Edrington, the Scottish group behind the Famous Grouse, The Macallan, Highland Park and Cutty Sark, has signed an agreement with South Korea's Hite which will see it supply a new Scotch whisky product for the Korean market, the biggest market in the world for deluxe Scotch.
Called Lancelot, the range of premium and super-premium Scotch whisky was launched earlier this week in Korea, and will be distributed by Hite, the country's largest distributor of alcoholic beverages.
The new range will encompass a variety of age variants, from 12- to 30-year-old whiskies, and Edrington is clearly confident of success - it is investing £3 million (€4.7 m) in expanding its bottling plant in Glasgow to meet the expected increase in demand.
Edrington will blend and bottle the whisky which will then be shipped to Korea for distribution by Hite, based in the Korean capital Seoul. The brand will be targeted at the high end of the market, selling in luxury stores, hotels and restaurants where bottles of Scotch can change hands for as much as £200 each.
Hite has considerable knowledge of the Korean drinks market. It is the country's leading brewer with more than 50 per cent of the market. As well as its eponymous brand, Hite produces and distributes a range of imported brands - Denmark's Carlsberg has a 25 per cent stake in the Hite brewery.
Hite was also the Korean distributor for Dimple, produced by UDV, but the new whisky launch comes as that agreement ends and UDV prepares to take back distribution of its brand. This change of distributor was prompted by the acquisition of the Windsor Premier brand from Seagram; Windsor Premier is already well-established in Korea and Dimple will now be sold through the former Seagram brand's exisiting network.
Ian Good, chairman and chief executive of the Edrington Group said that the deal would "make significant headway in a market which the group had identified as a key growth area".
The figures certainly suggest as much. The South Korean market for deluxe Scotch whisky has tripled in size to 37 million bottles over the last 12 years and total volume sales there reached 45 million bottles in 2001, according to the latest information from the Scotch Whisky Association. South Korea is now the fifth largest Scotch market in volume terms - behind France, Spain, the US and Japan - and the fourth in value terms, with sales of £166 million in 2001 beaten only by Spain, the US and France.
"We foresee continuing strong growth for the Scotch whisky sector in South Korea," said Good. "Hite is the perfect partner to assist Edrington to develop a significant market share - it too is an independent company with a like-minded attitude towards business relationships."