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William Grant & Sons

Whisky Concerns

WILLIAM  GRANT  &  SONS

Capacity:

Ailsa Bay                                        6.000.000 litres
Balvenie                                          5.600.000 litres
Glenfiddich                                   10.000.000 litres
Kininvie                                          4.800.000 litres

William Grant & Sons Limited


Mei 2010

William Grant & Sons Limited is planning a new distillery in Ireland afyter bying
the spirits and liqueurs unit of C & C Group.

It is said that a new distillery would probably built on the site of the bottling plant
in Clonmel County Tipperay.

The C & C deal, 260.000.000 pound, includes Tullamore Dew, Irish Mist Liqueur,
Carolans Irish Cream and Italian Frangelico liqueur

WHISKY distiller William Grant & Sons yesterday toasted record revenues despite the eurozone debt crisis making 2012 a "challenging year" for the family-owned company.
The Dufftown-based firm, which makes Glenfiddich single malt and Grant's blended Scotch, posted a 1.4 per cent rise in full-year revenues to £1.06 billion. Sales first broke through the £1bn barrier in 2011.
Operating profits dipped by 1.2 per cent to £124.8 million after the company invested in increasing its production, refurbishing its visitor centres and gearing up for the construction of a distillery in Ireland.
Cash was also pumped into replacing one of the computer systems used by the group, which also makes the Balvenie single malt and the Monkey Shoulder triple malt.
Stella David, chief executive at William Grant, said: "Whilst 2012 saw some difficult global economic conditions, the company continued to perform well thanks to the continued success of our premium spirits brands and our consistent focus on building brand equity and investing for the long term."
Last year saw the launch of the first television advertisements for the company's Sailor Jerry spiced rum brand, while its Hendrick's label "continues to lead the super-premium gin segment with rapid value growth across all regions".
William Grant & Sons, which is owned by the Gordon and Grant families, said that it had also invested in its other spirit brands, including Reyka vodka, Solerno blood orange liqueur and Milagro tequila.
Work began a couple of weeks ago on the construction of the new £29m Tullamore distillery at Clonminch, Co Offaly.
Irish agriculture minister Simon Coveney broke open a cask of Tullamore whiskey to mark the first sod being turned at the site, which will bring production back to Clonminch for the first time since 1954.
William Grant & Sons bought Tullamore in 2010 as part of its €300m (£250m) takeover of C&C Group's spirits business, a year after the Dublin-based drinks group bought Tennent's and its Wellpark brewery in Glasgow from InBev for £180m.
Glenfiddich marked the 125th anniversary last year of the opening of its distillery by filling 11 bottles to celebrate the life of Janet Sheed Roberts, the grand-daughter of the company's founder, William Grant. Roberts died last year aged 110.
The bottles raised more than £400,000 for a group of charities after going under the hammer at various auctions.
Balvenie held a "fête" in Edinburgh's St Andrew Square last week, featuring tastings with its UK ambassador, Andrew Forrester, cooperage displays and chocolate and whisky tasting workshops with Nadia Ellingham, who runs the Thinking Chocolate shop in Edinburgh.
William Grant & Sons' figures come amid a flurry of rising revenues in the spirits industry, as demand for whisky soars in Asia and the United States.

William Grant names whisky after column still
07 October, 2013
By Hamish Smith

The new 100% maize whisky
William Grant & Sons has named its new 100% maize whisky after the column still that made it.
The Girvan Patent Still Single Grain 25 Year Old is the first single grain whisky ever released by William Grant & Sons, a launch the group hopes will help to establish a new category of whiskies.
The Scotch, which will be followed by a 30-year-old and an age statement-free whisky next year, is available exclusively in the UK, priced £250.
The Girvan Patent Still was built in 1963 to produce the grain element of Grant's whisky, William Grant & Sons' 4.5m 9-litre case brand (The Millionaires' Club 2013).
John Ross, master distiller, said: "The Girvan Patent Still continuous distillation method takes the finest cereal grains to produce a very pure, fruity and clean-tasting grain spirit, which is lighter in aroma and character than most malt whiskies.
"It is then matured in first-fill American White Oak which adds flavour, character, colour and complexity. Time mellows the whisky, amplifies the aroma and enriches the taste. Characterised by vanilla, toffee, honey and caramelised fruit notes, the whisky delivers a taste that truly reflects William Grant & Sons' pioneering distillation heritage.



