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Monday 24 July 2017




Cardhu distillery in Speyside is, upon arriving at it, like many others in the area. There are beautiful stone buildings, a large forecourt, a visitor’s centre, stills, washbacks, casks… the things one would expect to find at any whisky-making outpost in the region. But it has a most curious and unique history.

It is when you pierce below its surface to understand more of its past that you realise this was no ordinary distillery. The history of Cardhu is forever entangled with the stories of two of the sharpest, most inventive and strong-willed women in Scotland’s early whisky narrative: Helen and Elizabeth Cumming. The former laid the foundations for success while the latter built on those and took Cardhu to being one of the most important in the region.

The distillery was founded as Cardow (Gaelic for black rock) by John Cumming in the early 1800's, when he started using the barley grown in the family farm to produce his own uisge beatha and peat.

He began as a moonshine distiller. The proximity of the river Spey was ideal for a distillery and the surrounding hills offered a hide-out in case of raids by the excise men. In 1816, John was convicted for distilling without official license three times. Distilling to small extents was usual for the farmers at that time and nearly no one cared for licenses. Cardow was distilling long before licenses to do so arrived in the valley in 1824. From about 1813, records show that John Cumming was busy taking care of the farmlands while the wily Helen was equally busy running the household and distilling the whisky. It is, therefore, not surprising, that Cardhu is accepted in history to have been the first of the Speyside distilleries to take out one of the new licences after the Excise Act was passed in 1823.

According to extracts from the insightful whisky encyclopedia by Alfred Barnard – published in 1893 – Helen was “a most remarkable character and a woman of many resources; she possessed the courage and energy of a man, and in devices and plans to evade the surveillance of the gaugers [those who hunted down illicit stills and the root of the word gauging], no man nor woman in the district could equal her.” In short: she was rather good at hiding her work from the authorities.

It was not just her ability to hide her illegal distilling that made her a famous character. It was the fact she did it with such aplomb and respect for her neighbours. Stories go that when Helen discovered the gaugers were on their way to do inspections, she would raise a red flag or hang out her washing to alert her neighbours and the prochahs, or boys who would run messages around the district, would see the signal and run to tell others. Then, she would invite the gaugers in, give them a bed for the night and wish them well on their way the next morning. You’ve got to admire her cheek!

Stories also go that she would walk all the way to Elgin – some 20 miles away – with bladders of whisky tied up underneath her skirts to sell on to willing consumers. The quality of her spirit was recognised early on so that by the time licences were being granted to distilleries such as Glenlivet (as it was known then, without a ‘The’), she did not need to put that name before her product, unlike many in the region which would have used Glenlivet as a prefix to give their spirit more credibility.

Helen outlived her husband by 39 years, reaching the incredibly ripe old age of 98. Not only did she run the distillery but she also managed to have eight children and 56 grandchildren.


But while she remained – it is said – of good mind until her death, it was her daughter-in-law who eventually took on the reins. Elizabeth was the wife of Helen’s son, Lewis, who had run the distillery in the late 1860s, increasing its output from 240 gallons a week to 500. When he died prematurely in 1872, it was Elizabeth who took on running the distillery.

According to Barnard: “Mrs Lewis Cumming personally conducted the business for nearly seventeen years, and to her efforts alone is the continued success of the distillery entirely due. It was this lady who enlarged the distillery in 1884, previous to which time the plant could only make 500 gallons per week; after she had made the alterations and extensive additions the new distillery turned out 1,680 gallons. As a book-keeper and correspondent, Mrs Cumming has not, in her own sex, an equal in this country.” Actually, Elizabeth rebuilt the primitive set-up in 1884 completely, selling the old stills and waterwheel to William Grant, who was planning to build his family distillery, called Glenfiddich, in Dufftown. By then, Cardhu had established itself as a favourite of blenders, but was also available as a single malt in London as early as 1888.

Barnard had viewed the single malt barn and the kiln which were of standard description; now there are two old barns and kilns but they have not been used as such since 1968 when malt barn no. 2 was converted into a warehouse.

The original mill was powered by a large 18 feet diameter waterwheel, presumably powered by the Cardow Burn that feeds a small dam beside the site and a larger one further upstream.  The process water was and still is piped over two miles from a spring on Mannoch Hill, yet another distillery making use of this important watershed.  I’m going to have to take a proper count of the number of distilleries that rely on Mannoch for water in one form or another - it may be more than Benrinnes and perhaps more than any other hill in Scotland since the Campbeltown heydays when Beinn Ghuilean was the filter for the waters of Crosshill Loch.  The peat used at Cardow was also cut from moss land on Mannoch Hill but today the malt is almost unpeated.

