Sunday, March 3, 2024

Lightly Peated

Whisky, Blabber 'n' Smoke

History Tasting

History Tasting Pt. 7 – Now and Then

Whisky: Lochlea Cask Strength

  1. So now we come to the present day and once again we are in a time of boom. There is a huge flurry of building – a huge increase of capacity. Will it end with the traditional bust as demand falls off? Who knows – but the present world economic outlook is none too rosey. Whisky does not and cannot exist independently of world trends even if somethings like the price of Macallan at auction seem to defy all logic.
  2. The list of large scale builds is staggering:
  • 2005 – Glenburgie rebuilt  – 4.5 million LPA.  Pernod Ricard
  • 2007 – Ailsa Bay – 12 million LPA. William Grant
  • 2008 – Roseisle – 12.5 million LPA. Diageo
  • 2015 – Dalmunach – 9.8 million LPA. Pernod Ricard
  • 2018 – Macallan – 16 million LPA. Edrington

In addition the capacity of various distilleries has been increased

  • Glenfiddich to 14 million LPA. William Grant
  • Glen Ord to 11 million LPA. Diageo
  • Teaninich to 9.8 million LPA. Diageo
  • Clynelish to 9 million LPA. Diageo
  1. Presumably everyone is betting on India and the Far East. The growth in capacity is far bigger than anything that happened in the nineteenth century.
  2. Whisky started as a small local product but is now global. This famous Scottish industry has moved away from Scotland in its outlook and its ownership is very international: Pernod Ricard; Suntory; Heineken; Forman Brown; Interbev; Remy Cointreau are all players
  3. Of the big distillers, William Grant is still a family controlled Scottish business. Edrington is Scottish even though Suntory owns 10% of its shares.
  4. Whisky is a multi billion pound business beholden to suits, accountants and stock markets. We have to park a lot of our romanticism.  In 2022 Scotch Whisky accounted for 26% of all Scotland’s international goods exported and 1.5% of all UK goods exports. It is important.
  5. But there are counter currents – a rise of localism that offers heart to the romantic in me.
  6. There have been a number of new distilleries that are small scale, local and rather brilliant. Many have been built by independent bottlers but not all. Nc’ Nean was founded by Annabel Thomas, an outsider with a vision for an organic, environmentally sustainable whisky, whilst Glen Wyvis shows another way forward as a community enterprise.
  7. But we need to remind ourselves how small these new distilleries are. If all of them were bundled up together and dumped inside of one of the mega distilleries they would not touch the sides. Nc’Nean for example has a capacity of 100,000 litres a year.
  8. The whisky I have chosen to illustrate this section, this trend,  is from a distillery that harks back to whisky’s roots –  Lochlea.
  9. It is a farm distillery. It used to be a dairy farm until 2014 when the owners decided that for it to be sustainable something else had to be done and they experimented with growing barley for malting. Then they went one step further and built a distillery, which opened in 2018. This is a serious enterprise. An indication of their intent is that they have managed to recruit the ex-manager of Laphroaig as production director. If he was going to uproot himself from Islay he must have been convinced of Lochlea’s potential.
  10. Their whisky is certainly good. It illustrates one of the themes of modern whisky making: that with careful attention to the cask and maturation whisky can be good, on its own terms, at an earlier age than used to be thought possible. In fact the past few years have completely turned on their head ideas I used to have about age and quality.
  11. Again this is reaching back into the past  when whisky used to be drunk much, much younger. Remember when it was seen as a bold step to insist that whisky should be a minimum of three years old.
  12. Looking forward by looking back. That is what this tasting has been about. There are no great lessons or conclusions, only the observation that what goes around very often comes around.

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