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Has Diageo made a mistake in bringing back Brora and Port Ellen? - Editor's Viewpoint

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I've heard both sides on today's news from Diageo. One friend is getting quite excited at being able to buy a bottle of a single malt Scotch whisky they have hitherto been unable to afford a glass of, while another is bemoaning the end of what they call "something very special" as two of Scotch's "best-kept secrets" bubble back to the surface.

Despite closing in 1983, single malts from Port Ellen have been available through Diageos Special Releases series

Despite closing in 1983, single malts from Port Ellen have been available through Diageo's Special Releases series

Earlier today, Diageo said it will spend GBP35m (US$46m) on reviving two of its Scotch whisky distilleries that closed 34 years ago. Port Ellen on Islay and Brora in north-east Scotland will be up and running once again by 2020, producing spirit that will go towards their namesake single malts.

Of course, neither brand has truly disappeared since the closures in 1983. Launching in 2001, Diageo's annual Special Release series of bottlings has regularly featured iterations of both Brora and Port Ellen.

The only thing that really changed is the price: In the 2006 Special Releases line-up, a 21-year-old Port Ellen was available for GBP125, while a Brora 30-year-old cost GBP175. Fast forward to this year, and Port Ellen 37-year-old was released at GBP2,625, with Brora 34-year-old retailing at GBP1,450. This appears more an indication of the amounts the higher-end special bottlings were reaching at follow-on auctions. If a whisky fan is getting that much for a bottle they bought from us, the thinking no doubt went, then why aren't we charging that ourselves?

But, I digress. What has Diageo done here? is this something good for the wider Scotch consumer community, or something bad for the willing spender, the Scotch collector?

To me, these aren't the questions we should be considering.

In both Port Ellen and Brora, Diageo can claim brand equity to die for. The Special Releases bottlings only stoked their popularity - if not their availability - among both the aficionados and the less clued-up consumer. Indeed, as the group's head of whisky outreach, Nick Morgan told just-drinks today: "What we're now able to do is not only satisfy Port Ellen and Brora enthusiasts with liquid from the new distilleries, but also make it more accessible to consumers for whom GBP2,000 bottles are just not a potential purchase."

To satisfy both sides alike - surely, even the purists have to admit to being excited at the thought of trying the new stuff - Diageo has had to spend the frankly paltry sum of US$46m

When you consider that Constellation Brands had to fork out $160m to secure US craft whisky producer High West Distillery, well, then all other questions we can throw at Diageo are drowned out by just one.

What took you so long?


Sectors: Spirits

Companies: Constellation Brands, Diageo

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