The mash tun was originally quite small at just 12 feet wide by 5 feet deep and there were 6 washbacks holding 18,200 litres each.  The current tun is a much larger stainless steel full lauter vessel that produces 35,000 litres of worts per mash to fill into one of the ten washbacks, eight of Douglas fir and two of stainless steel.  Fermentation is a fairly regulation 72 hours.

The stills were quite small at first, 9,100 litres for the wash still and 7,300 litres for the spirit, and the spirit was condensed in a cement worm tub that no longer exists.  There were two more stills added (together with a larger mash tun and new washbacks) in 1899 and a further two in 1960.  The wash stills now take a 17,375 litre charge and the spirit stills 14,780 litres.  The lyne arms on the wash stills are horizontal but they rise very slightly on the spirit stills to create a lighter, yet still oily spirit that is condensed in internally placed shell and tube condensers.

The new distillery was capable of producing 273,000 litres p.a. but working to 182,000 litres at the time, compared to 114,000 litres p.a. at the old farm distillery.  The capacity of those six stills is now 3.2m litres placing Cardhu inside the top 50% in Scotland by volume.  Only bourbon casks are used for the 12yo single malt but some of the production is matured in sherry casks, all intended for blending.  There are around 7,500 casks in five dunnage warehouses around the site but most of the production is for blending and is stored in central bonds.  There is a dedication stone on the front of warehouse no.7 inscribed ‘E.C. 1884’ in recognition of the founding of the new site by Elizabeth Cumming.

Barnard’s reporting of Cardow doesn’t stop there though.  He returned to the distillery around seven or eight years later as part of his research for a chapter in a pamphlet he wrote for John Walker & Sons Ltd which also included reports on their Kilmarnock operations and Annandale Distillery that they took over soon after buying Cardow. In 1893 Elizabeth made a very important decision: She sold Cardow to John Walker & Sons for 20,500 pounds and ensured her family shareholding in Walker’s company. She died one year later and didn’t have the chance to see the success of her wise decision: Under the shield of the big company Cardow could stand the hard times caused by the whisky market crash in 1898.

The Cardow sale to John Walker & Sons Ltd. in Sept. 1893 and Barnard's mention that it was quite recent dates his journey soon after.  He also mentions that Elizabeth Cumming had retired from the distillery but still retains the house and farm, and her son John had taken over as manager and also appointed as a Director of John Walker & Sons. Elizabeth died in May 1894 so this dates Barnard’s second visit to late 93/early 94.

At that time, the distillery would have been selling most of its product on to blenders, one of which was Alexander Walker, from John Walker & Sons. In the late 1800s, the distillery was purchased by the blending house, one of the first malt distilleries in its portfolio.
Elizabeth did not simply walk away from the business that she and her mother-in-law had so faithfully built up. Instead, she ensured that her son – John Cumming – became a board member, while she continued living on the estate. She also made certain all of the distillery workers kept their jobs and that electricity was brought to the area – one of the first places to do so in the Spey Valley.

More than 120 years later, the distillery is owned by Diageo, which of course, in turn owns Johnnie Walker. It is now the ‘home’ of Johnnie Walker, with an impressive corporate hospitality area incorporating the brand’s history. Its output has also increased substantially – to 3.3 million litres per annum – but without the work and foundations laid by these two whisky women it wouldn’t have become the place it is.

The Single Malt and the Blended Malt

An alternative spelling to the distillery name, Cardhu, emerged after the Second World War, when it the distillery start promoting single malt bottlings. The distillery was formally registrated as Cardhu Distillery in 1981.

About 30% of the production is sold as single malt, the remaining entering in blends, most significantly of Johnnie Walkers blends, Red, Black, Green and Blue labels. The whisky fell victim to its own success, when Diageo (the current owners) decided to  introduce a vatted malt, Cardhu Pure Malt, (augmented by other single malts of the Diageo group), as it was not able satisfy all the demand for Cardhu single malt.


However in 2006 Cardhu recommenced producing a single malt. The Cardhu single malt bottlings are distinguished by their smooth, delicate, easy drinking character. Versions of over 12 years old demonstrate more fat texture and caramelised nuttiness, that makes them a good match to desserts. More of Cardhu Single Malts, 12/15/18 YOs are entering the market in keeping with common economic sense. The quality of the cheaper blends are declining.

In 2018, Diageo started to implement plans to spend £150m on upgrading tourism facilities across Scotland, including a new brand home for Johnnie Walker in Edinburgh, and improved visitor centres at Cardhu, Clynelish, Caol Ila and Glenkinchie, representing some of the regional styles present in Walker. Cardhu’s upgrade, with scenic access and an orchard planted highlights the history of the distillery, reflecting the influence of Helen and Elizabeth Cumming.

In the stonework of that calm outlook, the tranquility and the enduring cheek of that distillery – there is a stuffed lion toy that gets placed in random parts of the distillery so look out for it if you visit – you can feel the ghosts of these women. And, in my personal belief, it is all the more enriched for it.

Sunday 23 July 2017



Chill filtration has applications in several beverage categories and in many industrial processes. When it comes to whisky, chill filtration involves chilling matured whisky to between -10⁰C and +4⁰C Celsius, then filtering by adsorption (not absorption), which is the adhesion of dissolved particles to a surface. In the case of whisky, these particles are things like fatty acids and proteins.

The whisky is chilled, as this helps to precipitate (clump together) the particles so that they can be easily filtered from the liquid. Not every distillery chill filters in the same way, and in the winter months, some distilleries even chill filter at the high end of the range (3⁰C to 4⁰C), without actually chilling the whisky first. Temperatures around zero are typical, with the higher temperatures being less effective in removing all the fatty acids and proteins than lower temperatures.

Why Do Distilleries Chill Filter?

Not all distilleries chill filter their whiskies and many that do, still have non-chill filtered releases in their range. Regardless on your views of chill filtration, it is fair to say that there is a passionate and growing demand for non-chill filtered whiskies. So if most distilleries spend money to chill filter most of their whiskies when a growing group of people are demanding that they don’t, there must be some advantages to chill filtration to the distillery, as indeed there are.

In essence, whisky is a mixture of ethanol, water and just a little bit of other stuff that contributes to the colour, aroma, mouth-feel and flavour. That ‘other stuff’ includes a host of different chemicals including esters, ketones, congeners, aldehydes, phenols, tannins, furfurals and many more. A typical commercial whisky is approximately 40% alcohol (principally ethanol), 59% water and 1% other stuff. But here’s the rub. Everything organic contains something called lipids, which are also known as fatty acids or fats. Some of the lipid content of the barley used to make whisky persists all the way through gristing, steeping, fermentation, distillation and maturation, and is found in the resulting whisky. They certainly aren’t a problem in terms of health or calories, and their contribution to flavour and aroma is part of that argument I don’t want to get into, except to say, plenty of people love to drink whiskies with the lipids left in.

When whisky is above 46% alcohol at room temperature, there is no issue with lipids. But if you add enough water, if you chill the whisky or if you do both of these by adding ice to your whisky, something significant happens; the whisky goes cloudy. This does not mean the whisky has gone bad or doesn’t taste as good, it just means that it loses the classic bright golden shine that is associated with whisky. People who aren’t familiar with this phenomenon could be excused for thinking they have an inferior or flawed whisky if it goes cloudy when they add ice. In short, lipids are removed through chill filtration for almost purely aesthetic reasons. Whether chill filtering noticeably changes the flavour or mouthfeel is a subject of much debate. You can easily do some cloud formation experiments yourself with a bottle of non-chill filtered whisky, preferably with an alcohol percentage between 46 and 50% ABV.

Experiment 1: Pour some of the whisky into a glass and add twice as much pure water. You should see the whisky go cloudy fairly quickly.

Experiment 2: Put the bottle of whisky in your freezer. After a few hours of cooling, you will see that the entire bottle of whisky has gone cloudy, even without dilution. Leave the bottle at room temperature and the cloudy haze will slowly disappear, with no negative effects.

Experiment 3: While your whisky is still cloudy from the freezer in Experiment 2, pour some of it through a coffee filter paper to replicate the chill filtration process, and then seal it in a smaller bottle to prevent oxidation. Once the bottle and the chill filtered sample have both returned to room temperature, you can do your own taste comparison.

It’s worth noting that just as each whisky has different levels of esters, aldehydes or phenols, they can also have different levels of lipids, and some will exhibit this behavior more strongly than others. For an incredibly stark example of the same principle, try the same experiments with some Greek Ouzo, which goes from clear to opaque white. Absinthe also gives a very strong result.

So Why Does it go Cloudy?

The appearance and disappearance of cloudiness in whisky comes down to the properties of lipids, the properties of the water-ethanol mix, temperature, and something called micelles. 

Diagram 1 - Representation of a Lipid


The lipids in whisky are basically fats, and like most fats they have a hydrophilic (water loving) ‘head’ characterised by an electrically charged -OH group, and a hydrophobic (water hating) ‘tail’ characterised by one or more long carbon chains (see Diagram 1). It is the dominance of these long hydrophobic carbon chains that prevent oil (oil being fat that is liquid at room temperature) from mixing with water. Ethanol, on the other hand is a slightly stranger character. It also has a hydrophilic -OH group at one end and a carbon chain at the other, but the carbon chain is very short. The charged -OH group is therefore able to dominate the short carbon chain, allowing it to mix easily with water. In contrast, alcohols with longer carbon chains than ethanol, like hexanol, do not mix readily with water.

