Bushmills in sales hit - but stock levels now at a sobering £130m

The new Bushmills American Oak Cask Finish
Gary McDonald Business Editor

A NOT so sobering £130 million worth of whiskey is currently maturing in casks deep in the expansive new warehousing units at the Old Bushmills Distillery, the company's annual accounts have revealed.

And while the overall trading performance of the north's oldest-established whiskey maker took something of a hit in the 2020 calendar year (at one stage its factory was forced to close for a time), its current stock levels continued to rise.

The company, owned by Mexican drinks giant Becle (which is best known for the tequila brand Jose Cuervo), said it "demonstrated a good level of performance in its major markets" despite the impact of the Covid pandemic.

But its sales fell back from £43.7 million to £31.8 million, and its bottom-line profit dipped to £4.9 million from £7.2 million.

The directors, who include master distiller Colum Egan, said it their intention to continue to develop the present activities of Bushmills by expanding into new markets and growing its brand portfolio.

The accounts also reveal that during the financial year the directors were informed that its long-standing bottling contract with Irish Distillers Limited would be terminating in June 2022.

"The additional capacity will provide the opportunity to bottle other group products," the directors added.

Bushmills is one of only three Irish distilleries with its own mature stock, and the accounts show that its current stock levels sit at £129.7m, up from £118.8m a year earlier.

The bulk of this (£102m) is whiskey maturing in more than a year - in some cases it might be decades down the line before its release.

Three years ago Bushmills made a multi-million investment in building 29 new maturation warehouses at its famous Co Antrim site, which has enabled it to significantly increase those stock levels.

Over the last 12 months Bushmills unveiled a range of new whiskey collections, most recent an American Oak Cask Finish inspired by its long-running relationship with Louisville barrel maker Kelvin Cooperage.

In April, in a range of new variations to complement its 10-, 16- and 21-year-old staples, it put on sale the first in a series of new cask finish products finished in hand-selected fine oak Caribbean Rum casks.

And in November a new series of limited-edition single malt whiskeys, inspired by the Giant's Causeway, marked the first-ever release of ultra-rare cask-strength malts by the distillery.

Just 2,491 bottles of its 1995 Malaga Cask (53.5 per cent ABV and retailing at £390 a bottle) and 1,454 bottles of its £95 2008 Muscatel Cask were made available, and such was the global interest that they are already collectors' items.

The accounts also show that Bushmills - which has 101 staff made up of production (67), sales (8) and administration (28) - benefited from £1,446,000 in royalties income during the year and £208,000 in government grants.

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