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Issue 107 - Bold Experiments

Whisky Magazine Issue 107
October 2012


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Bold Experiments

Ian Buxtonlooks at the rise of whisky liqueurs and infusions

There was a time when whisky liqueurs had a bad name among considered drinkers. Well, not ‘bad' exactly but we didn't exactly embrace the sticky stuff with open arms (it gets on your shirt for one thing). As for flavoured whiskies, they were the spawn of Satan and to be avoided. But things might just be changing.

Drop into almost any bar, anywhere in the world and chances are you'll see a familiar name: Drambuie. Allegedly the ‘secret elixir' of Bonnie Prince Charlie, its recipe known only to members of the MacKinnon family, it languished in the mists of Skye until the early 1900s.

Its glory days came after the war and, up until the mid 1980s, the business was still quietly successful. Then the rot slowly set in: after-dinner liqueurs dropped out of fashion and the company began to lose its way. Some ill-judged acquisitions didn't help.

A steady decline in sales, compounded by inexperienced management, meant that by 2001 Drambuie was losing more than £3m a year. It seemed that this proudly Scottish business, one of the few remaining in family hands, would inevitably be snapped up by one of the industry's corporate giants.

But radical action was taken. The family relinquished day-to-day control; new, professional management arrived; the art collection, lavish company HQ and several unrelated businesses were sold off and a new strategy launched.

Slowly things turned round: the bank was repaid, shareholders' funds rebuilt and the company focussed on its core product, t...

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