Fortuitously, the short carbon chain of ethanol is still sufficiently friendly with the long carbon chains of lipids to allow them to mix together as well. So, in a mixture of water, ethanol and lipids, ethanol ensures that everything is hunky dory. But if the ethanol drops sufficiently, there will no longer be enough of it to keep the oil and water mixed and they will separate. This starts to happen when the ethanol drops below the magic number of 46% ABV at room temperature. At lower temperatures, the party mood is dampened, and the oil and water will separate even with higher concentrations of ethanol. This is what happens when distilleries chill filter, and it is also what happened in the freezer experiment above.

As the lipids and the water stop mixing, the lipids form something called micelles. A micelle is basically a spherical clump of lipid molecules, where the hydrophobic carbon chain ‘tails’ all point in to the centre, away from the water, while the hydrophilic ‘heads’ all point outwards  towards the surrounding water (see Diagram 2). 


Though these clumps of lipid molecules are still tiny, when there are millions of them scattering  light in the same glass, the result is a cloudy suspension of solid particles in a liquid, known as a colloid. Incidentally, the cell walls in a human body are constructed in an almost identical way. 

Animal cell walls have an outer layer of lipid molecules, with the hydrophilic heads pointing outwards, and a reversed inner layer, with hydrophilic heads pointing into the cell. The hydrophobic tails of the molecules in each layer point to each other between the layers. Quite bizarrely, non-chill filtered whisky and cell biology have much in common. Maybe that’s why whisky makes me feel so good!!

Does This Always Happen?

Some whisky lovers believe that if a whisky is bottled at say 43%, it MUST be chill filtered. Others will even go so far as to say that chill filtered whisky is an inferior product, not worth drinking. I disagree on both counts but I will only address the former, the latter being somewhat more subjective.

All non-chill filtered whisky has some level of lipids, and lipids will always contribute to cloudiness when the ethanol content is low enough. However, as mentioned above, not all whiskies have the same lipid levels, and cloudiness does not appear en-mass when whisky first drops just below 46%. The length of the hydrophobic carbon tail (or tails) varies between different lipids, and it is the length of this carbon tail that determines their solubility in ethanol. Longer carbon tails make lipids less soluble, and these lipids form micelles just below 46% ethanol. Others need the ethanol concentration to drop further.

Experiment 4: Take a non-chill filtered whisky and add just a little bit of water at a time, allowing time for the micelles to form between each addition. You will see that gradually more water brings out gradually more cloudiness, until you reach a maximum.

The magical 46% is not a switch that flicks cloudiness on and off; it simply marks one end of the micelle forming range as each lipid has its own critical micelle concentration. There are a number of non-chill filtered whiskies bottled at 43%. This is low enough for micelle formation to begin, but sometimes for it to be less than obvious. Nonetheless, putting one of these whiskies side by side with a chill filtered whisky of similar colour often reveals that the 43% non-chill filtered whisky is not as bright and shiny, a fact that may not be obvious when it is observed alone. Alcohol strength alone is usually not sufficient to determine whether a whisky is, or is not, chill filtered. 

For those who wish to delve deeper into Chill Filtration and whether it affects people or not, check out this experiment:

Spontaneous Cloud Formation

That’s not the end of the story for cloudiness in whisky, as there is another notable effect that can occur as the result of another property of ethanol. A person who grows up in a very hot but dry city like Bikaner who moves to Mumbai will notice a strange new phenomenon in non-chill filtered whiskies – spontaneous cloudiness.

What’s the explanation? The first was oxidation in the glass, but cloudiness did not seem to coincide with the appearance of notes associated with oxidation, nor could I identify any specific oxidation reactions that would induce cloudiness in whisky. Higher evaporation of ethanol than water in accordance with Raoult’s Law on vapour pressure* was another suggestion, but some very careful measurements indicated that evaporation of ethanol could not have been sufficient to drop the ABV below 46% in the time elapsed. In fact, the volume had marginally increased! Those anomalous measurements and that this phenomenon is prevalent in Mumbai but not Bikaner, led to another hypothesis.

While Bikaner and Mumbai are both known for hot weather, the former is famed for a very dry heat while the latter is renowned for intense humidity. Could the whisky be somehow taking atmospheric water vapour from Mumbai’s humid air? Further investigation revealed another relevant property of ethanol. Due to its molecular structure, particularly that –OH group discussed earlier, ethanol exhibits a force known as ‘hydrogen bonding’. This means that ethanol is hygroscopic, which in turn means that it readily absorbs water vapour from air. BINGO! While ethanol certainly evaporates from a glass faster than water, providing a contribution to the curious observation of spontaneous cloudiness, the whisky simultaneously pulls water molecules in from the atmosphere, and it does so more quickly in humid Mumbai than dry Bikaner. 

