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Issue 107 - Small is beautiful

Whisky Magazine Issue 107
October 2012


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Small is beautiful

Writer, commentator and consultant,Ian Buxton has more than 20 years experience in the whisky business. said his most recent book 101 World Whiskies to Try Before You Die offered “insight on the spectrum of heritage, innovation and variety in the world of whiskey.”

Welcome to the London Distillery Company of Battersea, brain-child of Darren Rook formerly of Master of Malt and the London branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Here Darren met Alan Powell and may have unwittingly have changed the course of distilling in the UK.

If you don't recognise the name, don't worry – just be grateful to him, because this is the man who blew the whistle on the ‘400 gallon' still rule. Just to backtrack, it's always been held that HM Customs & Revenue (and before them, HM Customs & Excise) would never licence a still in the UK with a capacity of less than 1,800 litres (400 gallons is 1,818 litres). This goes right back to the 1823 Excise Act and was a measure to prevent illicit distilling, the theory being that anything smaller than this was too easily moved in order to evade duty.

Everyone believed that there was simply no point applying for a licence to distil on a smaller scale, and thus the possibility of an artisanal, craft distilling industry in the UK was stillborn.

Quite apart from the capital cost, stills of this size need room (think Kilchoman) and produce at least 100,000 litres of spirit annually, way more than the typical craft distiller in Europe or the USA can successfully market.

But our continental cousins and the entrepreneurial Americans continued to frustrate Darren, who happened to mention this to Alan Powell former HMRC man.

Powell pointed out that, quite contrary to general belief, HMRC are required only to “prote...

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