Deanston: Creators of organic whisky

In recent times, a few distilleries have been making whisky with organic barley. Benromach have an expression from 2010 which they bottled this year. Laphroaig bottled one for the Highgrove estate and Bruichladdie have an organic whisky from 2009. There is even a distillery which has only just opened which is 100% organic, the Ncn’ean distillery. But there is a distillery which has been thinking about and producing organic whisky for longer than all of these. Deanston has a 15 year old organic whisky, which means they started making organic whisky as long ago as 2003 when whisky was only just starting to grow in popularity in the way it is today.

To make organic whisky, the barley or course must be organic which is more expensive. The casks also must be organic, the casks have to be scrapped and charred deep enough so that the spirit doesn’t come into contact with an non organic material, and the easiest way to make sure of this is to use virgin oak casks, so Deanston finish the organic spirit in virgin oak casks so give the spirit extra sweetness. Virgin oak casks are made from American oak which have not previously held any other liquid before the new make spirit is placed in them. Lastly, and by far the most difficult part of the process is the cleansing of the distillery itself. To be certified as an organic whisky, the spirit can not be created in the stills if a non organic run of spirit has been passed through them. The easiest way to manage this is to make organic spirit directly after the distillery has been cleaned during its maintenance period. Usually over the Christmas period. But they make organic whisky at other times of year which impacts on the main production. Asking Dr Kirsty McCallum, Deanston’s master blender why they make organic whisky, she tells me there are two reasons. The distillery was founded in 1967 by entrepreneurs and creating organic whisky continues this entrepreneurial spirit going, but mainly it is because it tastes good. It has a slightly different character than their other whiskies, being more floral and delicate.

Ideally, Deanston would like to have their organic barely grown in the local area giving the whisky an even stronger sense of place. One thing is for certain though, if they manage to create such a whisky, it is going to be delicious.

By Colin Hampden-White

The Balvenie Distillery

Rainbow over Balvenie distillery

Rainbow over Balvenie distillery

I remember being told an anecdote about the late great Michael Jackson, no not that one. The beer and whisky one.

He was on a press trip with a few journalists to an unnamed distillery which the whole group had at some point visited before. Within the group there were new journalists, seasoned journalists and all were wondering about not really listening to the distillery manager giving his usual talk about his distillery, Except Michael, who followed the distillery manager intently with pen and note book to hand. This status quo existed for the whole visit right through to the still rooms and onto the warehouses.

Someone asked Michael how many times he had been to the distillery, to which he answered “at least half a dozen times”. He was then asked “surely you don’t need to take notes, you must know all about it already”? To which Michael answered: “I always learn something new, for example I didn’t know the distillery was to be expanded, the wash still has had major repairs so it has taken time to regain the consistency, and they are experimenting with certain wood finishes which may be released next year”.  The rest of the group looked decidedly sheepish.

So I set forth with my metaphorical notebook (my digital recorder), cameras and a keen interest for at least my sixth visit to Balvenie distillery. What was new to learn about Balvenie? I could wax lyrical about the history, the start of the distillery and development, the struggles and successes and the forging forward through the modern age. But for that I suggest any number of books.  What I learnt was golden. David isn’t just a fountain of whisky knowledge, having been at Balvenie for so long, he has a view on the passing of recent history like nobody else I’ve met there. The people, the distillery and the innovation of the whisky. Twenty five years ago David started the Double Wood, which most of us now know as finishing or extra maturation, but it started with David. Some time ago he finished some whisky in a cask which previously held peated whisky, something he has revived, and interestingly so have a few other brands recently.

Inside one of the warehouses at Balvenie

Inside one of the warehouses at Balvenie

What started twenty five years ago now has three expressions. A twelve year old, a seventeen, and recently released to celebrate the 25th anniversary, a 25 year old. Fully matured in American oak casks and then finished for three months in Spanish oak ex-oloroso Sherry casks, this whisky has great smoothness and balance. David Stewart said “the final liquid has a lovely combination of sweetness and spice, with candied orange, layers of brown sugar and sweet dried fruits”.

The spirit was laid down in 1993, when the first Doublewood was released, and is bottled at 43% abv.