WILLIAM  GRANT  &  SONS  LTD

The triangular bottle was announced in Ridley's Wine & Spirit Trade Circular on
November 16th 1956.

This bottle was designed by Hans Schleger.

Glenfiddich Straight Malt was ingtroduced in 1961 and internationally in 1963.

Glenfiddich distillery was opened for visiors in 1969

The Balvenie was relaunched in 1993


September 10, 2014
DRAMBUIE, one of Scotland's best-known brands, has been sold to family-owned distiller William Grant & Sons in the latest big takeover deal in the whisky sector.
Although no figure has been disclosed, when a potential sale was first reported earlier this year commentators believed the brand could command a price tag of close to £100 million.
William Grant, which last week announced record sales and strong growth of key brands including Glenfiddich malt and Hendrick's gin, said the purchase of the Edinburgh-based Drambuie Liqueur Company was a "natural fit" to its portfolio.
The firm said it had always been "secret admirers" of Drambuie, which was advised by Rothschild on the sale, and chief executive Stella David said the brand had a "very rich history and a great story to tell".
Michael Kennedy, chief executive of Drambuie - which was owned by the MacKinnon family - said: "As part of the William Grant & Sons stable of brands, we believe that Drambuie can truly achieve its potential as it will benefit from being part of a larger and more diverse organisation."
Drambuie is a blend of Scotch whisky, spices and heather honey. It rose to fame as the key ingredient of the Rusty Nail, the cocktail favoured by Frank Sinatra and his fellow "Rat Pack" members in the 1950s.
In its latest annual figures, Drambuie reported a slight fall in sales to £22.2m, while pre-tax profit dropped from £3.8m last year to £3.44m. However, UK sales grew by 17 per cent on the back of a new marketing drive.
The recipe for Drambuie is said to have been given to Captain MacKinnon on the Isle of Skye by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746 after his defeat at Culloden.
There have been a raft of mergers and acquisitions in the Scotch whisky sector in recent months. Suntory, the Japanese beverage group, recently bought US-based Beam, which owns Teacher's and Laphroaig. Indian drinks group United Spirits also announced it had agreed to sell its Whyte & Mackay whisky business to Philippines-based brandy producer Emperador for £430m.

William Grant & Sons unveils fourth Girvan Patent Still
06 October, 2014

William Grant & Sons has announced plans to release its fourth expression for The Girvan Patent Still Single Grain Scotch Whisky.
Launched initially in the UK ahead of the Christmas season, the 51.7% abv edition is aimed at 'the whisky enthusiast looking to experiment.'
The release follows The Girvan Patent Still 25 Year Old, 30 Year Old and No. 4 Apps Single Grain whisky.
Kevin Abrook, global whisky specialist at William Grant & Sons said: "We're thrilled to release a proof strength expression for whisky enthusiasts looking for something different - a vibrant, punchy single grain whisky with a surprisingly light aftertaste.
"The release demonstrates our commitment to quality and just how versatile single grain whiskies can be," Abrook said.
The Girvan Patent Still Single Grain Scotch Whisky will roll out in the US, Asia and additional European markets in 2015
scotchwhisky.com



JOHN ROSS

With a career spanning nearly four decades at William Grant & Sons, distiller John Ross has had his fair share of failures, but insists he would never have achieved quite the same level of success as he has done without them. He speaks  about algae, photobioreactors, the balancing act between innovation and brand identity, and his vision for a greener Scotch whisky industry.

John Ross Girvan master distiller
John Ross: William Grant’s technical area leader is a driving force in Scotch whisky innovation
When you go to interview a distiller, it’s fair to say that you don’t expect the first topic of conversation to be about algae; not in said distiller’s dam or the water source, but as a potentially lucrative by-product.

