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Scotland - Day 13: Do You Have Access?

Not really a "day" in Scotland as David is already getting on a plane and I'm in the hotel lobby getting ready to leave in the next forty-five minutes.  However, we met with another bottler last night, one who has previously released fantastic expressions, to taste a few cask options and discuss some business.  The samples were unfortunately not quite up to snuff, so we ended up just having a nice dinner instead.  Our host apologized that he wasn't able to find us something exquisite, but cited that his previous successes were based on his then cozy relationship with Diageo – one that has soured over the past five years or so.  This didn't surprise us.  The independent bottle trade is all about access.  It's not a matter of there being a whisky shortage in total volume, it's a situation where the volume simply isn't for sale.

Diageo just built what is now the biggest distillery in Scotland – the monstrous Roseisle – a forty million pound whisky machine pumping out booze in the Highland region.  There's a reason for that: they didn't have enough whisky to supply demand.  Now there's word that they underestimated the market and may in fact build another gigantic plant somewhere else.  If only Pittyvaich, Banff, Port Ellen, Brora, and all the other closures were still in operation!  In the past ten years the whisky independents have been getting in in the distillery game as well.  Gordon & MacPhail purchased Benromach.  Signatory took Edradour.  Murray McDavid got Bruichladdich.  Ian Macleod bought Glengoyne, and now have just secured Tamdhu as well.  Duncan Taylor tried to buy Glendronach, as did Douglas Laing, and the word on the street is that Weymss was close to purchasing Bladnoch.  See the pattern?  Why would independent bottlers, who for decades have feasted on the excess whisky from Scotland's many distillleries, all of a sudden get into the distillation game?  Access.  They knew this day was coming and they wanted to be prepared.  The market has been hot for whisky since the turn of the millenium and all the signs pointed to a boom.

The tightening of the independent belts came as no surprise to us upon arrival, but it was rather disappointing.  Companies that had given us numerous quality options last year were quite limited this time around.  We might end up buying nothing from a few of them, concentrating the bulk of the purchasing from more recently-founded relationships.  I'm completely confident in our cask selection for 2012, even more so than last year, but there won't be a Brora or a Banff in the bunch.  Those casks have doubled, if not tripled, in value since last year and most bottlers just laugh when you even propose such an idea.  Going direct from the smaller distilleries, who are hungry for more exposure, is going to be the answer this year.  Benriach, Glen Garioch, Glenfarclas, and Kilchoman have all given us superb samples – so good that choosing will be difficult.  I hope these avenues remain open for next year because access is the key to everything right now.  Do you have it?

It's now time to pack up the computer, grab my bags, and head over to the terminal.  I'll see you all in seventeen hours.  

-David Driscoll