Will Bruichladdich Become The New Dalmore?

by Oliver Klimek on November 28, 2012

Yesterday I came across a news article in French about Rémy Cointreau’s plans for the newly acquired Bruichladdich distillery. The headline reads “Launch of the world’s most expensive malt” which of course ignited my interest to read on.

In the article, Rémy Cointreau CEO Jean-Marie Laborde is quoted:

Dans ce registre, Rémy Cointreau a acquis la distillerie de Bruichladdich fondée en 1881 sur l’île d’Islay, au large de l’Ecosse, avec la volonté d’y produire «le malt le plus cher du monde», a expliqué Jean-Marie Laborde, directeur général, exprimant une «ambition sans limite sur cette affaire», évaluée à 72,8 millions d’euros.

This essentially translates into “We have a limitless ambition to produce the world’s most expensive malt at Bruichladdich.”

If this article isn’t a case of sloppy journalism putting statements in between double quotes that a person never has said or meant this way (and we know such things do happen in journalism), this is explosive news indeed.

It seems Mr. Laborde is destined to Dalmorize Bruichladdich, moving away from the Progressive Hebridean Distillers niche to the glitzy world  of ‘luxury’ bottlings and crystal decanters we have come to be flooded with recently. Keeping in mind that from 1996 to 2003 Jean-Marie Laborde was CEO of Moët & Chandon belonging to LVMH, this move is hardly a surprise.

Evidently, such a change of direction is not in the spirit in which the previous owners, and Mark Reynier in particular, had run the distillery. And I am almost 100% sure that Jean-Marie Laborde did not mention such plans during the takeover talks. Rather the owners (naively?) believed that apart from the intriguing prospect of doubling the production nothing would change for the time being. L’argent fait tout.

Another question of course is how exactly Bruichaddich wants to fulfill this threatpromise. World’s most expensive whisky better be old. Do they still have high quality old stock to create bottlings on eye level with the most expensive 50+ year old Macallans, Glenfiddichs and Dalmores? I don’t think Mr. Laborde wants to wait 40 more years until the new stock has come to that age. He is already over 60 and I am sure that he wants to taste the fruits of his limitless ambition while still alive.

Additional Reflections (Update)

The term “world’s most expensive malt” can of course mean two things. The more I think about it, the less I believe Rémy Cointreau is merely trying to compete with the one-off £100+k bottlings. If there is a grain of truth in what the CEO stated, “malt” may also stand for the entire Bruichladdich brand. They may intend to lift the entire Bruichladdich product range to a luxury price level, to turn it into the first proper (in their view) luxury Scotch single malt brand.

This of course would mean that Dalmore is not a very fitting example of where they are heading to. Dalmore is cheap but quiet at the bottom end of the range, and expensive but loud at the top end. Maybe they have something like “Macallan plus” in mind, especially now that the former Rolls Royce of whisky has lost much of its luxury appeal after taking the NAS route for their entry level bottlings.

Update 29th November

The source of Mr. Laborde’s statmeent was not given in the original article. The statement is from the 27th November press conference of Rémy Cointreau where the latest earnings figures were presented. – Another source quoting Mr. Laborde on the “world’s most expensive malt”

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Gal Granov November 28, 2012 at 8:19 am

OMFG.

yes i read french and that is indeed his intent. very bad news if that is what is going to be.
sell laddie as an ultra premium sort of drink.

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Ruben November 28, 2012 at 8:40 am

“Mon cher ami” is also “my dear friend” – it doesn’t necessarily translate as “the most expensive”. I fear the quote is taken out of its context a little. In their view, a distillery that only produces single malts for connoisseurs is an ultra-premium brand already so I don’t think they’re aiming at the Dalmore level per se. Anyway I wouldn’t call this any more worrying than most other articles that are written by all those whisky nitwits among journalists.

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Oliver Klimek November 28, 2012 at 8:47 am

Actually I do hope Mr. Laborde was misquoted here, but I can only read “cher” as expensive here. “Dear” is a direct translation of “cher”, and it can also mean expensive in English. By the way, in German you can also say “Mein teurer Freund” for “Mein lieber Freund”, it’s slightly old-fashioned lamguage, but it’s the same logic that’s behind it.

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Bernhard Schaefer November 28, 2012 at 8:50 am

Well believing, that everything stays exactly the same is naive. And Dalmore has not only the very expensive ones. I am sure that the portfolio will be a bit trimmed, so less than 20 whatsoever different expressions per year… ;-)
Spending this much money means that for sure there is a plan of developement, and “glitzing” a brand up is one.
Old stocks? I doubt that, in the time when they were with JBB Europe (and “part” of Dalmore) the spirit was not sought after for its quality.