Then again, there’s not another distiller in my experience quite like John Ross. It’s unlikely you’ll have heard of him. His job title is technical area leader at William Grant & Sons, which means he is in charge of the firm’s technical innovation arm, designing new processes – such as the algae pilot plant.

Our paths have crossed on a semi-regular basis over the years, and his name is regularly dropped by other whisky-makers whenever the topic turns to new technology, innovation and uber-geeky areas of investigation. He is the man with the answers (not that I would tell him of his reputation – he’d just deflect the praise). Ross, quietly spoken, just gets on with the job… or jobs.

Anyway, the algae. I’d opened the chat by asking him what was new and exciting. Having glimpsed the framework of the new Girvan grain distillery outside his window, I felt I was on sure ground. ‘Photobioreactors,’ he responded, launching into a fascinating technical explanation of what they did, how they worked and, well, the science then got the better of me.

The basic premise is this: photobioreactors use sunlight and waste carbon dioxide to grow algae, and do it in a much more controlled and intensive fashion than would happen in nature. The algae can then be used to absorb carbon dioxide (a good thing) create biofuel (also a good thing, though I got lost at that bit) and are rich on omega oils (also good). What does a distillery have an excess of? Carbon dioxide. Ross talked about using the carbon dioxide from washbacks – and even Scotland has enough sunlight to make this work.

In other words, algae can help the environment – and make you money. I’m digesting this, but he’s now talking about the refurbished stills which have gone into the Hendrick’s distillery, that new grain distillery (which is no small thing), the expanded capacity at Glenfiddich and everything else that’s on his desk.

‘We’ve got about 20 innovation projects, good ones, on the go,’ he says. ‘Some will work, some will be patented, and even though not all will go to fruition, the initial concepts are good. There’s always that element of R&D which never goes as fast as you like!’

He seems preternaturally calm given this workload, but maybe that comes with experience. ‘I was living in Ayr and working at a firm which made chipboard floors when I took a job here on the technical side of grain distilling. On 1 November ’78, I got the bus down – I didn’t have a car at the time – and walked up the river. It was full of salmon – I’m a keen fisherman– and I thought: “This is good for me.”’



Ground-breaking: Girvan was the first grain distillery to install a multi-pressure process

Over his 38 years at William Grant, he’s worked in malt distilling, ‘I learned that the hard and practical way’, in the firm’s NPD lab in Southampton, and helped design and commission the expanded Girvan plant in 1986. In 1992, he became Girvan’s production manager and installed the first multi-pressure process for grain whisky in the world.

This last achievement is something that some would shout about. Ross, typically, deflects it. ‘The initial work was all done by Alko in Finland. They were remarkable guys. I went to work with them to see if we could adapt the technology (which was designed for the production of neutral spirit) to make grain.’

Why was it needed? ‘The stills we had were conventional, Coffey-esque two columns making a heavy-style grain. When you use direct steam injection you can burn material onto the internal surfaces. If the still operates with a vacuum in the wash column, however, you won’t get any burning, therefore there’s no sulphur, no off notes, and you get clean, fruity esters – and greater consistency.

‘The first samples were sent to Glenn Gordon (now Grant’s chairman), but he said it was too light, and told me to make it heavier. The trouble was, no-one had made any grain spirit with these stills. I figured that if you got lighter and cleaner spirit by altering the pressure, you could do the reverse and make things that bit heavier.’ So it worked? There is a small smile and a laconic ‘aye’ in response.

‘The bulk of technology is unique to here,’ he continues. ‘We have things which no other grain plant has, though [La Martiniquaise-owned] Glen Turner has now adopted multi-pressure, and I’m sure Diageo will do it sometime.’

This relentless innovation is, he feels, something which is part of the Grant family DNA. ‘Charles Grant Gordon [former life president, who died in 2013] was willing to invest when no-one wanted to. Every Saturday morning he phoned me. He never asked me about efficiency, it was always “how’s the quality” and “what can we do to improve it?”.