The Balvenie have also released an expression of the 12 year old with a commemorative label to celebrate the anniversary.

By Colin -Hampden-White

Norton Balvenie: Craft Whisky

Balvenie Distillery

Balvenie Distillery

Craft is talked about a great deal these days, not only in making whisky, but in the making of anything. The world of luxury is all about objects and entities that have been made with craft, though “craft” itself is hard to define. Over the summer I visited Norton motorcycles in Donington with three of the craftsmen from the Balvenie distillery: distiller, Ian Millar, copper smith, Denis Macbain and cooper Ian McDonald. All owned motorbikes in their earlier years and Denis even owned a Norton.

Norton very nearly ceased to exist. It was founded in 1898 and in 2008, Stuart Garner bought the company, saving it from a very uncertain future. Stuart likes motorcycles, and used to watch the British Championships at Donington Park, next door to where he has based Norton. He remembers watching the Norton JPS bikes racing, the cheers and the Union Jacks waving. Stuart might like motorcycles, but he loves Norton.

Stuart Garner, owner of Norton Motorcycles, outside his home Donnington Hall

Stuart Garner, owner of Norton Motorcycles, outside his home Donnington Hall

Stuart grew up in Barrow-on-Trent and left Chellaston School aged sixteen without the burden of any qualifications. Stuart remembers his parents were incredibly disappointed. His brother was at university, but academia did not appeal to him. He preferred to be outdoors or playing snooker. It wasn’t long before he got into bikes and was scrambling. He held down a job as a gamekeeper for a few years, but was sacked eventually. It wasn’t until his girlfriend’s father insisted he have a job if he was going to take his daughter out, that he got a job in fireworks business, courtesy of that vexed parent.  By saving money and earning extra mending bikes, Stuart began his own fireworks business and by his early twenties the company was valued at £1 million. It was clear Stuart had an entrepreneurial spirit coupled with a head for business.

Stuart’s fireworks business grew into one of Britain’s leading pyrotechnics firms. He also became a partner in the firm that regularly made frames for Norton bikes. He learned that the Norton trade name was owned by an American investment banker called Ollie Curme.

Ollie’s company suffered badly in the 2008 crash, so when he was looking to sell the Norton brand he asked whether Stuart would be interested. The call was on a Monday and the offer would be alive until the Friday, at which time he would be selling it to a clothing consortium. Stuart recounts that Ollie said, “If you agree to make bikes, we’ll shake on the deal.” Ollie himself was a biker and didn’t want to see it become just a clothing brand. So Stuart jumped on a plane that night and was in his office the following morning. Due diligence was conducted on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, they signed the deal. Stuart wasn’t at all sure about buying the Norton name. There were no bikes, no facilities to make them, just a few CDs with the engineering drawings.

Mick Colley works on a new bike

Mick Colley works on a new bike

Stuart took on the biggest challenge of his career and by 2010 Norton was up and running again. It’s taken a supreme effort with Stuart working 100 hours a week – ‘I still do’ he states – and putting in extraordinary hours to ensure his bikes are, as far as possible, British-made. In addition, these bikes are all handmade. The frames are no longer made by an external company; they are welded and put together at Donington. Building a Norton motorcycle takes a huge amount of craft.

This was clear when the two Ians and Denis made their visit to the Norton factory. Ian McDonald gave a demonstration of how to raise a cask. The level of appreciation for this skilful craft from the Norton mechanics showed they understood straightaway why a cooper’s apprenticeship takes four years.

Denis toured the area of the factory devoted to welding. Now Denis has had well over fifty years at Balvenie as a copper smith, so his welding skills are pretty sharp. However, welding copper and aluminium are slightly different skills and with guidance from Bobby Teahan, Denis got to grips with the discrete techniques. The mutual appreciation between the old master and the younger specialist was clear to see.

