Scotch whisky expansion plans; worrying or exciting?

While I started the “news” or whiskileaks section of the blog to mostly cut and paste interesting stories from the various PR and media machinery of the Whisky Industry I always intended to use it as a broader forum to air my views on the force majeure that this industry is. As such I hope it will form a timeline or reference for the mass media out-churnings of new whisky expressions with the occasional social commentary of someone who loves whisky and is slowly coming to terms with this mass of new information and may have an opinion on some of it. At the risk of being hit in the face by a whisky-soaked sponge, here goes…

Following the recent deluge of reports on increasing production capacity, extending existing facilities and new distilleries being built I thought I would round up these reports in a post on the current trend for mass expansion in Scotland’s capacity for whisky production. My initial hope was to calm my fears that my Alfred Barnard type ambitions to visit every distillery in Scotland were not going to become unachievable simply due to the fact that the number of new distilleries opening is rising exponentially each year. The following are representative (but possibly not complete) of the mass expansion we have experienced in the last 6 months; granted some of these plans are much longer rooted – in particular new distillery constructions, some of which may have been a lifetime in the planning…

From The 2014 Malt Whisky Yearbook (editor Ingvar Ronde) published in ~October 2013 the ‘really new’ distilleries in Scotland were: Abhain Dearg (founded 2008 on the Isle of Lewis); Daftmill (founded 2005 in Fife); Strathearn (founded 2013 in Perth & Kinross). No offense meant but these are all boutiquey micro-distilleries producing around 20-65 thousand litres of alcohol per year. Wolfburn (founded 2013 and the new Northernmost mainland distillery) with expected capacity of 120 thousand litres of alcohol per year. And the two new mega-factories Ailsa Bay and Roseisle both expected to produce at least 12 million litres of alcohol per year (blend-fodder?) plus potentially freeing up capacity at established (i.e. Diageo and Grants owned) distilleries to divert more spirit into single malt production.

Into the future:

Since this time there have been numerous (long-planned) activities to expand capacity at existing distilleries including:

Building the Mortlach mirror distillery (Mortlach2) to double capacity

Installing new stills at Glen Ord and plans to build Teaninich2 to increase capacity

Expansion at Clynelish (£30m)

Plus the planned expansion at Caol Ila (no news yet?) all from Diageo.

Not to be outdone; The Edrington group have announced a complete rebuild of their Macallan Distillery after speculation in May 2012

and Inver House announced £4m Speyburn expansion

Along with a further raft of micro- to small scale distilleries including: Adelphi at Ardnamurchan ; Lindores Abbey and Kingsbarns both in Fife;  the Falkirk Distillery Project ; Arran Brewery potentially re-opening the old Rosebank distillery (initially as a brewery but with potential furture distilling option?). The borders race between Tweedale / Walkerburn , the Three Stills Company planned Hawick Distillery and Mossburn Distillers Jedburgh Distillery. New distillery for the islands of Skye (Torabhaig) and Harris . And Tim Morrison’s plans to bring distilling back into Glasgow for the first time in 100 years

…After that brief pause for breath, I apologise if I have missed anyone in the scrum…

And yet the media-hype and panic that is surrounding the current no-age-statement (NAS) trend and new (the moon?) markets that are going to drink our whisky stocks dry while they are still young (http://www.edinburghwhiskyblog.com/2014/02/12/no-age-statement-whisky/); hence aged whisky is going to become increasingly rare and massively more expensive. Indeed Mortlach seems to have done that overnight by expanding their range from one original bottling (OB) to four (plus potentially more?) and in a planned dual sizing of 500ml for home and 750 ml for US markets (http://www.dramming.com/2014/03/05/mortlach-blues-how-to-offend-those-who-made-it-possible/).

And yet reports are that the UK market for Scotch whisky is shrinking.

The end result…

I feel a little like the pre-Victorian era illicit distillers must have felt when running their stills in caves and seeing mega-factories like Bowmore & Glenturret (1779) and Littlemill (1772) being established when I tremble in fear at Roseisle and Ailsa Bay firing up and churning out their billion-barrels of whisky a day. Perhaps this progress is not as worrying as I first feared, as Bowmore or Glenturret didn’t bring about an end to the small independent distillers? The trend for micro-distilleries is fantastically exciting, particularly as it is going back to the whisky roots of distilling your own local whisky for that community – plus leaving a little to spare to expand the variety within the ‘specialist’ whisky marketplace. I wish both the mega-factories and the micro-distilleries both the best of luck. If history has taught us anything it is that distilleries come and go, and often get rebuilt, expanded and contracted as needs (or whim) demands. So lets mourn our loss of Port Ellen, Littlemill, Caperdonich, Lochside, etc. by raising a glass of Daftmill, Strathearn or Wolfburn and celebrate the fact that there is still room for the little guy in the Scotch Whisky industry.

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