RSS Feeds

Advanced search

You are in:


Spreading the word

Euan Mitchell talks to Felicity Murray about export success and the ups and downs of running an independent whisky distillery

Euan Mitchell Isle of Arran Distillers

The team working at Isle of Arran Distillers are enormously passionate about what they do. Euan explains: For us it’s not just a job, it’s a privilege to engage and encourage people to enjoy really great malt whisky.

In the office we welcomed the recent announcement that Scotch whisky will benefit from new legislation to protect it against counterfeit products as fake merchandise can pose a real threat. We put quality above all else and imitations that fall below par are simply not acceptable.

We and the rest of the industry have a reputation to uphold, but thankfully (to date) substandard imitations have not damaged the global image of Scotch whisky as demand for the spirit is now at an all-time high.

Last year a report by Grant Thornton suggested that Scotch whisky is entering a ‘third golden era’ as exports reached a record 4.3 billion pounds - and all the signs point to 2014 being an even bigger year for whisky distilleries so it’s a very exciting time.

As an independent and relatively small distillery we’ve got to find innovative ways to get noticed and make an impact globally to capitalise on the opportunity. We can’t compete with the big players in terms of economies of scale or marketing campaigns, but there are certain things we can do to make ourselves stand out.

Location and flavour are two of our key defining features. When the distillery was first established in 1995 the island was chosen partly for its heritage with a long history of (illegal) distilleries being based here. In the distillery we combine traditional production methods with a modern distilling environment and top quality casks for maturation, which helps us create a strong point of difference and gives our whisky its unique taste.  

 Being smaller also means that and we can be more flexible and innovate to offer consumers something genuinely different.

Our strategy is working well in relative terms we’re just starting out (last year we celebrated our 18th anniversary), but we’re consistently outperforming the market.

Exports are a key focus for the year ahead and in the past few years our export business has really taken off. In 2012 we grew our overseas sales by 20%, whilst the Scotch whisky market as a whole only increased this market by 1%.

We sell to 35 countries around the world with the US and France being core markets, but the global landscape is changing and Russia is quickly becoming one of the big players.

For any distillery, it’s important to keep your customers engaged. We achieve this by releasing up to four limited edition whiskies each year which are different in their production and flavour. This helps to keep our customers interested and excited – quality character and variety are king in this business.

In the past few years examples of our limited edition malts have included a whisky made with Scotland’s oldest cultivated barley, the Arran Malt Orkney Bere, as well as our oldest malt to date, the Arran Malt 16 year old.

Our Devil’s Punch Bowl trilogy of whiskies, the last of which is due to be released later this year, proved to be our fastest selling ever with outlets around the world stocking the devilish dram.

But whether you’re a huge business or a tiny one, what matters most is that you put quality at the centre of everything and produce products which hold genuine appeal to the consumer – this is the ethos we live by.

Once the quality is there, the value of marketing and unique presentation should never be underestimated. The first release of the Devil’s Punch Bowl won critical acclaim for its distinctive design in the World Whiskies Design Awards, and we always try to reflect strong aesthetic principals in all of our new releases.

The core Arran Malt range is more traditional in its branding and style. This year the core range will be refreshed to bring it up to date with some of our more recent packaging designs.

Our most recent limited edition release, the Arran Millennium Casks edition, was distilled on the last day of the turn of the century.  The packaging featured Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings from Roman mythology on the packaging, who was depicted looking forwards and backwards.

On the box Janus was sketched in fine detail and we designed the packaging to open out around the bottle – another example of how we put a great amount of thought into the design and presentation of our products.

With the Devil’s Punch Bowl we had some fun with a dark and menacing packaging which neatly reflected the complex spirit inside the bottle. It proved to be a big hit with consumers and subsequently demand for the second edition was high before the new release was available.

However, not everything about being an independent distillery is plain sailing and we face some significant challenges to keep up with the big players in the market. As an independent business you have to be nimble and responsive.

For instance we can still price our whisky competitively as we team up with other independents to purchase casks in bulk, which helps us imitate some of the economies of scale enjoyed by bigger producers.

We’re never going to have millions of pounds to plough into advertising or marketing campaigns so we need to be savvy about what we focus on.

“Our strategy is clearly working as we haven’t really been affected by the global downturn – it seems that whisky is seen as an affordable luxury and something people are not willing to cut back on.

What really makes our business is a success is the team work at the distillery. Everyone is hugely passionate about what we do and many of the team travel extensively to promote the Arran spirit.

We’re based in a little corner of Scotland, but we’re taking the Arran brand all over the world and leaving passionate fans wherever we go to help us spread the word.

25 March 2014