Denis McBain with Bobby Teahan

Denis McBain with Bobby Teahan

Consistency must be one of the most impressive parts of the process. Although each bike is hand-built, the end result is as consistent as the every other item. Each bike might have its own quirk, design difference or bespoke quality and it was clear how much Ian Millar appreciated the consistency of engineering, akin to perfecting the whisky-making process to achieve consistent new make spirit. The spirit may well possess bespoke elements after maturation, being matured in Sherry, bourbon, Port or even Madeira casks, but the spirit must be consistent in the first instance. It is what makes Balvenie’s whisky dependable in the same way the unfailing engineering makes a motorcycle a Norton.

The three men in whose company I shared the visit to Norton comprehend the effort it has taken to revive the Norton brand. They understand the level of skill required to create something special. Denis McBain started working at William Grant & Sons aged 16 in 1958. Although he officially retired in 2008, he is still very much a part of their story. He has become a living legend, an emissary for the brands, and occasionally makes a copper dog. His working life spanned over fifty years, time spent honing his skill as a copper smith.

In 1969 Ian McDonald also started work aged 16, in the cooperage at William Grants. He completed a five year apprenticeship, refining his cask-making skills over the next forty years. He is now the head cooper, passing on these skills to future generations.

Ian McDonald demonstrates raising a cask

Ian McDonald demonstrates raising a cask

Ian Millar didn’t join William Grant & Sons until 1998, and was the distillery manager for both Glenfiddich and Balvenie. Before joining the company, Ian had worked for thirteen other distilleries in a number of technical and production roles and has well over forty years’ experience in distilling.

These three men, even though they have many years of experience still see the similarities in skill levels needed to create the motorcycle brand they all love and the whisky they all make.

Perhaps a craftsman appreciates the work of another more than other folk. Either way, the many years’ experience of all three men allowed them to perceive the similarities in skill required to create both the motorcycle brand they all love and the whisky they all make.

A historic Norton

A historic Norton

There are other similarities between the two brands. Stuart says that there is a certain type of person who buys a Norton. A Honda buyer, for example, will be interested in the numbers. How much, how fast, how many miles between services. When a person buys a Norton they are interested in the brand, the lifestyle. They are investing in an authentic, tangible brand experience. The same can be said of Balvenie, where there is a perceptible brand experience that has nothing to do with the strength of the whisky, its age or maturation process. These things are separate from the whisky itself. Neither of the two brands is owned by a faceless corporation. Stuart is as much a prominent figurehead for the brand he owns as the family who owns Balvenie. Similarly Kirsten Grant Miekle, sixth generation of the William Grant’s family, has reinvigorated the Balvenie brand in London and is now in the USA, promoting their whisky to an audience searching for something special.

The brand owners both have the same view about craft. There are very specialised skills each brands requires in its creation. These skills take time to perfect and consistency to allow their brands to thrive. Craft doesn’t have to be a scale issue. It is not simply small scale or limited by quantity, it is defined by skill, care and attention to detail. These qualities and disciplines allow the character of these much-loved brands to come to life.

Hogsheads at Balvenie

Hogsheads at Balvenie

By Colin Hampden-White 

A look at Aerstone Whisky: On Land and Sea

Aerstone is a new brand from William Grant and Sons, where the consumer is in charge.

Having asked consumers what was important to them when deciding on buying a whisky, age was a strong reason to buy. When also asked about the issues with buying whisky, the consumer feedback was that they found the category confusing. Single Malt Whisky is sold predominantly by distillery or region, but rarely by simply how it tastes. They also found there were two main flavour profiles consumers tended to like. Smooth and easy to drink whisky and richer more smoky whisky.

By creating a whisky brand with these two distinct whiskies, William Grant and Sons have made choosing whisky easier. The first whisky, Sea Cask, is as it says on the bottle, smooth and easy. Beyond this there is a subtle salted caramel flavour giving the whisky depth and complexity. Land Cask, as it says on the bottle is rich and smoky, with extra complexity coming from dried fruit flavours and touches of toffee and chocolate.

The Sea Cask bottle has the mineral flavour as logically one would expect a whisky matured by the sea to be salty. This isn’t exactly the case as many whiskies matured away from the sea have a salty flavour, but for a consumer this connection makes sense even if not strictly true, and therefore makes the buying decision easier. In the same manner the Land Cask logically is smoky as peat, the fuel for drying the barley, makes the barley and in turn the whisky smoky, and earthy, and is earth itself.

