Updated: Jul 21, 2021
This article was originally published in Blockchain Industry Review - a Crypto Curry Club Magazine published monthly and available in soft copy and the printed version.
An Interview with Featured Contributor, Alex Bruce
CEO of Adelphi Distillery, Ltd.
Adelphi Distillery Ltd has a new distillery based in Ardnamurchan, one of the farthest, most north-westerly corners of Scotland. Established six years ago, the distillery practices sustainability in harmony with local farmers. Barley, water and wood chip (for its boiler) are sourced locally and the resultant mash fed back to the local cattle.
Enjoying as it does a robust ocean climate, the Scotch whisky is flavoured by the Atlantic sea producing a unique maritime twang to the single malt. To top it all, Ardnamurchan Whisky is on the blockchain, providing provenance from the tip of Scotland to a tumbler of the amber liquid poured anywhere in the world.
CEO Alex Bruce was responsible for bringing blockchain to Adelphi, copying a food supply chain project involving pigs which really impressed him. Alex has been with the organisation for almost 17 years, the last six of which were as CEO. According to him he probably has the best job in the world.
Alex fell into the drinks industry from college and never looked back. In his final year of university, a business and language degree, he managed to secure an overseas posting to work with Remy Martin cognac in Paris. His career was secured.
“You might say it was in the blood. One of my maternal ancestors was Andrew Usher, who is credited with pioneering blended Scotch whisky in the early 1800s. He was based in Edinburgh and blended the highly acclaimed Glenlivet, so maybe there was a pull I wasn’t aware of."
Working in Paris with the luxury cognac brand proved very exciting. When he returned to the UK he moved into the wine industry, and shortly after set up his own wine business with a partner. At the same time he was offered a job as head marketing in Adelphi – a dream job as he says and he could not turn it down.
“So I left my business partner in charge of wine and went to join the top shelf.”
Adelphi Distillery was under new ownership at that time. Previously it had been founded in 1992 by Jamie Walker whose great grandfather had owned a very large distillery in Glasgow, but without the distillery it operated as a bottling company. Such was the popularity of his carefully chosen casks that his reputation had grown exponentially. By the time Alex joined in 2004, it was a small but well-regarded brand.
“It was an obvious step to look to build a distillery again such was the demand. We were selling everything we could get our hands on, but we needed to distill our own Single Malt."
Single malt whisky can only be produced under the one roof. It has to be made from malted barley and is typically distilled twice.
“We have a wash still and a spirit still.” Adelphi’s Ardnamurchan Distillery is one of a growing handful of new distilleries found in both Scotland and Ireland. Unlike the bigger names which produce millions of litres every year for blending into whiskies like Johnnie Walker or Famous Grouse, Single Malt offers a premium.
“It also means we don’t have to produce as much as we are offering a singular product.”
The first year, they produced 100,000 litres, with subsequent years reaching 400,000 and this demand is just growing. The first time the product hit the shelves it sold out in minutes.
Adelphi Distillery has a finite production cap, dealing as it does with sustainable inputs from local farmers. The beauty of adding blockchain as a layer of transparency and provenance was very appealing for Alex.
I went, “yeah, this makes sense for us. We only have limited capacity and we want to ensure our customers enjoy our authentic malt.”
Alex rolled out a pilot project in 2017 with a Belfast based software company called Arc-net. They funnelled all the data surrounding the production onto the blockchain.
“We listed all aspects of production onto our open ledger; fermentation, mashing, distillation etc and then we included dates, times and even personnel involved in each step of the process. There is a QR code on the back of each bottle which provides access to that data.”
Alex’s aim is for it to act as an internal ledger as well as a public one. From the early pilots, last year they launched the first Ardnamurchan Single Malt on the blockchain.
Given as this happened during lockdown, tasting happened over zoom, sometimes beginning at 8am in the morning to cater for different time zones around the world.
“All 16,000 bottles have been allocated and they all sold out within a day of arriving in each country. It’s been amazing.
“Having the blockchain provenance is very important. We are not some anonymous warehouse but a boutique, premium distillery. Even the place name of our distillery smacks of character – Ardnamurchan means headland of the great seas. We have a unique product and blockchain helps us confirm this.”
After the successful launch in 2020, Alex is planning on launching all systems data onto the blockchain.
“For example, if during the production an operator adds 5 kilograms of yeast into the fermentation process, that is documented and stored on the blockchain. Before it would be saved on paper, now it’s on chain, which means when Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs audit our distillery we can be fully transparent. Same for our customers when they view the QR codes."
We are even planning to include the suppliers of the wooden casks, the yeast supplies from Belgium, the provider of our corks and capsules – everything is recorded, everything is automated and eventually everything becomes much more simple for us.”
"It is like our manta – Taste the Story – only now customers can view it too."