‘We would meet two or three times a year and he would go through every single thing we were doing. We got money to invest in new technology that no other firm would have got.’

We’re back with the algae. ‘The trouble with photobioreactors is that the technology is expensive and not yet cost-efficient,’ he adds. ‘But in 5-10 years’ time, you could see full-scale algae plants. I realised this and, as it wasn’t stacking up commercially, I proposed to Charles that we close the pilot trials down and allow the technology to catch up.

‘“No you won’t,” he said, “keep it running.”

‘“But it’s a waste of resources.”

‘Then he said: “I want you to do it because you will fail.”

‘“What?”

‘“You will fail and you will learn. You will fail again, and you will learn more, and by the time the technology comes along you’ll have learned to do it well.” So it’s still open.’



Scaling up: Glenfiddich is undergoing a multi-million pound expansion

A distillery is an unlikely place to hear a variation on Beckett’s ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ There again, maybe innovation is as much about failure as success.

‘Retaining character while always charging forward is a high-wire act,’ explains Ross. ‘Innovation is key. You think that there is nothing else to do, but there are always deeper insights which have in turn brought greater opportunities.’

It’s also vital. ‘You may have competitive advantage with an innovation for a limited period of time, but during that time you have that advantage.’

So even though you have to keep moving forward, isn’t there a risk that you can innovate identity away?

‘Definitely. There’s innovation and tradition, and I think we have a good blend of both. We can try new things, but if it pulls away from the brand heritage then Peter Gordon or Glenn will say “no”. There is no compromise on that point.’

So does that mean there’s new technology being built into the new Glenfiddich?

‘Any scaling up has to be about how you approach it from the technical side, yet still have latitude for innovation in the brand while respecting heritage and authenticity. It gets technically… complex.’

There’s also a danger that any small change can have huge repercussions.

‘Yes. Here’s an example. Balvenie new make has a vanilla note. We saw that the extract from the mash tun wasn’t great, so we lifted a plate and saw that they were worn. New plates go in and the extract is great. In comes the analysis and there’s no vanilla because the husk wasn’t getting through. There’s a lesson that the slightest, most innocuous, change can have substantial effect.”

And what did you do? That smile again. ‘Oh, we put the old ones back in.’

Do you think you’ve seen it all?

‘I’m still learning,’ he says. ‘There’s so much stuff which we have done that starts off like chasing rainbows, but I go back to Charles and his “failure helping us to move forward”. There is still so much I want to know and do.

‘There’s a lot we can still do as an industry in adding value to co-products. In 1982, I worked on a project to develop anaerobic technology [to produce biogas from the distillery’s effluent]. The learnings from that allowed us to build large-scale anaerobic reactors in 2009.

‘We put 70m litres of alcohol a year into the atmosphere in Scotland – now there’s a challenge, because that is value being lost.

‘I think we are on the verge of making big breakthroughs in bioenergy, new technology and step changes in distilling. I see a great future, but the industry has to be greener, it has to be socially responsible.’

I think back to the Balvenie story; lifting the plates, seeing what’s happening, noticing the small details. Someone needs to be in charge of the invisible to ensure whisky moves ever forward. Whisky needs people like John Ross.



DAVID STEWART MBE, BALVENIE

From his humble beginnings as a whisky stocks clerk at William Grant & Sons to his long tenure as Balvenie malt master, David Stewart can look back on a 55-year career, including his exploration of double cask maturation during the 1980s and 1990s. He talks  about his life’s work and recalls some of the fine (and not-so-fine) finishes created along the way.

David Stewart MBE, The Balvenie
Malt master: David Stewart’s DoubleWood 12 Year Old ‘put Balvenie on the map’
               ‘Good appearance. Appears to be the solid type. Would do.’

The year is 1962, and a 17-year-old David Charles Stewart is being interviewed for a job as a whisky stocks clerk at William Grant & Sons. And, while the notes made in that interview may not be the most laudatory assessment of a prospective employee, they somehow fit the man himself – steadfastly humble and modest, despite the many highlights of a remarkable 55-year career that culminated in the award of an MBE last year.

