
“I learned the lingua franca of Asian trading, business customs in China, the contacts that are very difficult to acquire to help your brand grow. So it was a fascinating time there.”
In 2010, Mr Hogan became USA and Canada regional sales manager for Arran Distillers Ltd.
This was followed by a spell as international sales and brand ambassador for Crucial Drinks.
The Lost Distillery Company was the most talked about Scotch whisky brand at that time and Mr Hogan is “extremely proud” of the distribution he built throughout Europe and Asia.
However, it was after he met his wife-to-be Holly at a whisky show in Minneapolis, getting married in Florida in 2015, then opting to settle in Scotland that the roots of the current venture were sown.
“When my wife and I set up a business called Drinks Innovation UK Ltd, this was really a little business that was brand advocacy for small brands that were looking to enter the market but didn’t have the know how or the money,” he explains.
“We did that for three years and installed brands in various key markets around the world.
“Along this time frame we started trading casks of Scotch whisky, and we acquired the licences, the contacts and hopefully the reputation as a credible trader along the way.
“Five years into this, the brand market really slowed quite a bit while the cask trading had taken off considerably – partly because it’s far more lucrative with far less effort- and you didn’t have to travel anywhere.
“Along the way as we bought and sold casks, we bought casks that we kept for our pension, and we realised that to give ourselves a true advantage, we needed our own warehouse as well.
“So we got together with a local contact and put a partnership together and built The Auchtermuchty Bond.”
Mr Hogan said that what makes the purpose-built Auchtermuchty Bond different to other bonded warehouses is that this one “caters for the small guy and the small brand, the independent trader and to private collectors.” They’ve set up a bottling line as well.
Mr Hogan says both these arms of the business have “really taken off”.
Established in November 2020, they thought it would take nearly 18 months to fill the warehouse, but it was full within three. They now have plans to build a second one that will hold 5000 casks and Mr Hogan “guarantees it’ll be full before it’s built”.
“We arrived at a very good time as well largely down to the demand in the industry as a whole,” he says.
“Space is of a premium in distillery warehouses and a lot of people have been kicked out the door and are suddenly desperate to find a home for their casks.
“Then we came along. We’ve hoovered up a lot of small brands who want warehousing and bottling, and we’re now turning people away because we can’t safely store anymore.”
Mr Hogan said several of their customers are from Fife but they supply Singapore, China, Japan, USA and Canada.
Currently storing 1600 casks, they are bottling 40-50 casks a month with 70% of customers in the high end growing Asian markets.
They employ nine and are looking for new staff in the new year.
Amongst the Auchtermuchty Bond’s major customers are Berry Brothers & Rudd – the oldest wine merchant in the world and official supplier to the Queen.
Auchtermuchty warehouses casks for them, and bottle most of their stock that finds its way to Europe and Asia as well as the domestic market.
What they don’t do, however, is cater for distillers.
“It tends to be independent bottlers or an independent labelled brand who will bottle cask under their own label not the distillery label,” he says.
“We’ve been applying to build an additional warehouse that will store an additional 5000 casks.
“We’re also opening new storage facilities for dry goods – glass, casks etc.”
The roots of Auchtermuchty’s whisky industry date back to 1829 when Alexander Bonthrone established the Stratheden Whisky Distillery in the town centre.
It closed in 1926 when Prohibition in the USA drastically reduced the demand for its products.
Warehousing and malting continued in Auchtermuchty until the 1980s.
However, the legacy survives through, for example Distillery Street and the old warehouses on the main street currently being marketed by Fife Council for potential development.
“There’s a lot of whisky heritage in the town,” says Mr Hogan.
“For example, the burn that runs right through the town was adapted to become the distillery lade.
“There’s still two derelict warehouses on the main street. There’s Distillery Street. The owners of the old distillery, the Bonthrone family, are all buried at the cemetery there.
“A lot of people have shown interest in Auchtermuchty Bond – especially those who are older than 50 because they remember when the last warehouse was full.
“They all told me the same story of being taken to school in the morning and having to walk past the warehouse and the stink of whisky was unbearable.
“And yet now they are all coming past and saying the smell of whisky is fantastic!”
Andrew’s favourite whisky?
When it comes to his own whisky palette, Mr Hogan says he is very much “mood driven, season driven”.
At this time of year he’d be looking for something smoky from Islay. In the middle of the summer, by contrast, it might be something light and refreshing from the Highlands.
Looking to the future, The Auchtermuchty Bond are keen to employ locally, especially young people.
They already have three apprentices who are “all fantastic” and “super enthusiastic”, he says.
Reasons to be cheerful!
Fife councillor David MacDiarmid, whose ward includes Auchtermuchty, adds: “Historically this wee town has been a world player in the whisky industry, employing many local folk over the years.
“With the establishment of the Auchtermuchty Bond, it is becoming a town of whisky again. The opportunity to learn the art of this profession must be very exciting for any young apprentice or indeed any employee.
“Although maybe never getting to the heady numbers of the 19th and early 20th century, Andrew and Holly are confident that due to the success of the whisky industry globally, The Auchtermuchty Bond will be around to play its part.
“I am very pleased for the town. At last, from something old, we have something new. Reasons to be cheerful indeed!”