Wednesday, March 12, 2014

News from Bruichladdich: Rémy's First Big Slip-Up

The big news at Bruichladdich in 2012 was their sale to Rémy Cointreau, a large drinks conglomerate. This was shocking to many in the whisky community as the reborn Bruichladdich, after it was purchased by Mark Reynier in 2000, had styled itself as 'fiercely independent'. However, Remy's deal was simply too good to pass up for the numerous investors who had sunk money into the endeavor.

The big question after the sale announced was whether Remy would influence the distillery, pushing them onto a new and more corporate path. Would there be changes in their lineup?

Now we know the answer is yes, though not in the way that many assumed.

Over the last few months, visitors to Bruichladdich's website began to notice that mentions of their age-dated expressions, notably the 'Laddie 10', had been pulled or listed as 'sold out' on their web shop. Rumors began to fly on Twitter that Laddie 10 had been discontinued, but were talked down by the official Bruichladdich Twitter account.

Now there is semi-official word that Bruichladdich will not be offering their age-dated expressions outside of the on-site distillery shop, with the exception of a few Port Charlotte bottlings, the latest of which is travel retail-only. So the Twitter response was correct in that it is not being discontinued per-se, but availability will be nil after current stocks disappear from store shelves unless you're willing to trek out to Islay.

How did this happen? Essentially, it seems that there just isn't enough whisky in the warehouses to keep up with demand. It has been suggested that the Laddie 10 was actually a vintage release, reflecting the barley used in 2001. Even Laddie Classic, which is multi-vintage and presumably contains younger whisky, is only listed for sale as a 200 mL bottle on their own website. The new 'core' releases appear to all be NAS or younger vintage releases of the various barley experiments, e.g. Scottish, 100% Islay, or Organic. This suggests that not all is well in Laddie Land.

I think the most bothersome aspect of all of this has been the lack of communication. There was no formal announcement, which has led to the rumor and speculation. If there isn't enough stock to fill demand, say so, instead of quietly removing information from the website and hoping no one was going to notice. I didn't hear a peep about any changes to the lineup when I visited the distillery last September. The Laddie 10 was still being poured for samples and everything seemed to be going swimmingly.

They certainly wouldn't be the first distillery to drop most of their age statements, so why the stealth? In this day and age of whisky scarcity, it's absurd to think that no one would notice changes to the website or decreasing availability of their age-dated products. There are too many eyes to miss those kinds of changes. Why not get ahead of the rumors and state the situation clearly?

Adding to the situation, this should have been completely predictable. Bruichladdich knows exactly what is in their warehouse and the age of every cask. Demand for the new Laddie 10 was certainly high, but it wouldn't take a whole lot of math to predict the difference between supply and demand once orders started rolling in.  And given the date of the distillery's sale to Remy, the conglomerate had to know that this was on the horizon when the purchase was made. If they didn't, that suggests a rather poor level of due-diligence. And this is exactly the kind of situation that customers were worried about after the sale - a perceived drop in quality as age-dated whiskies are removed from the market. While Remy assured everyone that they would be hands off and let Bruichladdich manage itself, this seems like a pretty major lapse in judgement.

Ultimately, we'll have to wait and see how this plays out within the whisky community. I don't get the impression that this news has been thoroughly disseminated, given that there has not been a formal announcement, so it may be a while before it really sets in. In the meantime, if you happen to enjoy Laddie 10 or any of the other non-core releases, buy them now, because once the distributors are out, they're out and there's no telling when or if the situation will change.


  1. Also keep in mind, this is after they told K&L that they were ending sales of Rocks, Peat Project, Organic, AND Octomore in the US......their largest market for single malt.

    This is beginning to look very messy for Remy Cointreau. They took a big hit in the purchase Bruichladdich in 2012, then took an even bigger whupping in 2013 with the cognac market drying up in China.

    I think Remy has a problem on their hands regarding Bruichladdich as a brand. They can’t play the old-school old-fashioned Islay card; Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, and Bowmore beat them to it decades ago. They can’t play the unique non-peated Islay card; Bunnhabhain’s already there. They can’t play the “little distillery that could” card thanks to Kilchoman. And they can’t play the independent rebel card anymore. And what's unique about framing themselves as Luxury, since every distillery in Islay (as well as most of Scotland too) entered that market long before them. What are they going to do, say “we’re Luxury-er!”? Because what the world really needs is a Dalmore of Islay.

    Plus did they misjudge the brand's strength in general? Most of ‘Laddie’s limited releases (Octomore, Black Art, Cuvees, etc) from the past several years are still pretty easy to find and often at their original prices. Most other "luxury" whisky brands don't have that issue. I'm not sure if the desire for their stuff is that strong, even amongst hoarders and flippers.

    It's going to take Remy a long time to make back that purchase price. I'm not sure exactly how they're going to do it.

    1. I think this goes back to the post that I made when Bruichladdich announced the sale. So much of what they were selling was their story - consumers got to feel good about themselves because they were helping out a scrappy, independent company, so they let some of the quality issues slide. Now that they're under one of the big boys, it's a lot harder to make that argument.

      Now the real question is whether the bigger issue will be supply or demand. Right now they're spinning it as a demand problem, like so many other distilleries. But the Laddie 10 was meant to be their entry into a 'standard' lineup that would continue on, marking a break with their 'everything under the sun' approach. If they can't keep that up, what are we going to get? More young NAS whiskies? There are plenty of those to go around right now, so it'll be harder to sell those without a solid story behind them.

    2. The site shows lots of "Scottish Barley" and "Islay Barley" stuff. Which actually is cool. I like the fact that there's still something Scottish in their Scotch. But how the hell do you recoup $90M with generic sounding NAS releases? At least the Octomores were million-dollar runs.

      Remy has undergone a number of upper management changes over the past year. I doubt they axed the person who pushed for the sale, because their worries in Asia are more potentially disastrous. But there do seem to be some changes going on over at the top.

      This was all financial speculation by me. As a whisky fan, I don't mind them narrowing down their countless random releases. But really the indie bottlings are much more interesting to me. Though, I do look forward to hearing about the Port Charlotte Islay Barley when it comes out.

  2. Their distillery shop's out of 10yo, a friend brought the last 3 the other day. (Maybe there was more stock out back to restock with, but that day it was all gone, showing a stock decline I'd say). They're (soon to be) building more warehousing which will help in the long term, not soon though. Talk of a Port Charlotte distillery being built seems to have died off. Maybe they should go back to 46% rather than 50% and eek out their stocks further?!