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Ruben November 28, 2012 at 9:13 am

Exactly, it would have been stupid if they said “we’re aiming for a mediocre whisky at low prices”. Every healthy distillery is releasing ultra-premium bottlings these days, specially made for certain markets, but it doesn’t mean they won’t have an accessible core range.

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Jon Bryant November 28, 2012 at 9:31 am

This article may have concerned me 24 hours ago.. however last night we had the pleasure of attending a Bruichladdich tasting with Craig from Bruichladdich. He candidly spoke about all things Laddie, including the take-over and was absolutely sure that Bruichalddich would continue to be ‘a distillery of the people’ – It is a ‘Victorian Distillery’ and people are needed to run it and make it happen. I think they will continue to experiment with different bottlings, but I didn’t get the impression that there would be a seismic shift into the world of diamonds and crystals. Remy have spent a lot of money on this – I agree with Craig and don’t see why they would ruin and change it. If that was the plan surely they would have bought a different distillery for far less money and then changed it – there are plenty of good and cheaper names out there that would have enabled them to do that.

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Oliver Klimek November 28, 2012 at 9:37 am

It all boils down to the question if the CEO really said what he is quoted with, and if he meant it the way it is most likely to be interpreted. I sincerely wonder what the guys working at the distillery think of such statements.

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Jon Bryant November 28, 2012 at 9:41 am

True. I do agree with you on that. Such statements aren’t really that helpful (especially to the workforce).. and I think it would be good if his remarks were clarified!

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kallaskander November 28, 2012 at 9:39 am

Hi there,

depending on who will have Whyte&Mackay in the end it could happen that the Dalmore slot as “fancy overpriced whisky” will be free some time soon.

Kind of hard to imagine that Bruichladdich should be bound to fill it…

If that slot will not be opened it is hard to think the Laddie will be a competitor in that segment.
But if it is on the way towards that competition it is good news for the makers of artificial colourings and afaik they will need a chill-filtering machine.
Will they keep their bottling hall? Who knows.
Remy has the world in focus as their market much more than the old owners did so I can imagine they think they need to go premium with part of teir range.

On the other hand I am not sure the idea of overpriced Laddies is an idea of the new owner alone.

The Octomore 10yo is said to be priced at about 200.- € – a bottle when it comes out.
That was not Remy Cointreau’s idea.

Greetings
kallaskander

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Whiskylassie November 28, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Funny, when all this broke loose on twitter, there were some very interesting conversations especially with Mark Reynier himself. There were many fears brought forward about the “Conglomerate” taking over and changing the beloved Bruichladdich style as we know it today. I can only hope that this particular article is hype, written by a journalist looking for or trying to create sensationalism. If not, then in a few years from now when a bottle of Bruichladdich cost more than a Port Ellen, I will remind all that Oliver scooped and saw this coming….

I pray that’s wrong.

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Gal Granov November 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Let’s all pray so Lasssie!

god help us all.

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Josh Feldman November 28, 2012 at 4:33 pm

It’s difficult to imagine how you would position Laddie for a super-expensive bottling. Laddie is famous for McEwan’s innovative work with finishing and for the titanic peated expressions – which are explosive in their youth. Bruichladdich’s distillate in the 80s and 90s was known to be slipping in quality and is generally acknowledged to have been disappointing, particularly in comparison to the higher quality of the couple of decades prior. Unless that have some casks of that good 60s and 70s stuff lying around I don’t see a bottling that they could charge 4 figures or higher for. Perhaps there are some of those 1960s casks in there – in which case they have a legitimate case to have a limited and highly priced bottling. Would this really raise eyebrows in today’s environment. I suspect not. But this still doesn’t get them into the neighborhood of the most expensive bottlings – which are pretty much always jewelry / vanity plays. The Constellations are an exercise in marketing. The giant priced blend bottlings are more about bottle sculpture. There’s nothing in the Laddie heritage which would lead in this direction. Hopefully they won’t go there.

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Oliver Klimek November 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I quite agree. I just updated the article because I tend to believe the “most expensive” tag is supposed to apply to the entire brand, not just a top-notch bottling.

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Willie Wallace November 29, 2012 at 1:17 am

The comment is surely meant to mean “The World’s most loved whisky. “le malt le plus cher du monde” – The malt. most dear to the world.

Whether you supported their takeover or opposed it (latter camp, me), that is a noble sentiment for any new owner and with the distribution network Remy have, it is a distinct possibility.

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Oliver Klimek November 29, 2012 at 6:22 am

Well, when even native French spekers understand it as ‘expensive’… Enter “le plus cher du monde” into Google, and all that comes are lists and reports of the most expensive stuff.

