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Issue 16 - Little gems

Whisky Magazine Issue 16
June 2001


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Little gems

Tom Bruce-Gardyne talks to Sir James Ackroyd and Ricky Christie, two of the key figures searching for 'little gems' in an attempt to revive Speyside Distillery.

Six months ago the Scotch whisky industry was in a state of fevered excitement as the Speyside Distillery Co. was sold off by its Swiss parent company to the North Yorkshire firm of Alexander Muir & Sons. Speyside was a Glasgow-based blender and bottler, founded in 1955 by the infamous George Christie who spent 30 years building his own distillery beside the Spey. In contrast, Muir's business was set up by Sir James Ackroyd seven years ago as a small sales and marketing operation for Scotch which he continues to run from his family home – Birstwith Hall in North Yorkshire.

The current state of the industry may have had more to do with the fate of the Canadian giant, Seagram, whose drinks division finally went under the hammer for a record-breaking US$8.15 billion a week before Christmas. Although the two events appear totally unconnected, they seem to symbolise the increasing polarisation within the trade. The Seagram sale demontrates further contraction at the top but the Speyside story, and that of Bruichladdich previously, shows everyone that there's plenty of life further down the scale. And the bigger the major players get, the bigger the crumbs that fall off the high table – as one notable independent noted: “By the time they reach us, they're bits of toast.”

James Ackroyd spent most of his career among the corporate giants, starting with the Distillers Company in 1965 where he ascended to the position of Senior Export Manager before switching to Martini & Ro...

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