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Issue 26 - Independent's day

Whisky Magazine Issue 26
October 2002


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Independent's day

Dave Broom reports on the challenges facing a determined new breed of independent bottle-distillers

Question: What do you buy the independent bottler who has it all? Answer? A distillery. Signatory's recent acquisition of Edradour is the latest in a series of purchases by independent bottlers. Gordon & MacPhail had Benromach, Murray McDavid snapped up Bruichladdich, while Springbank – always a firm to do things differently – bought an independent bottler, Cadenhead. So, is a distillery the ultimate whisky lover's accessory, or the equivalent of a forty something male buying a Ferrari? Bruichladdich's Gordon Wright gave a typically punchy response. “We did it to give us a long-term future in the whisky business and also as a vehicle to promote he ideals that we used with Murray McDavid. In short, to show people how to do it right.”

But why should owning a distillery give a firm greater credibility? Take Gordon & MacPhail. The firm hardly needs to find a way of being considered as a respected player. What then did buying Benromach add to the business? “The buying of a distillery opens new opportunities,” says Managing Director Ian Urquhart. “It might mean we have access to new markets but it also allows the company to grow more quickly in terms of sales. It is all about looking at the long term.” In other words, not so much a mid-life crisis as a mid-sized one. All the new independent bottler distillers are successful medium-sized firms faced with the timeless dilemma, how do you grow a business when it reaches a certain critical mass?

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