I agree that the word “cher” is ambigous but in a business context you’d probalby rather say “le malt le plus aimé du monde” if you mean “the most dear” one. And that meaning would of course be a synonym for “most sold” which is exactly the opposite of the “positionnement «très haut de gamme»” mentioned in the original article. Many best selling brands advertise with terms like “world’s best loved whatever”. Do you think they want to take on Glenfiddich and turn Bruichladdich into the biggest Scottish distillery?

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Jason B. Standing May 8, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Perhaps a good idea would have been to have sought clarification from the source before writing a wildly speculative piece?

You’ve written some wonderfully researched/informed pieces in the past, however this hasn’t been one of them.

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John W November 29, 2012 at 5:41 am

I agree with Josh. Of course, it is fine to make this as a statement of intent. But then there will be a lot of work to do on producing and maturing the actual liquid. Current output (or remnants of the past) varies too much in quality, which is further obfuscated by all the finishes and variants. Does Remy want to creat something on par with Ardbeg, Lagavulin or Laphroaig, just to mention their Islay brethren alone? Then, they will have to climb a big hill for a long time to assure this level of quality/complexity on a consistent basis. Clever marketing is not enough to create a legend, even if there are occasional exceptional bottlings.

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Willie Wallace November 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Production figures since 2001 prevent any huge outpouring of an expensive product, but also are large enough to prevent any possibility of rarity value. Bruichladdich is a product shaped by time and loving hands and while the Remy people might wax lyrical about the future,they are not stupid enough to think of it matching any outlandishly priced rarities out there. A good product, with a good reputation will continue to sell and expand and when the distillery is up to 24/7 production, a situation not long away, the increase is still not going to reach the market for many years. Their next step, logically, would be to re-open Port Charlotte, but apart from a mash tun, one still and a few bits of machinery, they are a fair way away from that. The increased production and the reopened distillery, assuming they continue to bottle on the island, will mean that Bruichladdich (Remy) will be far and away the largest employer on the island. As an employee at the distillery told me, post-sale, “Ileachs are used to distilleries opening and closing, jobs coming and going. If somebody is prepared to spend that much money to secure the business, they cannot have any intentions of closing it down, so our jobs should be secure. That is the right solution for us.”

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Horst Luening December 9, 2012 at 4:12 pm

I have no fear, that Bruichladdich will become unaffordable. Bruichladdich will follow its ‘neighbour’ Ardbeg and head for more profit and of course revenues. You can’t pay roughly US$100m and sell only bottles to the upper 1 promille of the world. Bruichladdich has to sell therefore more than before. Of course, the new special editions will reach heaven with its prices. But to sell for premium prices you have to built a base.

Look at Ardbeg. They sell lorryloads of the TEN and ask skyrocketing prices for its Galileo. This is the way, Bruichladdich will follow. The feeled hundreds of different bottles will evaporate to a core range of half a dozen accompanied by special editions every marketing period. Whatever that means ;-)

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David OG December 18, 2012 at 6:16 am

Not sure if I missed it somewhere above, but could M. Laborde be simply continuing the same marketing tactic that has been used consistently by the previous owners, that is that the way Bruichladdich Distillery operates costs more to run than any other distillery. I’ve heard McEwan say several times that Bruichladdich costs more to producer per liter than any other malt. There are many reasons for this, the number of staff, local barley, malting off island, etc. but this is certainly what Laborde is proud to be announcing to the world. While I haven’t seen every barrel in that place, I don’t think they’ve got anything much older then 30-40 YO. This is the most logical explanation for the comments referenced above. Not that I trust Remy to necessarily live up to their promise or those of the previous owners, but it does not make sense for them to be announcing their plans to price gouge before they’ve even fully assume control.

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Oliver Klimek December 18, 2012 at 6:34 am

Productions costs and price don’t necessarily go hand in hand in the whisky market. I don’t think Diageo had twice the costs for the 12th Port Ellen release than for the 11th. It’s more like “what price tag can we put on the bottle in order to maximise our profit?” So obviously it seems Mr. Laborde thinks they can demand more for it.

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David OG December 18, 2012 at 7:45 am

I don’t disagree with that point, production costs are not necessarily a predictor of price, but I just don’t think these statements imply they are planning to raise the price. In fact, even if Remy keep their promises to keep distillery staff on and production methods similar, I think they will find ways to cut costs. Perhaps buy some malt from Port Ellen rather than Bairds? We’ve all been willing to pay a little extra for Laddie not only because we like the whisky, but also because it was the “progressive islay malt.” They won’t be able to rely on their ideals to secure a following for their whisky any longer. In the end I think the core range will ultimately come down slightly in price. While price increases raise profits marginally, volume increases have a far greater potential rewar. Once they’ve established the brand as a go to that’s when they start raising prices. Remy in the mean time will undoubtedly begin releasing Lalique Decanter bottlings of rare Bruichladdich, but I bet they’d rather compare their future to Glenfiddich rather than Dalmore.

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