Some years ago, I mentioned one of the great, if now largely forgotten, names in the history of Scotch whisky, that of Charles Doig. Born on a farm near Lintrathen and originally employed in an architect’s office in Meigle, he eventually moved to Elgin and became the greatest distillery architect of all time.
One slightly overused cliché in the whisky business is The Angels’ Share, that 2% or so annual evaporation through the oaken walls of casks where the whisky sleeps until it is ready for bottling.
When historic hotels get a facelift, all too often the interior is remorselessly gutted and starkly modernised, with just the façade and possibly the cellar bar left unaltered.
As someone who has banged the gong for whisky tourism and urged distilleries to open visitor centres, I’m delighted to see that everyone from the Scotch Whisky Association to VisitScotland is singing from that same hymn sheet.
Angus Dundee Distillers are one of these firms whose importance is in inverse proportion to their coverage in the media. Put simply, it’s a firm you have hardly ever heard of but they are a big player in the industry. Roughly 5% of the whisky that leaves Scotland in bottles or tankers is supplied by them. In a £4 billion-plus industry, we may be talking about £200 million-plus.
The Scotch whisky industry is in some respects quite unique. True, the market is dominated by the big firms, such as Diageo, Pernod-Ricard and Edrington, and their big brands—such as Johnny Walker, Chivas Regal and Famous Grouse—but it is still possible for smaller firms to start up, find a foothold and eventually expand and thrive in a such a competitive environment.
Benromach has long been one of my favourite distilleries and I recently was able to sample three of its single malt expressions—and all three were delectable.
It has always fascinated me that Dundee, a city where whisky consumption has always been pretty high, only ever had one legal distillery, Dudhope, that distilled briefly before and after 1820.
One country that produces plenty of whisky is India. One can assume that during the Raj, when Brits met at their exclusive clubs and ordered whisky—a chota pegg (small), or burra pegg (large)—club staff must have spread the word that this Scotch spirit was good stuff.
The Scotch whisky industry is today not just big but influential and highly respected. That stands in stark contrast to the way it was seen 200 and more years ago. Government laws and taxation had driven almost all legitimate distillers out of business and illicit distilling and smuggling were rampant.