By Dave Broom

New builds and buses

Are we coming in to another golden period for whisky – Dave gives his views on the latest news
I used to stand, cold and shivering, in Hope Street (never was a thoroughfare so appropriately named) waiting for the No.3 bus to carry me home. Often this would be so prolonged that I’d seek refuge in Eadie Cairn’s pub next to the stop. Positioning myself by the window with an Auchentoshan (Eadie owned Auchie at that time) I could snaffle a quick dram before the bus arrived. Quite often it never did. On other occasions it changed shape. Once, waiting for one in the dark, my friend Les swore he could see it at the next set of traffic lights. It was only after 20 minutes of the bus failing to move that we realised what he had taken for the lights of the upper deck were in fact the lights of a bank.The sighting of any No.3 therefore soon became the cause of considerable celebration. It used to be the same with new distilleries. Auchroisk, Arran, Penderyn, Kilchoman, Daftmill, like the bus they came around infrequently. Not any more. The number of new builds going on is the equivalent of Hope Street being filled nose to tail with No.3s. These days you cannot open your email box without news of another new plant.These are real distilleries, not some pie in the sky start-up operations. Diageo’s £100m investment in Scotch includes an increase in capacity in Cameronbridge as well as a new super distillery next to the firm’s maltings at Roseisle. This behemoth will have 14 stills and be able to produce 10m litres a year... that’s twice as big as Dufftown, currently Diageo’s largest site.No sooner had this announcement been made than Bruichladdich weighed in with the news that it was planning to start work on its Port Charlotte distillery (though a time frame has not been given for this enterprise the money is apparently in place) while there are plans afoot for a new distillery in Huntly.Not to be outdone, at the end of March William Grant announced that it was taking the Diageo route and increasing grain capacity at Girvan as well as building a new malt distillery on the site – though it only will make a mere five million litres a year. All of this is hugely welcome.Apart from wondering where all the barrels for this whisky will be coming from, though, you wonder, why now?From a United Kingdom perspective it is baffling. The answer lies further afield: in China, Russia, Poland, Brazil, Venezuela, Thailand, South Africa. These new markets have started to drink blended Scotch and in particular Chivas 12 and Walker Black.Current stock levels are extremely tight, the bulk price is rising and firms are holding on to stock. No wonder new distilleries are needed. The good times must be returning. But are they? The odd thing is that when you talk to the industry you find that most firms have rather conservative estimates for growth over the next decade... bar, one would suspect, Diageo and Chivas.While these new builds are a resounding vote of confidence in the industry, the investment is predicated on there being substantial long-term growth in unproven new markets. You wonder what might happen if the boom was not as great as the marketeers thought and that production had to be scaled back. Which distillery would close: the new super-site or a smaller one? By necessity the whisky industry always has to gaze into a crystal ball. You wonder if the light shining from it hasn’t dazzled its eyes and that, like Les’s No.3 bus, this long-term boom may turn out to be an illusion.Let us hope it is not.