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Kazakhstan is opening up for Benriach

In the early part of this year, 500 cases of top-end malt whisky were shipped from Morayshire in Scotland to remote Kazakhstan.

It’s an exporting coup for the Larbert-based BenRiach Distillery Company.

Formerly part of USSR but now independent, Kazakhstan is one of the new but unexpected export markets identified by BenRiach that's ripe for development.

The republic, the most economically advanced of the "stans", is in Central Asia, to the south of Russia and extending east from the Caspian Sea to the Altai mountains.

It’s largely known, not for whisky consumption, but for launching rockets, its oil and the antics of the pseudo-Kazakh Borat Sagdiyev created by Sacha Baron Cohen.

In the new consignment, worth some £60,000, are malts ranging from twelve to forty years.

Billy Walker, the industry veteran and MD of The BenRiach Distillery Company, explained: “Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth-biggest country, appeared on our radar because it’s a commodity-rich country with a secular government and a population of some 20 million amongst whom is a significant percentage of wealthy citizens.

"They’re interested in both the standard range and our de-luxe items. In addition, it acts as a distribution hub for its neighbours Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kurgyzstan and Tajikistan.

“Parts of the country have an almost European feel with smart hotels, chic boutiques and lots of BMWs and Mercedes.

“We’ve found there’s a strong but relatively unstructured independent retail presence. Wholesale is developing, mainly in Almaty and Astana, and we have an excellent importer in MPCC Aldi Ltda – incidentally there’s no relationship with the supermarket of the same name.”

The first order was for 500 cases and three months ago BenRiach arranged a formal launch of its offerings in the old capital Almaty.

“They liked the first batch so much they wanted more,” said Billy. “When you consider the growing number of clubs and restaurants and both young and old people with increasing disposable income you start to see the potential and why it and other former Soviet states become very interesting territories for us.”

1 May 2009 - Felicity Murray