As lockdown continues, how will some distilleries drop in production affect supplies in later years?

As the UK enters over 50 days of lockdown, with only very slight easing on restrictions, we take a look at the long term effects this may have on the whisky industry.

With most distilleries halting production due to the lockdown measures in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus, here we take a look at possible long term effects of this.

Whisky consultant, author and founder of World Whisky Day, Blair Bowman spoke to me on the latest episode of the Scotsman’s podcast, Scran, which is available to listen to in full below.

Core range statements becoming rare?

In the episode, Blair suggests that this stop in production may lead to shortages of certain age statements later down the line.

Blair said: “Some distilleries have stopped production entirely and some are on a reduced production of about 50 per cent.

“What could be an issue though, is in 10 years time, when, say for example, Benromach, want to make their 10 year old whisky, they might not have as much.

“So I think we’re not going to see the long term effects for a while. But I think there will be long term effects if the industry is not producing the same levels.”

We’re so used to a core range being readily and widely available but could lockdown lead to core range age statements becoming rare and therefore ones to look out for if you’re a collector?

Blair explains his point of view: “It could be that the 2020 year could be rarer. Basically distilleries will have had January and February at full production –  March might have kind of trickled down a bit. And then, depending from company to company, how they’ve been able to operate, it could just be that there’s just a massive reduction in stock.

“It could be that, at that time when they are coming to release their ten year old, or whatever their core vintages are for that year – any shortages may mean a move to non-age statements. Or a need to come up with some kind of creative way of filling that gap, if there is one.

“I don’t think we’ll see the impacts (of lockdown) for some time to come. It could affect pricing, it could affect supply – but it won’t be seen for a while yet.”

How are distilleries reacting?

One company that has adapted to lack of production is the Distell group, which has Bunnahabhain, Tobermory and Deanston whiskies.

Stephen Woodcock, distilleries manager of Distell portfolio said: “Outages are something we regularly have to contend with, both planned and otherwise. And to this end, planned outages for later in the year have been brought forward so that stock levels can be maintained whilst we carry out essential maintenance activities earlier than expected.

“As a business we are agile and adaptable enough to make these changes and mitigate as far as possible any real risk to plans.”

Dr Kirstie McCallum, head of whisky creation at Glen Moray comments: “As far as lockdown goes, yes there is going to be a reduction in the volume of spirit produced by distilleries this year, but the stock managers and their teams will have been working behind the scenes looking at forecasts and coming up with solutions which will ensure the aged expressions are still available for the consumer in the future.”

2020 as a year of interest

Long term affects of the lockdown and 2020 as a year of interest is something that John McChenye, master brand ambassador for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society also discusses on the episode of Scran.

“The effects of lockdown will really depend on how long it lasts,” John explains. “I think by by the time we get out of it, there will be two or three months before people get back to some kind of whisky-making normality due to restrictions.

“But we have seen this before – shortages of core expressions have happened in the past, where a whisky has gotten so popular that the distillery has ran out of that age group.

“At the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, we have the exact date of distillation on the bottle – because our whiskies come from single casks we know this exact date. So there’s going to be a period in some years’ time when there’s not going to be anything available from this exact point in time – the second and third quarters of 2020.

“I think there might also be an increasing fascination with dates of distillation as a result of this lockdown because people will remember what they went through this year.”

But John is positive overall: “I think the whisky industry will survive this – it’s too big and strong to be brought down by the current circumstances. It’s so well known and loved across the world.”

 

About The Author

Rosalind Erskine

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related.

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