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Whisky Advocate: Whisky Making Continues Amid Covid-19, But Some Distillers Foresee Problems

April 17, 2020

Covid-19 has hit the whisky industry hard, forcing distilleries of all sizes to adapt to social distancing protocols and other preventative measures. The effects of the virus are being felt worldwide, from Scotland to Kentucky. Most large distillers assert that, even when suspending operations or shifting production capacity to making ethanol for hand sanitizer, the supply of whisky won’t be interrupted. But others, especially smaller companies, point to supply troubles down the road.

In Scotland, many distilleries are still operational, but with new ways of working, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. “Companies are all applying the latest government guidance for those who work in production and operations, applying strict social distancing and comprehensive additional hygiene measures,” the organization wrote in a statement. “All employees who can work from home are doing so.” Additionally, the association has set up an online portal to connect distilleries with organizations in need of hand sanitizer or ethanol for its production.

For the time being, however, a number of major Scotch distilleries have scaled back operations, including Chivas Brothers, which has also shut down some sites, though a company spokesperson wouldn’t confirm which ones. Chivas Brothers, which is owned by Pernod Ricard, has 14 distilleries in Scotland. Other Scotch distilleries have confirmed shutdowns, including Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.

“Our response to Covid-19 started with the introduction of new safety measures and social distancing,” says Glenmorangie Co. president and CEO Thomas Moradpour. “As the situation progressed, we decided to temporarily close the distilleries and the bottling plant (on March 23) until a time when we believe we can operate them safely and in line with government guidance.” Moradpour won’t speculate on when precisely that might be, but adds that the shutdowns won’t affect availability of the company’s whiskies.

In the U.S., major whiskey distilleries are mostly continuing to work uninterrupted, albeit with new social distancing and safety measures. Many have also dedicated production capacity to making ethanol for hand sanitizer, including Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, and Jack Daniel’s, as well as numerous smaller craft distilleries.

In Kentucky, Heaven Hill has implemented social distancing protocols, enhanced cleaning measures, and distributed face masks, following guidance from federal, state, and local health officials, master distiller Conor O’Driscoll says. “Distilled spirits have been declared an essential industry in Kentucky,” he notes. “(This is) vital to sustaining Heaven Hill’s—and our industry’s—employment and business continuity. While we continue to keep a close eye on our supply chain, we have seen record shipping days over the past several weeks.” Heaven Hill is confident enough to be moving forward on an expansion of its Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, as well as its plans to add new barrel warehouses and upgrade bottling lines. Whisky Advocate has the full story.

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