With falling ethanol content and rising water content, a cask-strength, non-chill filtered dram in Mumbai can quickly drop below 46% ABV and become cloudy, without a detectable loss of volume. No doubt this would eventually happen in Bikaner as well; I just never left it in the glass long enough!

Saturday 22 July 2017



From the late 1990s onwards there was a predictability about Scotch Whisky sales. Almost every year the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) would announce another record-breaking performance in terms of volume and value in export markets around the world. Scotch was thriving and achieving growth in a comfortingly diverse range of locations. 

And by ‘Scotch’ the implication was, essentially, Blended Scotch. This is because-- increasing interest in single malts notwithstanding-- in terms of pure statistics, Blends have remained the big game in town on a global basis, still accounting in volume terms for some 83% of all scotch sales this year, 2015. What was not brought out by the SWA was that Blends had accounted for 91% of all scotch sales in 2010 and 90% the year after next, 2012. Single Malt sales had shot up 26% in value, over 2012! 

Then, in September 2014, the SWA declared that all was not so rosy in the scotch whisky garden. A statement from the SWA declared: “While scotch whisky exports to some key markets, such as France and Taiwan, increased in the first six months of 2014, the overall trend was downwards with economic headwinds and uncertainty having an impact.”

This was followed on April 1 this year by the news that “weaker economic conditions and political volatility in some markets saw the value of scotch whisky exports decline 7% to £3.95bn in 2014 from £4.26bn the previous year”, although during the calendar year there was significant volume and value growth in a number of important markets, such as India, Thailand and Japan.

Although single malts have seen growth in some markets, particularly those that are more ‘mature’ in terms of whisky sales, in many countries malts barely sell and blends are really the only game in town. All such averments came to naught when single malt Scotch whisky clocked a record year of export sales in 2016, topping £1 billion ($1.25 billion) for the first time. This achievement is attributed to growth in sales among luxury and prestige markets.

They dominate in Singapore, for example, reflecting its role as a gateway for much of Asia, where blends generally sell much greater quantities than malts. Overall, Singapore is the world’s third-largest scotch whisky market in terms of value. Meanwhile, in the Americas, Mexico and Brazil, occupying 9th and 10th places in the ‘value’ table, are overwhelmingly blend markets.

So just where is blended scotch performing well against the overall trends for scotch as a category, and how are producers and their marketing teams ensuring its success in those territories? Growth went beyond just the single malt market as overall export sales of Scotch whisky, including blends, reached nearly £4 billion, following three consecutive years of decline from a peak of £4.27 billion in 2012 to £3.85 billion in 2015.

The Scotch Whisky Association has already identified India as a key market for Scotch post-Brexit, flagging it as one of most important countries to strike a trade deal with after the UK leaves the EU. Late last year the SWA stated: “Brexit poses challenges and uncertainty but also brings opportunities if the UK can secure favourable bilateral trade deals with key export markets. India, for example, is a growing market for Scotch but we are being held back by a 150% import tariff. EU talks with India have proved challenging for a decade now and we hope the UK will now take a fresh approach to securing an ambitious trade agreement.”

The US remains by far the largest export market for scotch in value terms, both blended and malt, with Diageo’s Johnnie Walker being the leading super-premium blended scotch. Despite a worldwide drop of 12% in sales during 2014, the Johnnie Walker family remains the world’s best-selling blended brand, with almost 20% of global blended scotch sales being accounted for by entry-level Johnnie Walker Red Label and first step up Black Label. 


Johnnie Walker may be a firm favourite in the US but, according to a Diageo head of whisky outreach Dr Nick Morgan: “Buchanan’s, now at more than 350,000 cases, is one of the hottest scotch brands in North America. In the six months to the end of December 2014, net sales were up 33% as it continued to leverage its strong connection with the Hispanic community. Scotch volume in the US continues to decline, but value is growing – this is a continuation of a 10-year trend toward premiumisation in the category.” 

Latin America remains a region with great potential for Blended Scotch, with Diageo’s Buchanan’s and Old Parr Tribute recording strong growth in Columbia. Morgan notes: “In Mexico broad distribution, along with the media campaign Keep Walking Mexico, drove Johnnie Walker Red Label’s 40% contribution to net sales growth. We also introduced Black & White to participate in the segment, resulting in net sales growth of 70%.” 

