It has been a few years since my last blog post but today I suddenly feel inspired to write something after watching Roy’s Aquavitae vPub – New Distilleries & Their Impact session last night on YouTube as well Ralfy and Roy ‘s recent OSWA ceremony which I enjoyed immensely.
Why? Well the subject matter is very close to my heart being the founder of as well as former director and visitor centre manager of Kingsbarns Distillery from 2009 until my resignation in 2017. I was inspired to create the new distillery not just by the golfers I caddied for who were always so disappointed when I told them there was no whisky distillery for them to visit in Fife after their games but also by the success of Arran Distillery, Kilchoman Distillery, Daftmill Distillery and Lark Distillery in Tasmania.
Back in 2008 when I started formulating the idea and doing my market research I could only find a handful of others around Scotland also making plans for a distillery (Ardnamurchan, Torahbaig, Wolfburn, Ballindalloch). So I certainly felt back then there was a clear gap in the market and opportunity to create another new one particularly in my beloved Kingdom of Fife.
Fast forward to 2022 and Roy showed us 4 maps. The first showed work in progress distilleries under construction but not yet producing (27), the second showed producing distilleries that have not yet released a whisky (20), the third showed those producing distilleries that have released whisky (23) and finally one (see below) showing them all together….a staggering 70 in total which Roy describes as a “frightening amount”.
So Roy posed the question what impact if any are all these new Scotch Whisky Distilleries having on the whisky we are all enjoying today? But before answering this question you can imagine my joy when he poured himself a Kingsbarns “Dream to Dram”, a phrase coined by a few journalists to describe my epic journey from golf caddie to distillery creator.
He described it as one of his favourites…creamy, malty, a little spicey…full of flavour…a good value (£45) modern young whisky that has made a big impact. Roy then went on to taste some of his other favourites from the new distillers…Lochlea, Lindores, Ardnamurchan and Lagg. These and all the other new distilleries he argued have influenced the whisky landscape in a number of ways:
- Flavour – new distilleries are led by flavour, they have to be if they are going to compete in a market of 70 new distilleries whereas longer established larger distillers need to stay focused on their blends and thus the single malts they produce are led by efficiency in the production processes in order to produce a consistent malt for the blends. But this may be starting to change now as the big boys in the industry see the improvements in flavour that barley type, yeast, fermentation times and distillation cuts have been having on the quality of younger distiller’s whiskies.
- Price – seeing consumers willing to pay £45-£50 for 3 to 6 year old flavour dominant whiskies may well have helped push more established distillers to move their core range 10 / 12 yo whiskies to this price point too.
- Natural Presentation – how many of the newbies have released their whisky at 40%, chill filtered and coloured? NONE…Roy argues single malt scotch whisky enthusiasts simply do not want their drams stripped, diluted and faked with unnatural colour. 46% and above is what us consumers are now looking for, something which gives us the maximum flavour possible.
- Whisky Image – Roy believes malt whisky should be accessible to everyone and is a people’s drink. But that is not the way the established industry has been going recently with its move to super premiumisation meaning that so much of whisky nowadays is only for people who can afford luxury cars and watches. But there is hope as the new distilleries are turning things upside down bringing a less stuffy image to the consumer and displaying real passion in everything they do. I noticed a comment from Steve Atkiss in the chat “The new distillers are in the scene because they have passion. A simple word but it means everything to us….passion”
- Sustainability – New distillers have obviously had the advantage of designing their distilleries from scratch with sustainability in mind with Nc’nean and Ardnamurchan leading the way. It is much harder for distilleries with equipment that is hundreds of years old to do this but even so the super premiumisation of whisky has resulted in more and more extravagant packaging.
Roy believes that if the 70 odd new distilleries can endure we can look forward to a lot more Springbank 10yo flavour led quality whiskies in the future. The question is can the market support the scale of this rapid expansion and can the new distilleries financially survive the no return period with the price of energy, barley and casks sky rocketing? I certainly hope so!
Another interesting debate Roy introduced was should whisky distilleries play the long game like Daftmill and Ballindalloch and wait until the whisky is ready (ie traditionally 10 or 12 years) until they release their whisky to the market OR should they release their whisky sooner like most of the new distillers have such as Kilchoman, Ardnamurchan and Kingsbarns. By releasing young whisky it gives us, the whisky enthusiast, a snapshot in time and Roy believes we should all feel privileged to buy these historic moments in the history of these new distilleries. It gives the whisky enthusiast the opportunity to connect with the new distilleries which mean something special to us and in doing so this helps the new distillers create brand loyalty from the early days as well as being good for their bottom line too.
Looking back I realise now what a huge advantage it was for me to bring the Wemyss family, an established independent bottler (Wemyss Malts), on board as my owner for they already had an established international distribution network which Kingsbarns has been able to piggy back onto. This has really helped accelerate Kingsbarns’ growth and it is now exported to approximately 25 countries around the world. It has been particularly exciting to see the buzz on social media about Kingsbarns entering Canada recently and I believe it won’t be too long till we see it in USA too…
I thought I’d end with this quote from Anthony Lamberty in the chat
“Have not bought anything but new distillery whisky in the last 12 months. Quality, taste and price wins everytime. Fed up with corporate crazy prices”
Anthony that is music to my ears, slainte!