Both of these whiskies are ten years old. They start off with the same spirit and it is the way in which the whisky is matured which gives them their particular characteristics. These whiskies are to be retailed for the first twelve months by Tesco at a retail price of around £30 making these aged spirits accessible to most consumers.

By Colin Hampden-White

The colours of Johnnie Walker

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Johnnie Walker is synonymous with blended Scotch whisky. Being the worlds best selling blend, it takes up quite a bit of space on the shelves. There are many different expressions depending on where it is being sold, for example the Voyager series can be found in Travel Retail. There have been additions to the core range such as Double Black and Island Green. But all of these have been born from red and black label born in 1909. The whisky had Cardhu as the main malt component. Today these whiskies are a complex blend of grain and up to around forty single malts to give them there signature flavour profiles. The colored labels are a flavour code which has held strong and remained consistent for many years.

Red label has always been a whisky made to either be drunk by itself, but more often than not with a simple mixer such as soda water or ginger ale. The whisky has a spicy flavour profile which is well matched for long satisfying and freshly flavoured drinks.

Black label has always been a hugely complex whisky, with lots of caramel, vanilla mixed with soft spices and a little wood smoke in the background. It’s not a peaty whisky, but has enough smoke to keep it interesting and lively on the palate. Black label can be drunk any way you want, and is certainly of a quality to be drunk on its own. The whiskies inside the bottle are all at least twelve years old.

Green label was added to the fold in 1997. Originally called Pure Malt, it was renamed Green Label in 2004. There is very little smoke at all in Green label. It is made with malt whisky only and has a sweeter more honied flavour profile and is exceptionally smooth.

Gold label was also introduced in 1997, and although had no age statement, the whiskies are around the eighteen year mark. Like Green, Gold has a sweeter flavour profile, with vanilla and caramel being dominant, but there are also more complex and subtle flavours of heather honey and blossom.

Blue label was introduced In 1992 and is Johnnie Walker’s premium blend. Having no age statement, it is blended to recreate the character of blends made at the turn of the 20th century, and although the whisky has some young whisky in the blend, there are also some very old whiskies in the blend too, giving flavours of sandalwood, and linseed oil which are often present in older whiskies.

These five whiskies are the core of the Johnnie Walker range, and additions to this series started to evolve in 2011 with Double Black and Platinum and from then the other variations began to be produced.

Black label is the go to whisky for many whisky professionals, myself included. It is complex and smooth and extremely versatile. It makes fabulous highballs, is great in an Old Fashioned, and is still excellent on its own, with water or ice.

Johnnie Walker Red Label 70cl Bottle

Johnnie Walker Black Label Blended Scotch Whisky, 70cl

Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky, 70 cl

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve Premium Blended Scotch Whisky, 70 cl

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Blended Scotch Whisky, 70 cl

By Colin Hampden-White

Craigellachie's 'uncollectable' whisky


Craigellachie distillery has bottled its oldest expression of whisky at 51 years old. Continuing the prime number tradition of modern Craigellachie, the 51 year old whisky is eighteen years older than the previous expression. But, Craigellachie 51 is not bottled in a fancy crystal decanter and it doesn’t have a silly price tag. In fact, this whisky is going to be free.

Over the next 12 months Craigellachie 51, is being made available for whisky lovers at special tastings around the USA having visited three other markets around the world already.

Global Ambassador Georgie Bell comments: “We wanted to do the unthinkable. We wanted to make a typically collectable Scotch more accessible.”

Adding “We want to give as many people as we can, the chance to try this incredible whisky, because how often does a whisky of this age and calibre actually get tasted?”

Malt Master, Stephanie Macleod said “51 years encased in oak is an extraordinary length of time. Starting life in 1962 as an aggressive beast, the whisky over five decades has developed a softer side yet still retains the distinct umami, muscular note that Craigellachie is known for.”

Craigellachie distillery is situated in the heart of Speyside. It stands on a rock overlooking the confluence of the rivers Fiddich and Spey. Speyside whiskies are known to be fruity and floral but Craigellachie is different in style this with its rich and robust character.