With blended scotch sales falling significantly across the board in mainland China, “marketing spend for Johnnie Walker is being focussed on the modern on-trade to improve profitability,” according to Morgan, “and to launch Johnnie Walker Double Black and test new campaigns in the more profitable off-trade channel to build new occasions for scotch”. He adds: “Marketing spend in China was also focussed on Johnnie Walker Blue Label and the Johnnie Walker Houses, including the addition of the Johnnie Walker House in Chengdu.”

Africa is increasingly being viewed as a key blended scotch whisky continent, and Morgan says: “Johnnie Walker’s net sales were up 15% in Africa in the first half. The brand more than doubled in Angola and showed strong growth in other African countries, including South Africa, where Johnnie Walker Black Label and Red Label net sales were up 13% and 17% respectively, supported by the Where Flavour is King and Johnnie & Ginger campaigns that focus on quality and liquid credentials.”

In terms of recent releases, Johnnie Walker has added a huge number of expressions since 1910. These are limited annual editions, designed to showcase different elements of Johnnie Walker’s character – to date ‘smoke’ and ‘fruit’. Essentially they are bottlings intended to compete in terms of liquid quality and prestige with high-end single malts and alternative spirits, rather than other blends, as price tags around the £475/£550 mark reflect. 

There is more to it, though. Johnnie Walker is pushing out Blue Label series on any excuse or occasion. Their massive collection of aged whiskies (>50 years) is showing signs of Angel's Share damage. The once 63.5% ABV casks are dropping alarmingly below 40%-they cannot be sold as Scotch Whisky any more, as the minimum ABV must be 40%. NAS expressions are rolling out non-stop, as younger malts at 42-50% ABV are being blended with the dying aged malts and being sold at 40% ABV and more-at usurious prices, I must add!

Third place in the global blended scotch top 10 behind Johnnie Walker Red Label and Black Label goes to Pernod Ricard’s Ballantine’s range of blends. Global brand director Peter Moore says: “Our latest half-yearly figures for Ballantine’s are pleasing. Volumes were up 6% and organic sales growth 5%. Asia remains our biggest challenge, though there is positive momentum in Japan.”

Latin America has seen strong performances for Ballantine’s, with double-digit growth and, specifically, a 40% volume increase in Brazil. “We’ve done lots of promotional work in Brazil around music with a high level of digital material,” says Moore. “The brand has been in Brazil for a very long time, but we’re at an early stage of development in Mexico. However, we are doing well there.”  

Moore also nominates Africa, India and eastern Europe as markets where Ballantine’s sales have been strong, noting that: “In Europe, we are also seeing greater stability in markets such as Spain [where overall scotch whisky volumes rose by 1% in 2014], with positive signs during the past three or four months, after six years of decline.”

Scotch whisky exports to France, the biggest market by volume and second biggest by value, were up 2% to £445m and 3% to 183m bottles in 2014. Moore says: “We’ve seen modest growth in France, which is our biggest single market with our strongest Ballantine’s portfolio presence in Europe. We have Finest, blended malt, 12-year-old and even 17-year-old in France.”

Despite tough trading conditions in Russia at present, Moore says: “Overall, there is positive momentum around Ballantine’s Finest in Russia. As in Brazil, we’ve been involved in music-related activities in Russia, and we are also employing music activation in South Africa and Angola. In South Africa we collaborate with the famous DJ Black Coffee, using him in advertising and digital media. We’ve seen real momentum  for Finest as a result.” An important factor in the comparatively positive trajectory for Ballantine’s has been a repackaging exercise for Finest, accompanied, as Moore says by “putting positive energy into point of sale displays, which seems to be paying off”.

Another leading blended brand which has benefited from repackaging is Dewar’s – the best-selling blended scotch in the US. Last year saw the range receive a major overhaul, with brand activity focusing on the slogan True Scotch Since 1846. According to a Dewar’s spokesperson: “Under the banner of True Scotch, the new Dewar’s visual identity is designed to intrigue and engage consumers in the most direct way possible – bringing the values, aspirations and authenticity of this unique whisky to life, while showing how relevant these qualities remain.”

Bacardi global marketing manager for whisky Stephen Marshall adds: “The relaunch has been global, so it takes time to bleed through the system, but we’re seeing really positive signs in the US and Spain, two of our most important markets.”

It is impossible to consider the role of blended scotch on the global stage without considering Chivas Regal, and a Chivas spokesperson declares: “There has been good brand performance in the key growth markets of Brazil, India, Turkey, Mexico, South Africa and Australia, and also in mature markets, including France. Chivas Regal is ramping up its activity globally, employing Win The Right Way – our biggest integrated campaign yet, supported by The Venture, the founding of a $1million fund for social entrepreneurs. ”Last year also saw the release of the first new Chivas Regal blend since 2007 in the shape of Chivas Regal Extra, which employs a higher than usual percentage of sherry cask-matured whiskies in its composition, and which takes its place in the brand’s super-premium sector.

