Brora Distillery reopened

Brora Distillery reopened

On 21st May this year (2021), the Brora Distillery opened its gates after more than thirty-eight years of closure. Set in the rolling hillsides of Sutherland, northeast Scotland, its picturesque courtyards and grey brick, slate-roofed buildings will now see renewed whisky making.

Following a three-year restoration programme, production resumed under the watchful eye of the Master Distiller, Stewart Bowman. Staff filled the first casks of 2021 with new make spirit from the stills. Thus, a new era has begun as the casks’ contents mature to become premium Brora whisky.

The closure spanned four decades, during which stocks of the brand’s bottled and cask whiskies appreciated significantly. Some of Brora’s legendary and much sought-after single malt scotches have achieved cult status among connoisseurs, collectors and investors alike.

Pride and sentiment

As he officially reopened the imposing doors of the distillery, Bowman spoke about his father, the distillery’s last exciseman. In 1983, the latter closed off the then distillery ledger with an entry referring to the beginning of a silent season for an undetermined period.

Now, the old hands must feel a sense of pride. Inside, even the refurbished spirit stills are precise copies of the original installations. The owners, holding company Diageo plc, have replicated the former production processes and conditions wherever possible.

Guided visits

According to the distillery’s website, guided tours for visitors are to commence from July 2021. As one would expect of this fine establishment, the experience includes whisky tastings and either a light or a substantial lunch. Currently, prices are £300 to £600 per person.

Founded in 1819 by the Marquis of Stafford, the reawakened 202-year-old distillery looks likely to continue releasing select, much-celebrated vintages. For now, a unique Brora Triptych commemorates the reopening with three different bottling runs of scarce, well-aged single malts from decades-old casks.

Brora Triptych

Each of the three superb bottlings represents a distinct era of the distillery. Triptych Elusive Legacy is 48 years old, the oldest single malt scotch ever released by Brora. Triptych Age of Peat is 43 years old, in the classic late 1970s heavily smoked style. It contains 48.6 per cent ABV. The third and youngest bottling is Timeless Original, from casks filled in 1982 and almost as potent.

The unique ash wood presentation cases contain three precious half-litre crystal decanters with Glencairn stoppers, filled with luxury scotch, as well as a personal invitation from Mr Bowman to visit the distillery. While the press release does not disclose how many of these trio sets will be available, it puts the price at £30,000 for UK purchasers.

Bowman described his deep affection for Brora in a press interview, narrating how it runs through his history. The Scot grew up in the village, with a view of the distillery’s bell tower visible from the kitchen window of the family home. Unsurprisingly, he speaks of feeling honoured to introduce visitors, share his experience and tell one or two of his father’s stories.

Diageo is the biggest whisky producer in Scotland. In 2019, during Brora’s period of dormancy, it released a 40-year-old 200th Anniversary Quintessential scotch. This golden, smoky Highland liquor boasted rich flavours of figs and ripe fruit. The bottling ran to 1,819 units which sold for around £4,500 apiece.

Scotland’s biggest whisky producer Diageo to return up to £4.5bn to investors

Diageo Resumes £4.5bn Investor Payouts

Giant drinks manufacturing company Diageo plans to resume payments totalling £4.5 billion to investors. The British multinational has decided the time is right to continue returning cash to shareholders in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As well as whiskies under various labels, Diageo also produces Baileys Irish Cream and Smirnoff vodka. A company spokesman reported that sales were recovering after the worst effects of the Coronavirus lockdown. Thanks to favourable results in the first six months, expectations were for annual growth of 14 per cent or more.

Three-year timescale

In April 2020, the board of directors decided to shelve the return of cash to investors, though only temporarily. Now, strong performance means that the programme can now continue.

Share buybacks will amount to £1 billion by the end of the company’s 2021-22 financial year. Its bosses plan to release £500 million, half of the total, by the middle of November this year (2021). Launched in 2019, the buyback of shares looks set to extend to the end of June 2024, two years longer than initially anticipated.

Pleasing performance

Ivan Menezes, the company’s chief executive, commented that he was delighted with how the drinks business was recovering. He described how improved sales turnover had generated excess cash.

Off-licence sales of Diageo’s popular branded products had continued without significant interruption. Trading had been strong in the USA, Diego’s largest export market.

Despite the global challenges of the last year or so, European sales had remained reasonably buoyant. However, as expected, pub, cafe and restaurant closures had hit business. Mr Menezes expressed relief that hospitality outlets were reopening and ordering again, in line with the gradual lifting of restrictions in the UK and abroad.

Significantly, the company’s travel division suffered a fall in profits of some 8.3 per cent between July and December 2020, mainly because of continued limitations on air movement. Pre-tax profits amounted to £2.2bn in that half-year, while net sales turnover was £6.9bn (down by 4.5 per cent).

Expert comment

Analysts at finance experts Hargreaves Lansdown described news of the payouts as good for investors. Whereas some short to medium-term shareholders would probably sell, analysts pointed out that the remainder would then own a slightly higher proportion of the company capital.

However, company debt was still higher than ideal. The financial advisers commented that it might have been more prudent to have delayed the additional spending plans for longer.

Award-winning centres

As the biggest whisky producer in Scotland, Diageo operates fourteen distillery brand exhibitions. At the end of April (2021), the group reopened the refurbished Highland visitor centre at Clynelish Distillery. This renovation project formed part of a £185m outlay on tourism in Scotland, designed to transform visitor experiences at Diageo-owned sites and, admirably, promote sustainability.

Other Diageo distilleries to have received gold-standard green tourism accolades are Blair Athol, Brora, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin and Royal Lochnagar. The corporate property portfolio also includes a new eight-floor Johnnie Walker visitor centre, set to open in Princes Street, Edinburgh, in June (2021).

Healthy competition

Similarly, rival alcohol beverage producer Pernod Ricard posted increased sales during the first quarter of 2021. The multinational owns Chivas Brothers. Over the three months to the end of March 2020, its turnover rose by almost a fifth (19 per cent).

–Additional source: