Whisky Magazine Issue 124
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Bushmills sold for a large shot of tequila
Here's a question. What would you do if you had an 800,000 case brand which earned you £57m in the last year? Back it? What if it also had deep stocks, a proven track record, and was in a whisky category which is predicted to grow to 12 million cases by 2020 [ISA figures]? Give thanks to the god of whisky and back it to the hilt? Or would you say, “Naaah…” and sell it? Welcome to the world of big business, Diageo style.
When the news came in I wasn't that surprised. There had been mutterings and I had also begun to wonder quite what Diageo was doing with its Irish brand. Bushmills is multifaceted, playing in standard and premium blend, and single malt – and is Irish and therefore hot – but which has been surprisingly quiet. From being the last piece in a whisky portfolio which covered Scotland, Canada and the US, it had increasingly seemed to be the odd one out, and while investment took place in plant and warehousing there was little noise generated by the brand itself. When compared to Jameson, Tullamore DEW and Kilbeggan, it was drifting.
It is only two months ago that William Grant declared its long-term commitment to the Irish category by building a new distillery. Now a major rival has pulled out completely. One firm has got this right. The Grants (and IDL, Beam Suntory and the Teelings) must think that Christmas has come extremely early. The signals sent out by this is that Diageo has no faith in Irish whiskey and while it may be no more than unfortunate...