Monday, 23 July 2012

Been a while again

Just time to write a quick entry. Been a while since my last post. Getting HMRC approval for the warehouse was one thing - running it is something else. It has involved moving back to Scotland not just for me but for the Production Manager, meaning a new house, new schools, leaving friends behind etc etc. I'm not complaining as it was my decision and considering the stunning area I now live in, I have no reason to complain.

A lot has happened in the whisky trade since my last post but one occurrence in particular has caught my imagination. Bruichladdich was sold last week to Remy Cointreau (is that their actual company title?) for £58million. It is not the sale that I find remarkable, it was common knowledge that offers for Bruichladdich were quite frequent; no, it is the amount of money the brand and distillery has been sold for. Taking aside Bushmills which sold a few years ago to Diageo for about £250million, this is one of the largest single distillery purchases the world has ever seen.

Now, I neither have the desire nor the time to sit and work out Bruichladdich's profits, turnovers, Remy's potential return on investment etc etc, but I wonder how many years it would take at current profit levels for Remy to return their £58m, never mind turn a profit on the acquisition. And actually, that is not what concerns me - I hope that the £58m price tag is good value for Remy (as it must be for the ex-Shareholders of Bruichladdich). What I find amazing, and what has really been on my mind for the past 2-3 months is distilling. Being a distillery owner; a distiller. As a 19 year old entering into this fantastic industry I had no desire, plan or dream of owning my own distillery. That has changed though in the past couple of years.

There are a few reasons for this, but the likes of Arran, Kilchoman, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich and Glenglassaugh (and even the terribly named St George's Distillery) have all sparked my imagination, kicked off a desire and created a dream. It is the fact that with careful planning, methodical preparation and expertise on distilling, it is very possible to make a go of distilling - and sometimes more than a go - a large and profitable company. Scotland is not doing well at the moment, financially that is and who knows what independence may or may not bring, but one thing is certain, distilleries are doing well, and whisky is in demand. This demand for the niche, small, different and premium has been growing, no, exploding over the past 15 years. The idea that a micro distillery on Islay would make any money in the early 1990s - preposterous, but now totally reasonable.

Anyway, my imagination, desire and dream has to stay just that for now. I know I could make a success of a new distillery, but for some strange and inexplicable reason (!) the lenders that be just don't share my confidence. I think it boils down to the fact that really, you don't have anything to sell for at least 3 years (and more like 5) - investors are a usually looking for their return by this point.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

A bottler I be...

Well, it has taken 10 years of dreaming and over a year and a half of planning, but finally, I am now hand bottling my casks. I'm no longer what was affectionately known as an 'Armchair Bottler'. The very first cask was a 1984 Tamdhu bottled for the Taiwanese market (beautiful label and a beautifully sweet whisky to boot) - this was closely followed by a Macduff 2000 (bottled for Drinks & Gifts in Krommenie who are opening a new shop) and six new Exclusive Malts (Glen Elgin 1995, Mortlach 1995, Auchroisk 1996, Glen Moray 2001, Macduff 1973 & Glen Garioch 1993).

It was a huge feeling of joy mixed with an almost overwhelming sense of relief as I watched the first goods leave - now en-route to The Netherlands and will be on their way to shops next week. Phew! Over the past 15 months I have thrown the towel in several times. Somewhere, somehow, we (Britain) decided that enterprise and enabling business was not to be encouraged. Almost at every turn, the banks and HMRC (the British Tax authority) were determined to prevent this enterprise. I was actually outright told 'that HMRC does not like approving this kind of warehouse'. The fact that I was creating jobs in one of the most deprived parts of Scotland seemed to be completely irrelevant.

Anyway, for one of the few times in my life I persevered and am very happy to be in full control of my own operations. It was a huge learning curve and one I'm very glad I went through with. Granted I now have to worry about fork lift trucks breaking down; emergency call outs; adding the right amount of de-mineralised water to a cask to bring it down to 45.8% etc but I have some great bottlings lined up for this year and look forward to gluing each and every label  on every bottle - and if the label is slightly wonky, its not because I've been drinking, well, it might be...