Whisky troughs & peaks

Since Scotland began exporting whisky to the world in the 19th century, its success has undulated through history.  A gradual growth led by the Glenfiddich distillery of William Grant had been kick-started by the devastation of the grape harvests in France by the phylloxera beetle.  Today it is the largest selling ‘brown’ spirit in the world, with export sales worth £2.5billion.  At the industry’s peak, there were over 150 distilleries across the country, however that number had dwindled to the mid-80’s by 1995.   Now in 2008, the industry is experiencing an precedented renaissance, with the potential to lift it beyond any previous highs.  There is huge optimism in the industry, the likes of which most workers have never seen before.  

In the past few years, there has probably been a 30% latency in working distilleries.  This has now radically transformed with almost every distillery working at, or near, its full capacity and many mothballed facilities now being re-opened.  Indeed, beyond this, there is now a great rush to build extra capacity or even whole new distilleries in an effort to fill spirit into casks (remember spirit needs to be matured in cask for at least 3 years before it can be called Whisky).

Impression of Diageo’s new Roseisle distillery

In the past 12 months almost every major distilling company have announced expansion plans and even new jobs.  From Diageo’s £100 million  investment to expand Cameronbridge and the construction of the brand new Roseisle distillery, to William Grant’s rapid construction of its new Ailsa Bay distillery.  Edrington Group have also recently announced investment at its Macallan distillery, with a whole stillhouse due to be recomissioned.  More recently, Pernod Ricard announced their intentions to expand the Glenlivet distillery, while the recent Indian acquisition of Whyte & Mackay has brought new investment to the Black Isle, with close to a  doubling in capacity of the Invergordon distillery.

 Although, much of this growth is anticipative of the potentially huge expansion of developing markets, such as China, Russia, India and Brazil, it is more traditional markets that are truly driving the current growth period.  The U.S. saw sale increase by a margin of more than 10% in 2006, while France (now the second largest export market for Scotch) saw a jump of 7%.  Now with even the South America showing some real promise, the optimism amongst the usually canny Scots seems to be well justified.