By Scott Wright

AN EDINBURGH-based private client specialist that connects Scotch whisky distillers directly with wealthy buyers around the world has seen business boom during the pandemic – confounding initial fears that lockdown would presage difficult times for the company.

Beamish International was founded in 2018 by Charles Beamish, part of the famous Irish brewing family, who identified the opportunity for privately owned distillers to sell rare and collectible whisky direct to consumers.

Mr Beamish, a former banker and rare whisky private client manager for Whyte & Mackay, feared the worst for his young and growing business when Covid struck.

“Everyone was scared,” he told The Herald, recalling the immediate closure of the on-trade and reduction in duty-free sales after lockdowns were imposed.

However, the crisis evolved in ways he did not anticipate. Prior to Covid, Beamish staff would spend a lot of time travelling to meet clients in markets such as Hong Kong and Bangkok to discuss their requirements.

While travel restrictions halted that activity, it also forced clients to spend more of their time at home – which they in turn used to buy more whisky. This was especially true of clients who made successful bets on the stock market as the pandemic progressed.

Instead of visiting buyers, meetings were set up on Zoom, samples were sent to clients' homes and tastings were held online; clients were also kept updated on trends in whisky markets.

Mr Beamish said: “At the beginning I thought, crikey, my firm is going to go bust, this is it. I have wasted all my time.

“But actually what we found, which was remarkable, was for the first time we had our private clients at home. And what these guys were doing was ordering more whisky – they were stuck at home.”

Having feared the worst, Beamish saw gross sales double to £12 million in the year to the end of April 2021. Now it is hoping to lift sales £20m this year.

On the general health of the Scotch whisky industry, Mr Beamish declared: “It is getting more and more clear that this is a booming industry to be a part of.”

Beamish is focused exclusively on the private client market, serving the gifting and drinking needs of ultra-high net worth individuals. On the supply side, it deals solely with major privately owned distillers.

The activity Beamish specialises in differs from the secondary market, which involves independent Scotch whisky bottlers buying casks from distillers and selling it under their own labels.

The whisky sold by Beamish comes directly from distillers, meaning it can guarantee its provenance. Key to the model is the fact the sellers and buyers are known to each other.

“What became very transparent to me was that, psychologically, the clients want guaranteed provenance, authenticity and quality,” Mr Beamish said.

“The producer wants to know where the cask is going; they don’t want a middleman involved… because the problem with these broker, merchants and traders that are in the market right now is none of them have the experience [of] working for a producer. I say that very fanatically.”

Mr Beamish was born in Singapore and was an ex-pat until, aged 16, he moved with his family to Banchory in the north-east of Scotland – where he began to see first-hand the importance of the whisky industry to the country.

He began his career in financial services with major banks before moving into stockbroking as a director with Panmure Gordon in London, where he looked after the growing number of wealthy family offices that emerged in the wake of the 2008/09 financial crisis.

Mr Beamish moved into the whisky industry in 2016 with Whyte & Mackay, where he started the Glasgow-based distiller’s private client business with Jonathan Driver, now of William Grant & Sons.

He received his training in whisky production from Whyte &Mackay master blender Richard Paterson.

Although he is Irish, a large part of Mr Beamish's family are Scottish, and he has relatives who have worked in the Scotch whisky industry for 40 to 50 years. His cousin Michael Beamish used to own Tullibardine Distillery in Perthshire, and now runs a distillery in the Scottish Borders.

At Beamish International, he has assembled a team of experts handpicked for their experience of the spirits industry and international business contacts and expertise.

These include Jeremy Parsons, the former chief executive of venerable wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, who is chief operating officer (and also a Master of the Quaich). He is also formerly of Diageo. The team also includes Kezia Sinden, formerly head of customer service and logistics and Sotheby’s.

Beamish also has an eight-strong sales team, each of whom comes from a spirits background.

Recent developments at the company include the launch of an asset management website, where people can view the whiskies they have acquired. It is also developing a research platform. Hard copies of clients’ portfolios are provided, and clients are kept informed of the latest distillery offers. All administration is handled by Beamish.

“We are an advisory firm that makes sure clients know what is going on, and understand the process of buying Scotch whisky,” Mr Beamish said.