Constructed by two whisky icons: Peter Mackie and Alexander Edward, it began production in 1891, when its whisky was first described as “old-fashioned”.

Sticking to tradition is a hallmark of the distillery, hence the continued use of old-fashioned worm tubs to cool its spirit and its own oil-fired malt. These help to give extra flavour and create a muscular character. With this robust spirit, there are greater possibilities for long aged whisky.

The core portfolio comprises four Craigellachie single malts: the 13 Years Old, 17 Years Old, 23 Years Old and 33 Years Old. The whiskies have won numerous awards, including “World’s Best Single Malt Whisky” at the World Whiskies Awards for the 31 year old. To have a chance of tasting something even older, head off to the website and get your name in the running.

By Colin Hampden-White



Ardbeg An Oa

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Ardbeg An Oa 46.6%

There have been no new constant expressions from Arbeg for nearly a decade, so the anticipation for An Oa was pretty high, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Not as full on as Uigeadail but with more of a punch then the ten, this is a great addition to the line up.

Nose: Nutty with sweet tobacco leaf mix with confected sweets covering a base citrus of lemon and blood orange. Butterscotch and a little fudge bring more sweetness.

Palate: There is still plenty of peat to keep the core Ardbeg fans happy, but the overall mouth feel is quite light and delicate. Cigars and chocolate mix with fudge and limes giving good complexity and balance.

Finish: The smoke lingers on and becomes slightly ashy, but there is fudgy sweetness right alongside the smoke up until the end. The final flavours are not drying or spicy, but sweet and smoky.

Ardbeg Ten Years Old Gift Box, 70 cl


As time nose by: Meeting Richard Paterson

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Colin Hampden-White talks to the whisky blending legend that is Richard Paterson.

There are very few people within the whisky industry who travel quite as much as Richard Paterson. He is amongst a small collective of Scottish whisky people who are at the forefront of promoting Scotch, the brands of Whyte and Mackay and, in particular, The Dalmore. To do that job day in, day out, takes resilience, tenacity and above all the ability to be absolutely delightful to everyone all of the time. These skills seem to come naturally to Richard. He seems to thrive off people’s pleasure, revel in their gain of knowledge and be continuously excited by other’s discovery of flavour. He is a natural brand ambassador. However, this is not Richard’s primary role at Whyte and Mackay. He may fulfil that role in the public’s eye, but he has just as important things to do behind the scenes. First and foremost, Richard keeps all the brands he looks after consistent in flavour and, with many of them is still trying to improve them. Richard is the Master Blender at Whyte and Mackay and it’s been quite a journey to get there.

Richard was born on the 31st of January 1949. A few of us may know something of past events that have taken place on that day and, if in doubt, Richard with his love of history will be able to tell you that both Guy Fawkes and Bonnie Prince Charlie both died on that same day. Richard has an incredible memory for dates, especially of historical figures, some well-known and some not, who have been born, died or done something noteworthy at certain moments. This knowledge allows Richard to enrich the stories he tells surrounding whisky with what was happening in the wider world, putting Scotch into historical context. This ability is not only charming, but makes Richard’s stories all the more engaging, entertaining and educational all at once. He is one heck of a story teller, who happens to be one heck of a blender, hence his nickname “the nose”.

Richard started his working life in whisky aged 17 in September 1966. Richard was hired by the Managing Director of A Gillies and Co, on their first meeting at interview. He was so taken aback to be hired so quickly that when asked the question “Can you start on Monday”, he didn’t have time to think about his answer. So Richard started on that Monday the 5th of September 1966 as an office junior. Hence this is Richards’s 50th year in the Scotch whisky industry, and there has been plenty of water under the bridge, much of it made into whisky, since then.

When Richard joined A Gillies and Co, the whisky industry was enjoying a boom. Indeed, nineteen distilleries opened during that period are still going today. This was a great time for a young man to join the industry. Richard’s first boss was Tom Wilson, whose responsibility was the acquisition of whisky stocks through distilling, broking and blending. Part of Richard’s job was to record all the transactions. With no computers, this was all done painstakingly by fountain pen in ledgers dating back to the Victorian era.

