Desert Island Drams

Desert Island Drams

R&B Distillers look for a castaway distiller

News | 31 Mar 2017 | Issue 142 | By Rupert Wheeler

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Whisky making on a rugged and remote Scottish island with a backdrop of vast skies, golden eagles soaring overhead, and dolphins in the bay may sound like a wistful workday fantasy, but Scotch whisky makers R&B Distillers will make this dream a reality for one lucky distiller this year.

R&B Distillers are in the process of building the first legal distillery on the isolated Scottish island of Raasay, off the east coast of the Isle of Skye, and are now on the hunt for a distiller to bring the island's first single malt whisky from the stills. The deadline was 24 February 2017, and applications so far have come from as far afield as Africa and Canada!

The whisky maker will be required to relocate to the picturesque but isolated island where they will become an integral part of the close knit Raasay community of 120 inhabitants (as well as a colony of rare bats, otters and voles).

A formal qualification in distilling and practical experience is essential for the role (a full job description can be found at R&B has expressed that enthusiasm for the multifariousness of island life is vital for the applicant. The island has minimal facilities - one café and bar only open during the summer months, a small community shop and a hotel - and it is a ferry journey to mainland Scotland.

Merely 14 miles in length with the extinct volcano Dun Caan dominating the skyline, Raasay is a walker's paradise; dotted with ruins, rugged coves and rambling trails, its wild landscape reflects its romantic history of smuggling, legendary royal escape, and poetry. R&B's distillery will reinstate whisky making in this forgotten whisky region of Scotland.

Excise Duty raised despite SWA request for cut

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) met Treasury officials in late February to request that spirits duty should be cut by 2 per cent but this fell on deaf ears as the Chancellor decided to increase excise duty on spirits by 3.9 per cent or 36 pence a bottle in the recent budget.

As a result of today's increase, the level of tax - excise duty and VAT - on an average priced bottle of Scotch whisky is now 78 per cent, one of the highest levels in Europe, and 21 per cent higher than in 2010.

• Average selling price of a bottle of whisky is £12.90;

• 40,000 jobs reliant on the whisky industry

• The number of bottles of Scotch released for sale in the UK in 2016 increased by 2.66 per cent to 87 million;

• People who choose Scotch Whisky pay 51 per cent more duty than beer drinkers, 19 per cent more than wine drinkers and 327 per cent more than cider consumers per unit of alcohol.

World Whisky Forum

Distillers, blenders, and whisky enthusiasts from more than a dozen countries congregated in February to listen and learn from one another at the inaugural World Whisky Forum. Delegates received a warm welcome from their hosts at Box Distillery, having braved temperatures as low as minus 16C on their journeys through the spectacular frozen landscape of the High Coast of Sweden. The Forum was the vision of Jan Groth, the author and whisky ambassador for Box.

Over two packed days, strong themes emerged which suggested the future direction of travel for whisky. Topics ranged from the growing trend towards adapting whisky production to create innovative new whiskies by taking advantage of the best quality local raw materials, changing the perception of non-age statement whiskies through understanding the concept of a whisky's maturation peak, and the problems faced by whisky producers selling their products at home and abroad when they operate in countries with too much or too little regulation. There were calls for greater clarity within emerging whisky categories, perspectives from proponents and opponents of the term 'craft', and discussions into why showing whisky drinkers how they are not producing Scotch whisky provides motivation to so many world whisky producers.

Forum highlights:

• Box distillery manager Roger Melander revealed the growing contribution to world whisky from the 23 distilleries now operating in Nordic countries. He developed a compelling argument for the unique contributions that climate and variations in annual temperature can make to the production of whisky at Box Distillery.

• Jota Tanaka, recent Whisky Magazine cover star, Icons of Whisky winner and chief blender for Kirin introduced the concept of a maturation peak for whisky, and explained in detail the versatility of the kettle, doubler, beer column, and multi column still in creating their distinctive styles of grain whisky at the Fuji-Gotemba Distillery.

• A first taste of Strathearn whisky was universally acclaimed as superb by one and all. Tony Reeman-Clark of Strathearn Distillery, the trailblazer of Scotland's small distillers, shared his frustrations of running into administrative brick walls and getting tangled up in conflicting regulations when launching a distillery.

• A passionate delivery from Matt Hofmann of Westland Distillery in Seattle emphasised how they have thrived on the restless creativity of their region, leading them to use the grains, peat, and oak available locally for their American single malt whiskey made in the Pacific Northwest.
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