‘I think it was the chief accountant who interviewed me first of all,’ Stewart recalls. ‘I didn’t start off thinking I would ever become a blender. I just started off as a clerk in the whisky stocks team.’

After two years counting casks, Stewart began to become acquainted with their contents. ‘I was lucky in that my boss [Hamish Robertson] was the master blender. Within a couple of years of me working, he started to bring me into the sample room.

‘I just started to nose the whiskies that were coming through. There weren’t that many in those days, but Girvan distillery had just opened in 1964. We had Glenfiddich and Balvenie distilleries; there was [blended Scotch] Grant’s Standfast.

‘Then Glenfiddich started [as a single malt] in 1964. Gradually I was seeing more and learning more and more from [Hamish], and then he left in 1974. I was just left to get on with running the place after 10 years with the whisky.’



Early days: Stewart was present for the ‘dawn’ of single malts during the 1960s

We’ll move onto what was involved in ‘getting on with running the place’ in a moment. But first, consider the timing of Stewart’s entry into Scotch whisky: the birth of Glenfiddich as a single malt and, with it, the creation of a new commercial category at a time when blends were all-powerful. While his initial involvement with it was minimal, the seismic forces which Glenfiddich set in motion were to shape his career.

Stewart acknowledges the significance of this new era of single malt, but plays it down in characteristic fashion. ‘Yes, the [Grant] family took a big risk in bottling Glenfiddich at the start,’ he says. ‘But in the big scheme of things, single malt is still pretty small. I mean, it’s 15% of industry sales – we still rely on blended whiskies like Johnnie Walker, J&B and Grant’s.’

Nonetheless, the journey of single malt – reflecting and punctuating Stewart’s own career – has been long and eventful since that first consignment of Glenfiddich headed south in 1964. It’s a development encapsulated by the evolution of Balvenie, the Speyside single malt for which Stewart remains responsible in his semi-retirement (Brian Kinsman took over his broader company duties in 2009).

‘When Glenfiddich was launched, it was 10 years before Balvenie – Glenfiddich was 1963, 1964, I think,’ recalls Stewart. ‘So not that I was terribly involved at that stage, but I knew about it, I saw samples coming into the sample room.

‘I think it was the family again who, 10 years later, thought: “Well, we’ve got this great whisky at Balvenie.” With Glenfiddich, the single malt market started opening up. Glenfiddich probably had almost 10 years with very little competition.



Revolutionary move: Stewart’s development of double maturation helped shape modern single malts

‘It wasn’t until the 1970s when Macallan came along, The Glenlivet, Glenmorangie and others. At that stage we thought: “Well, let’s bottle Balvenie.” We put it into a triangular bottle because that’s what we were used to very much at Glenfiddich. In 1973, we launched it at eight years old – Glenfiddich was eight as well and generally quite a lot of single malts that were around at that time were eight. It wasn’t a problem.’

How does he remember that whisky? ‘You still see the odd bottle. I tasted it at The Craigellachie Hotel just last week – they’ve got a bottle there. It was very nice, to be fair. It would be from maybe more European oak then than now, because it would be back to the 1960s for the whisky that was in that bottle. So it was quite rich-tasting, was the eight.’

Evolution followed: a move to a long-necked, Cognac-style bottle, a shift to a 10-year-old age statement. Then, in 1993, came a launch that was, in the man’s own assessment, the highlight of Stewart’s career: Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old.

‘That’s the one that I’m probably most proud of, just because that’s what put Balvenie on the map, and that’s really when Balvenie sales started to become what they are today,’ Stewart says.

DoubleWood’s DNA – aged in American oak, then ‘finished’ in Sherry wood – can be traced back a decade to the early 1980s and Stewart’s pioneering work on extra maturation. What is routine and commonplace in whisky today was then revolutionary – but, perhaps even more remarkably, nobody talked about it.

‘No, it wasn’t marketed as a “finish” then, it was just we wanted to create something a bit different [Balvenie Classic] from the Founder’s Reserve,’ admits Stewart. ‘What would happen if we recasked whisky from American oak to European oak? That produced the Classic and the Classic variants.

