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Scotch Whisky by John Lamond

With Scotch whisky being a mature spirit (it needs to be aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years before it can be called "Scotch whisky") the costs in setting up a whisky distillery in Scotland are considerable and there is little or no financial return for a number of years. I always tell my students that it is a business that they won't make any money at. Their children might and their grandchildren should, but that is the timescale we are looking at.

The craft distilleries being established in Scotland as I write have mostly taken advantage of the huge renaissance in gin, which is currently exciting our licensed trade. As an unaged (mostly) spirit, gin can be sold on the day that it is distilled, providing these emerging distillers with an almost instantly positive cash flow. The inspiration for this came in part from William Grant & Sons, Scotland's largest family-owned distillery and makers of Glenfiddich, the world's largest selling single malt. Though hardly what one would call a craft distiller, their Henderick's gin embraces the small-batch processing ethos and its success has demonstrated the strong appeal of niche brands of Scottish gin. Suitably inspired, Scotland's new craft distilling industry is making gin for immediate sale, while also laying down small numbers of casks to mature into whiskies. As the Scottish craft distilling industry is less than two years old, these are still too young to have reached retail shelves as Scotch whisky.

A former marketing manager for Glenmorangie, Alex Nicol set up Spencerfield Spirits when he bought the Pig's Nose and Sheep Dip brands from Whyte & Mackay in 2005. Prior to his time at Glenmorangie, he was in a similar post for Beefeater and Plymouth Gins. He has now established the Heads & Tails Distillery in the basement of the Rutland Hotel at the west end of Edinburgh's Princes Street.

Spencerfield's Edinburgh Gin has been such a success that a new, larger still is being installed at a larger venue in Edinburgh to meet market demand. The Institute of Brewing and Distilling at Edinburgh's Heriot Watt University has provided staff for the distillery, giving these students essential hands on, commercial experience, while at the same time putting imagination and innovation into the spirit production at Heads & Tails.

The full text of this column is available in the Summer 2015 issue of Scottish Life.

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