SCOTCH whisky distiller and blender Gordon & MacPhail has hailed a pre-tax profit of £15.6 million in the year to the end of February 2019, up from £12.9m in the previous 12 months, but bemoaned “political headwinds at every turn” with the double pressures from US export tariffs and Brexit uncertainty emerging.

The firm, headquartered in Elgin and owned by the Urquhart family, unveiled a total sales rise of four per cent to £41m from £39m, with a particularly strong performance in international markets where sales increased 32% to £14.2m.

UK sales were down by 7% to £26.7m, partly as a result of the decision last year to exit the UK wholesale operation from wine and beer to focus on the growing premium spirits sector, including single malt whisky and gin.

Speymalt Whisky Distributors, trading as Gordon & MacPhail, also hailed celebrating 20 years of distilling at Benromach Distillery on the outskirts of Forres and reported another year of growth and increased brand building activity.

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Benromach also submitted a planning application to build new warehouses at the distillery this year as part of its expansion.

Red Door Gin was launched in 2018 following the installation of a still in the refurbished malt barns at Benromach, and a visitor experience was subsequently opened at the site this summer.

The firm, which employs 162, has also been granted planning approval to build a second distillery near Grantown-on-Spey. It completed a bulk sale of mature single malt whisky stocks for £9m to build up reserves to finance the project.

Ewen Mackintosh, Gordon & MacPhail managing director, said: “We’re pleased to report another successful year and to be pushing ahead with our planned growth strategy, including the proposed new whisky distillery we’re progressing in Speyside.”

The firm is preparing for US tariffs on whisky and awaiting the outcome of Brexit against the backdrop of uncertainty.

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He said: “We just want to get back to some sort of level playing field where we have the freedom to get on and do business.

“With Brexit we have always had a pragmatic approach to it, saying it will be what it will be and we will make it work. Tariffs means in our biggest market we are less competitive.

“At 25% tariff is going to be difficult to work our way through.

“In some ways we are looking for a period of consolidation where we can just get on and do our business and get on and continue to grow our brands without the political headwinds that we seem to be encountering at every turn at the moment.

“We will be looking to develop the US and North America further and there is huge opportunity in the Far East, we changed our Taiwanese distributor and that has reaped real dividends for us.

“In some ways it is going to be about understand the longer term growth and ensuring that our routes to market are in line with what we are trying to achieve.”

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Stephen Rankin, director of prestige and a member of the fourth generation of the Urquhart family, owners of the business, said: “We have always been committed to planning for the future of the business. Long-term thinking and ongoing investment in the company and its people are the foundations of everything we do.

“We expanded our brand portfolio last year with the launch of Red Door Gin and our new planned whisky distillery is set to create a legacy for future generations involved in the business.”

Fourth generation family member Stuart Urquhart joined the board as operations director, his brother Richard Urquhart joined as a non-executive director and a number of senior appointments were made in marketing and finance to boost strategy.