Demand for Scotch whisky worldwide is booming. Driven by growing
demand from markets such as Brazil, China and India, where Scotch represents prestige and social status, single malt exports have grown around 20% year-on-year in value over the last few years. Since Johnnie Walker, the world’s biggest selling Scotch, broke the £1 billion mark in 2007, the category seems to have been in rare health across the globe.
However, when you think of whisky, you may think of Scotland; but then you should think again.
The product has found a renewed vigour in the drinks market and the production now is not exclusive to Scotland.
Hot on the heels of the Scots are the Japanese, who embraced whisky-making after the founding father of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru, studied chemistry in Scotland in the early 20th century. Returning to his native Japan, he set about producing single malt whisky, and eventually founded the Yoichi distillery in an area of Japanese countryside, which, in his view, mirrored that of Scotland.
The two major whisky producers in Japan—Suntory and Nikka—are both predicting growth in the sector this year, driven locally by the rise of the whisky drink known as the “Highball”, and also by the reception Japanese whisky has been getting in foreign markets such as Europe.
Both Nikka and Suntory have picked up gold medals and other accolades at whisky award ceremonies such as the International Wine And Spirit Competition and the World Whisky Awards—some news to cheer for the country that has faced major challenges this year.
However, it is not just the established companies that are pushing Japanese whisky forward.
As with all growing sectors, new producers enter the market and make a mark and, in this case, it is the Chichibu distillery, founded in 2008. Set up by Ichiro Akuto, who comes from a long line of drinks makers (a family famed for sake production that moved to whiskymaking whiskymaking in the 1980s), Chichibu has just released its first whisky of age, at three years old, labelled Ichiro’s Malt: Chichibu The First.
In terms of pure consumption, one of the fastest growing markets for whisky is Taiwan (up 26% last year and 21% the year before), which embraced the single malt revolution with its own distillery, the King Car Yuan-Shan distillery that produced its first spirit in 2006. The core release of single malt by this distillery is bottled under the name Kavalan, but there has also been a recent release under the more corporate name of the distillery’s parent company, King Car.
Back on more familiar ground, but not quite in the recognized home of the single malt, two distilleries have popped up in British Isles, outside of Scotland.
The first was in Wales, where in 2000, the Penderyn distillery was opened. Unusually, the distillery does not conduct its own beer production, but works with a local brewery to supply the wash for the whisky-making. Sales of this Welsh whisky have grown consistently over the past 10 years, and it has gained a solid foothold in the local marketplace and grown as a serious brand.
Across the border in England, they’ve started competing with the Scots by opening the first whisky distillery in more than hundred years. Situated in Norfolk, the eastern area of England rich in peat, the distillery opened for business in 2006 and since then has been producing both peated and unpeated single malts.
However, the real developments have been happening back in Scotland, with the opening of a host of distilleries across the country on both the boutique and industrial levels.
At the lower end of the production level, 2005 saw the opening of Daftmill distillery in the southern region of Scotland, known as the Lowlands. Churning out just 60,000 litres of alcohol a year, this is one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland.
On the Scottish islands, 2005 also saw the opening of the Kilchoman distillery on the Isle of Islay—home to seven other single malt distilleries such as Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Bowmore. But the smallest of them all is a new distillery, hidden away on the Isle of Lewis, named Abhainn Dearg.
This tiny distillery is situated in the wild island group known as the Outer Hebrides and released its first limited edition single malt whisky in late 2011.
In contrast to these tiny operations, Diageo, the largest distiller in Scotland, invested £40 million in building a new distillery, Roseisle, which opened in 2010 and was built to ease the demandsupply gap.
With Scotch needing to age in oak barrels for a minimum of three years and a day, the distillers can’t plug the demand-supply gap by increasing production immediately as the demand grows. For this reason, big manufacturers have to look years ahead to try predict demand and, with the opening of new distilleries such as Roseisle, which has a capacity of 12.5 million litres a year, the signal is positive towards Scotch whisky from the major players.