So much for the activities of some of the key blended scotch brands in export territories, but one blended scotch market that is rarely mentioned in positive terms by producers at present is the UK. Since 2009, the overall UK market for malt and blended scotch whisky has fallen by some 9.5%, according to HM Revenue & Customs figures, and established blends have borne the brunt of that decline.

However, it is not all doom and gloom, as Compass Box supremo John Glaser observes. “Our business is up around 25% in the UK and much of that growth comes from our Great King Street blends. This follows several years of significant UK growth for us.” The ‘niche’ Great King Street blends depart from more conventional offerings by giving the consumer far more information than most blenders would ever dream of disclosing, including the identity of component whiskies and the maturation regimes involved in their development. In terms of the decline of traditional blends in the UK, Glaser says: “I see it as a brand issue rather than a blend issue. The big name blends don’t have any relevance to younger people. If you present the right blend to the right people in the right way, it will sell.”

The latest figures posted by HMRC show the strongest exports of Scotch whisky since 2013, helped both by the Pound falling after the Brexit conundrum and also by strong growth in consumer demand worldwide, led by No.1 market the United States. In these still challenging times, the global art of presenting ‘the right blend to the right people in the right way’ has arguably never been so important. 


Scotch whisky sales increased by 10.8% to £2.19bn in the first half of 2019, according to data released by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). The volume of exports also increased by 7.1% to 598m 70cl bottles.

Single malts continue to grow in popularity, with exports up 18.8% to £652m in the first six months of the year. Single malts now make up 30% of the value of all Scotch shipped overseas. Exports of blended Scotch grew too, rising 7.5% to an export valuation of £1.35bn.

Demand for Scotch whisky is growing both in developing markets, like India, and in established ones like the US, Japan and Germany. This reflects the enduring popularity of Scotch whisky in so many cultures around the world. It also reflects the industry’s continued focus on improving trading conditions – for example, removing tariffs and discriminatory taxes – across global markets.

A proportion of this year’s export growth also reflects actions taken by a number of distillers to mitigate the risk of a no-deal Brexit in March/April by exporting some stocks early, evidenced by a spike in EU exports in Q1. For example, there was significant growth in exports to South Korea and Morocco, both markets where tariffs could have been re-imposed if the UK had exited the EU without a deal on 29 March.

The EU saw significantly more growth in value and volume in Q1, (+27.9% and +14.5% respectively compared with Q1 2018), than in Q2 when they dropped by -13.2% and -20.5% compared to Q2 2018. This reflects shipments ahead of the 29 th March Article 50 deadline. Shipments to South Korea increased by 25%, and exports to Morocco increased by 74% in the first half of the year, again reflecting forward shipping ahead of potential tariffs following Brexit.

The USA remains the top export market for Scotch, with export value increasing sharply (+19.5%). The USA has benefited from increasing premiumisation in recent years, and distillers have launched a number of new products which have increased market share of Scotch in a competitive brown spirits market. Notably, consumers aged 25-34 now account for the largest age demographic, having come to appreciate the ageing process of whiskies.

pay more as they learn about the range and variety of single malts on offer. IWSR forecasts show global consumption of Scotch whisky reaching 103.1m nine-litre cases in 2023, up from 95.3m in 2018. While blends will still account for the lion’s share of Scotch, malts will grow at a faster rate (4.1% vs 1.2%), showing that consumers worldwide are increasingly willing to pay more as they learn about the range and variety of single malts on offer, and as they become more educated about how Scotch is made. While overall volumes are set to decline in Europe over the next five years, growth in the Americas and Asia Pacific will more than make up for this.

As noted by the SWA, the increase in shipments of Scotch should not be seen as a direct indication of an equivalent increase in consumption – much of the growth in Q1 will have been stockpiling in an effort to reduce the risks posed by a disorderly Brexit. Overall volume growth in Scotch between 2018 and 2023 is forecast at 1.6% CAGR, compared to 3.9% for US whiskey, 6.3% for Irish, and 6.7% for Japanese, as the slower growth of blends will outweigh the 4.1% growth in malts.

Scotch’s image as a status spirit is helping drive growth across many markets, especially the potentially huge Asian markets of China and India as these economies grow. But the traditional image of Scotch also arguably puts off younger consumers in existing markets where other categories are seen as more dynamic. Various methods are being attempted by producers of blends to reach out to new consumers, partly via broadening the occasion of consumption into cocktails (especially via highballs) and partly by reworking the traditional image of blended Scotch by tie-ins with popular culture. The key recent example here would be Diageo’s Johnnie Walker brand and its “Game of Thrones” tie-ins. Johnnie Walker is by some margin the largest Scotch brand globally, with just under 20% share by volume, and its activity will be closely watched by the industry as a whole. Could Johnnie Walker’s innovation help drive a turnaround in the fortunes of blended Scotch? It would be unwise to rule it out.  

