Regular readers of this magazine are no doubt aware that, if they have the cash to hand, there are distilleries out there simply waiting for a decent offer. This has manifested itself in several well-documented distillery purchases, of which Ardbeg and Bruichladdich are but two. At the time of writing, rumours are rife about another high-profile acquisition. All of these have a common thread. They are all examples of distilleries returning to Scottish ownership. Why is Scottish ownership important? For the same reasons US ownership of US distilleries is important. There are others more qualified to answer this question at length. But the basic answer appears to be “because it damn well is!” For a more erudite and fuller answer, I suggest you turn to Pip Hills’ Scots on Scotch (recently reissued by Mainstream, see News). I read it, for the first time, flying up to Arran recently. It is a collection of essays from a disparate bunch, to say the least. From Derek Cooper, a contributor to Whisky Magazine but who will be associated forever with The Food Programme on BBC Radio 4, to the literary critic David Daiches. From Russell Sharp, formerly Chief Chemist at Chivas Regal to the poet Hugh MacDiarmid.The biggest problem with most whisky books (and, paradoxically, sometimes their greatest strength) is that they are the thoughts and words of one individual. It is more thought-provoking to have the opinions of many; you will agree with some and, doubtless, you will disagree with others. Opinion supported by fact is the ideal recipe.
The appeal of a range of authoritative comment was one of the reasons behind the launch of Whisky Magazine nearly four years ago. By using different voices, you can create a platform for debate. The vast majority of letters we receive are supportive of our efforts. But they are always qualified; each correspondent inludes a personal opinion regarding recent content; “I agree with such and such”, “I disagree with what’s his name” and so on. Whisky Magazine is blessed with intelligent, analytical and inquisitive readers. An aspect of Scots on Scotch worthy of comment is how intelligent and discursive the content is. I recommend it.Travelling to Arran I could think of little else other than the form of woolly jumper favoured, as cliché would have us believe, by real ale fanatics, folk singers and dodgy pop bands of the early 1980s. Having spent two days on the island, I can confirm I saw no Arran jumpers. What I did see was a new distillery (opened 1995) and an even newer, highly successful, brewery (opened 2000). Bearing in mind that you can go into the open market waving a cheque book around, assuming the sellers are prepared to talk to you, it strikes me as being brave (alternatively, replace with your preferred adjective) to build your own. However, there are clear advantages. The Isle of Arran Distillery is uncluttered. It doesn’t suffer from the rabbit warrren syndrome where ancient distilleries have had extensions added generation after generation. It is shiny and clean. It shares with Edradour the distinct advantage of allowing you to stand in the middle of the distillery and see the entire process without moving from the spot.
The Arran malt performed well when tasted in Issue 5. In this issue Dave Broom and Michael Jackson have tasted a Blackadder bottling of Arran (see page 62). As Dave says: “A distillery to watch.” The advantage of the distillery’s chosen site is, supposedly, that the climate is more clement than other islands, resulting in faster maturation. No small consideration when you are starting from scratch. The samples I had the good fortune to enjoy are progressing very well. The profile of the whisky is light and attractive and the irrepressible Gordon Mitchell has a few sweet casks up his sleeve that may soon see the light of day. Don’t be surprised if the whisky emulates the success of the beers from the nearby brewery.Incidentally, the visitor centre at the distillery is one of only a dozen or so tourist attractions awarded five stars by the Scottish Tourist Board. And the restaurant serves the finest food I’ve ever eaten at any distillery. Definitely worth a detour. And it is Scottish-owned.