Craft Whisky Hits Scotland at Last
Attention of big Scotch whisky players shows craft distilling has arrived at last...
IF YOU were fortunate enough to have visited the Craft Distilling Expo in London recently, no doubt you would have been struck by two things, writes Dominic Roskrow for WhiskyInvestDirect.
First, how busy it was. Second, how everyone taking part was bubbling over with optimism.
But there was a third, perhaps darker factor at work too – one which shows that a British craft distilling revolution is upon us: the presence of bigger companies circling like sharks and looking at how they can climb aboard the craft distilling bandwagon as it gathers speed.
This is the third year of the Craft Distilling Expo, and the healthy visitor numbers provided clear proof that this year micro-distilling has stepped up a gear. Not only did the event attract significant numbers of would-be distillers, but some new producers came bearing gifts, with samples of innovative new gins, rums and apple spirits. A handful of new distillers also brought malt spirit well on its way to becoming whisky.
Craft distilling hasn't had an easy birth in the United Kingdom. Where the number of American boutique spirits makers now number close to 1000, until recently you could count the number of UK distillers making spirit from grain to glass on one hand. And even when the number of gin producers mushroomed due to a simpler rectifying way of distilling, whisky makers have remained few and far between.
Archaic laws intransigently interpreted by over-officious customs and excise staff coupled with the prohibitively high costs of whisky production and maturation seemed to have strangled a whisky craft industry at birth. Indeed, the Craft Distillers' Association, created by your writer, relied on foreign membership and 'craft' companies that were considerably bigger than the sort of idyllic cottage industry which normally springs to mind.
All this seems to be changing though, with new distilleries set to spring up across the country. These distilleries produce less than 150,000 litres of spirit a year. Glenlivet, by way of contrast, produces 12 million litres...
Abhainn Dearg, Isle of Lewis
Produces a tiny 30,000 litres. First whisky release was four years ago. Very peaty.
Producing 100,000 on the Ballindalloch estate in Speyside, Barra.
Founded 10 years ago, this distillery has mature whisky but is yet to release any of it.
Eden Mill, St Andrews
Production started here a year ago, and the distillery is making 80,000 litres a year.
A new distillery for Islay, run by French distiller Jean Donnay.
Glasgow Distillery Co.
The first new distillery in Glasgow for 100 years, founded this year and now producing gin as well as laying down spirit for whisky.
The UK's most northerly distillery, laid down its first whisky casks earlier this year.
Producing 30,000 litres per year.
Mainland Scotland's most Northern distillery, founded in Caithness in 2013 with a capacity of 125,000 litres.
One person who isn't the least bit surprised by the final emergence of craft-distilling in Scotland is Bill Owens, founder and president of the American Distilling Institute.
"There are not so many guys doing it in the UK," he says. "But it was always going to happen. There are certain people who have distilling in their DNA and they're going to find a way to do it."
One of the big UK trends which has flown under the radar so far is the presence of so many Scots swelling the ranks of whisky makers and would-be whisky makers.
For a long time it was assumed that because Scotland has an established large-scale whisky industry, any small producer would struggle to establish a niche. But that hasn't been the case. Small distilling companies have brought whisky making back to Dumfries and Galloway in the South of Scotland, across the Lowlands, and in to Fife. To the folk behind Kingsbarns Distillery at St Andrews, it was a no-brainer.
"I used to take American holiday makers round the Kingsbarns golf course when I was the professional there," says Douglas Clement, distillery founder and now visitor centre manager.
"They would tell me that they would like to visit a distillery – and there wasn't one that near by. That's now changed."
Judging from the Expo in London, it would seem we're only scratching the surface of a new wave of distillers. But it's enough to attract the attention of the big boys, who know a surf wave when they see one.
It makes for exciting times ahead for whisky fans – and nightmare ones for anyone trying to keep up with it all.
2015 Fortnum & Mason drinks writer of the year, whisky-guide author Dominic Roskrow is a prolific columnist and blogger for leading magazines, newspapers and whisky sites. One of the few people in the world recognized for services to both whisky and whiskey as a Keeper of the Quaich and a Kentucky Colonel, he has written nine whisky books and has been editor of both Whisky Magazine and Whiskeria.
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