I have listed the Johnnie Walker releases in Wikipedia under Johnnie Walker.

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Wednesday 12 July 2017



Peat, also known as turf, is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. It is unique to natural areas called peatlands, bogs, mires, moors, or muskegs. Peatlands, particularly bogs, are the primary source of peat, although less-common wetlands including fens, pocosins, and peat swamp forests also deposit peat. Organic matter accumulates over thousands of years to create peat deposits. Under pressure, water is forced out of peat, which is soft and easily compressed, and once dry can be used as fuel. In many countries, including Ireland and Scotland, peat has traditionally been used for cooking and domestic heating, and peat is stacked to dry in rural areas. It is harvested on an industrial scale. But it is the use of peat in the Scottish whisky industry that helps to produce a drink that has a unique flavour within the world of spirits and why different distilleries have different characteristics in their whiskies.

The peat is cut by hand using specialised tools and the resulting 'sod' is then left to dry in the open air for approximately two-three weeks. After this time, the peat is collected and then taken to the distillery. Most of the time the peat used is local to the distillery or cut from property owned by the distillery. Peat is so tightly compacted and dense that it burns for a long time and with consistent heat and acrid smoke. This is also why it is still used as a domestic fuel in some areas of Scotland, especially the islands.

Some Scotch whisky distilleries, such as those on Islay, use peat fires to dry malted barley. The drying process takes about 30 hours. This gives the whiskies a distinctive smoky flavour, called "peatiness". Peat smoke produces contains chemicals called phenols which  are absorbed by the malted barley during the drying process in a kiln. The level of phenols are controlled by the length of time that the barley is exposed to the smoke, the amount of smoke produced and the type of peat used. The smoke that has been absorbed is then carried through the entire whisky making process and right into your glass.                                                                                   
Scotch Ales can also use peat roasted malt, imparting a similar smoked flavour.
Peat can be a very divisive flavour component in the world of whisky. It is most commonly found in the single malt scotch category, although it is also present in whisky from Japan, India, Ireland, and even the Pacific Northwest. As malted barley is heated to dry it out and stop the germination process, peat is burned to infuse the grain with smoke and flavour it. As stated, the peatiness of the whisky depends on how long it has been exposed to the smoke, and measured in PPM (phenol parts per million). A measurement of one ppm means that there is one milligram of phenol per kilogram of malt. The higher the PPM, the smokier the whisky. Generally speaking, concentrations of less than five ppm are virtually undetectable for most drinkers.

There is a wide range of smoky whisky to enjoy, from light and crisp to medicinal and heavy to one of the highest PPMs distilled in recent history. If you think you don’t like smoky whisky, perhaps you just haven’t tried the right one yet. A peaty dram is best enjoyed in the winter, as the cold temperatures, limited sunlight and dreary skies lend themselves to these flavours, especially when warming up by an equally smoky fire.

These days, Malting Houses deliver specifically ordered malting to a distillery, meeting the barley and malting specifications of the distiller. At a malting’s laboratory, samples of malt are analysed for phenols, moisture, nitrogen content, and predicted spirit yield. Having malted barley peated to a higher ppm can contribute to a peatier-tasting whisky, but the ppm of the raw material is not a measurement of peat or smoke flavour in the bottle. Using the malt’s phenol ppm to predict final flavour is neither practical nor wise. The ppm of the malt remains independent of the processes involved in making whisky; the milling, mashing, fermentation, distillation cuts and maturation, each of which can affect the degree of smoke and peat flavours that reach the bottle. Leaving peat monsters like Ardbeg Supernova (100 ppm), and Bruichladdich’s Octomore 6.3 (258 ppm) / 8.3 (309 ppm) aside, recent labels on whiskies from Ailsa Bay and AnCnoc show the ppm measured in the final liquid.

Here are some examples of PPM values of some well known distilleries, as stated by WhiskyFor Everyone and others:

    Bunnahabhain (1–2)
    Bruichladdich (3–4)
    Springbank (7–8)
    Benromach (8)
    Hakushu 12 YO, Japan (8)
    Ardmore (10–15)
    Tomatin Cù Bòcan(15)
    Highland Park (20)
    Bowmore (20–25)
    Talisker (25–30)
    Caol Ila (30–35)
    Paul John Peated Cask Strength, India (30-35)
    Jura Prophecy (35)
    Ledaig (35)
    Lagavulin (35–40)
    Port Charlotte (40)
    Laphroaig (40–43)
    Ardbeg (55-65)
    Longrow (55)
    Benromach Peat Smoke (67)