Having already exported its whiskies to Taiwan, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, R&B Distillers is eyeing further success in the UK, USA, Europe, and South East Asia. BQ caught up with the team ahead of the HSBC Scottish Export Awards to see how they made it happen.
What does your company do?
With roots in both the Scottish Borders and the Hebrides, R&B Distillers is seeking to build distilleries in both - uncommon provenance for whisky production. The Borders has not seen a whisky distillery since 1837, and R&B are building the first legal one on the Isle of Raasay, planned to open early 2017. Co-founder Alasdair Day’s great-grandfather was a Borders master blender in the early 19th Century, while his other great-grandfather hailed from the Hebrides.
Building distilleries takes time though, so R&B are satisfying their impatience by crafting the styles of whisky representative of what’s to come; the aptly named Raasay While We Wait single malt, and Borders single grain. They also continue to promote their heritage brand The Tweeddale. The ‘recipe’ for this historic blended Scotch was inherited by Alasdair, recreated after a 70-year gap since original production in Coldstream.
R&B have the tip and tail of Scotland covered when it comes to styles of whisky. Expertly handcrafting their award-winning classic blend of nine single casks, a distinct single malt finished in Tuscan red wine casks, and an uncommon single grain Scotch of malted barley and wheat, they demonstrate the vast differences in profile across drams. Scotch whisky is characterised by tradition, and the R&B collection pioneers Scotch that is informed but not constrained by tradition.
How long has the company been exporting?
R&B Distillers began exporting in new products Raasay While We Wait & Borders whiskies in December 2015 following their bottling in November 2015, export of the more established heritage brand The Tweedddale began before this time.
What do you currently export, and where to?
The Tweeddale Blend Scotch Whisky, Raasay While We Wait Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Borders Single Grain Scotch Whisky in Taiwan, Belgium, France, Netherlands.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
The motivation for export is to build sales channels ahead of and for R&B Distillers Isle of Raasay Distillery’s first single malt in 2020 via the anticipation brands for both Raasay and Borders and the existing heritage of The Tweeddale.
Export of the new brands took 12 months from January 2015 to December 2015 to establish in various markets.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
Visiting and exploring opportunities in a number of vibrant key markets to develop relationships and an understanding of regional-specific consumer cultures.
And the most challenging part?
Navigating regulations which differ between markets including customs legislation.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Yes these things are challenges however, we’ve overcome them by seeking out suitable import distributing partners on the ground in our key markets.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
Both SDI and UKTI have been extremely helpful to R&B Distillers as we seek export opportunities.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Take SDI’s Smarter Exporter course.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
Over the next 5 years R&B Distillers will focus on entering the markets in the UK, USA, Europe, and South East Asia. In 2020 we plan to release the Isle of Raasay Distillery’s first single malt, aged 3 years old, and sell this into pre-established channels to market in key our export regions, developed through our current efforts with Raasay While We Wait, Borders, and The Tweeddale. We will also be thinking about our future in the Scottish Borders.
Exporting and international trade remain high on the Scottish Government’s economic growth agenda and the HSBC Scottish Export Awards are about recognising the excellence in those emerging, wealth creating companies that are selling their products, services and expertise in scores of overseas markets.