‘We were delighted because Sherry wood does add richness, spiciness and complexity and colour – and just a bit more flavour to the whisky. We knew that something was going to happen.’



Spirit clash: Experiments with spirit finishes, such as Cognac and Armagnac, did not work

For all DoubleWood’s success – next year marks its 25th anniversary – it’s still sometimes misunderstood, Stewart adds. ‘People think that a lot of the flavour in the DoubleWood is coming from the Sherry, which it’s not really – it’s coming from the wood, because the wood is only two years old.

‘It’s a two-year-old, brand-new, European oak cask that we use every time for DoubleWood. So a lot of that spiciness is wood spiciness and malt spiciness that gets into the whisky, whereas if you look at Madeira and Port [finishes], most of the flavour there is the Madeira, the Port, because the casks are much older.’

DoubleWood, Portwood, Madeira Cask, Caribbean Cask – a pioneering production line of Balvenie ‘finishes’ that was born in that fertile period of experimentation. But if the malt’s history is written by the winners, the losers can be just as educational in their own way.

‘We tried quite a number,’ Stewart recalls. ‘We tried other spirits like brandy, for example, and Cognac and Armagnac, and they didn’t work for us. The two spirits just kind of fought with each other and there was a clash between the two.

‘We tried a number of wines – maybe not always the right wines, and maybe they weren’t always sweet enough. The ones we did try were Californian wines – white and red – because they were easy to get, but they didn’t really work for us. They didn’t really change the whisky all that much.’

Blended away, a cask at a time, into William Grant’s older blends, only the chastening memory of these failed experiments remains.  ‘That’s probably the beauty of our company,’ says Stewart. ‘If it doesn’t work, then we’re not forced to bottle it.’

If there’s a general conclusion to be drawn from this feverish period of innovation, it’s that a relatively rich malt such as Balvenie needs something extra – sweetness, fortification – in a wine cask. ‘That could be,’ Stewart agrees. ‘We’ve got one or two in our warehouse – a Sauternes or Barsac, or a Marsala – to try and see if they might give us something for the future.’



Peat week: Stewart has overseen the release of a new smoky Balvenie bottling

From past and future, back to the present. The reason we’re talking in the first place is the launch of Balvenie Peat Week, the second of two peated variants launched by the distillery this year.

First discussed as long ago as 2001, the whisky is the result of an annual week of peated runs through the distillery, beginning in 2002. ‘We use peat in our bottlings at Balvenie anyway, but it doesn’t show through particularly in any of the expressions,’ says Stewart.

‘At first, we didn’t really know what we were going to do with it, we just thought it was good to have it… We’ve not used it all, we’ve held stock back, so we might decide to do a 17, or a 21. And I know someone was joking about having a 50-year-old…’

But anyone expecting a Speyside take on a super-peated Islay malt will be confounded. ‘It was peated to 30ppm [phenol parts per million], but that’s the barley itself, and when it translates into the bottle, it’s only 5-6ppm,’ points out Stewart.

‘We didn’t want to dominate the Balvenie style. We wanted it still to be very much Balvenie, but to have this little bit of smokiness. And it’s Speyside peat, it’s from Aberdeenshire, so it’s quite different from the Islay peat. That’s more kind of medicinal, but this is a softer kind of smokiness – more in the background.’

Stewart also resists suggestions that Peat Week is some kind of gimmick that risks compromising distillery character. ‘Balvenie has been peated – we used peated malt back in the 1930s and 1940s and I’ve seen some of that whisky in my time with the company,’ he points out. ‘The style would be quite different moving back – it would be quite smoky.’

What’s in the glass reflects Stewart’s carefully chosen words and, in a deeper sense, the character of the man as well. Peat not as a dominant force, but as a seasoning, happy to play an accompanying role and to allow the character of the distillate to shine through.

Substance over style, continuity of character above short-term show. Every master blender has his or her own unique way of doing things but, in the end, it’s the whisky they produce that creates their legacy, and that speaks most loudly to the world.
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