Richard recalls his years at A Gillies and Co with a great deal of affection. He remembers it being incredibly relaxed in the whisky industry in those days, with people turning up for work well after nine in the morning and finishing promptly at five. There were no office politics and the odd hang-over on a Monday morning could be sustained. This wasn’t to say people didn’t take their jobs seriously, they certainly did, and taught Richard a great deal about various aspects of the business. Along with the serious side of whisky, there quite a bit of hilarity. Richard recalls “the Cowboy” game. Lots were drawn first thing in the morning and a Cowboy was chosen. He would then have to walk down the corridor, kick open the door as if it were a saloon, and down one of three glasses of clear liquid on a desk, much like playing roulette, two if the glasses contained water and the third new make spirit, which although not an actual bullet, Richard remembers the lethal effect of the 68% spirit. Needless to say, some days were a blur and he needed to stay out of the way of Tom Wilson and Mr Wolfe.

In those profitable days, the small companies such as A Gillies and Co had to live for the moment. Little time was spent marrying whisky. Richard puts it as “more of a passionate affair than a marriage”, but they did what was needed to get on. A similarly casual attitude was taken with casks. Spirits was filled into anything. The attitude was that a cask was a cask and whatever the previous contents had been, it really didn’t matter, be that Sherry, wine or even liqueur. This was acceptable practice in those days.

After Richard had been in Glasgow for long enough to have learnt the ropes, Tom Wilson asked if he had ever been to Campbeltown. Richard said he hadn’t, and so Tom said he was to go. To many, Campbeltown was the back of beyond. Only sixty five miles as the crow flies, it is one hundred and forty miles by road, and takes nearly four hours on a rickety bus on terrible road surfaces.

After a long night in the pub, Richard met the warehouse men and on his first day was introduced to blending. A blend was made during his first few days and the casks used logged in a leather ledger. The number placed on the cask heads, Richard remembers to this day. It was 69/4, meaning the fourth blend made at Glebe Street in 1969. During his time in Cambeltown, Richard studied these ledgers. They held the history of the blends made in the past and extended his knowledge.

A week later, Richard was introduced to Glen Scotia, a distillery owned by A Gillies and Co. Although Richard came from a whisky industry family, he had never visited a distillery before.

Richard learnt a huge amount in Cambeltown, on all sides of the whisky making process from the spirit to the blend. By the time he came to leave he had decided that his future lay beyond A Gillies and Co in a larger company, and that company was Whyte and Mackay.

Whyte and Mackay had, through the years since its conception, built itself up to be the fifth largest blend in the world by the mid-1960s and this position had been retained by the time Richard joined them in 1970.

Whyte and Mackay have their roots dating back to 1844, but really got going when James Whyte and Charles Mackay joined Allan & Poynter in 1875. In 1881 they bought the wines and spirits part of the business and having not secured the use of the company name started Whyte and Mackay.

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Richard’s position at the company was as an assistant blender under Alistair Hart, who explain that Richard responsibilities would include preparing the specifications of blends, ordering stocks of the component parcels of whisky, arranging transport for the casks, and scheduling the actual blending with the bonded warehouses. Now Whyte and Mackay might not have been a DCL or Hiram Walker, but Richard felt he had hit the big time.

The company only had thirty five staff at the time Richard joined, so was small enough for him to learn about the working of all the different departments. He went out with one of the salesmen, Tom Macauley, who helped him a great deal, and spent quite a bit of time in marketing which was Jack Ligertwood’s department. But Richard’s main responsibility during his first year was to nose every cask that came into the company for use in the Whyte and Mackay Special Blend.

At that time whiskies came to a bond from as many as thirty five or forty distilleries, which meant three hundred or so casks would have to be brought to Glasgow and samples pulled from them for Richard to nose. Richard’s office soon became overloaded with samples and he saw that this inefficient system had to change. He thought, that rather than the whiskies coming to him all the time, he should be able to go to the whiskies. So once the whiskies arrived he would be called and with the help of Betty Toal, the charge hand and her steel valinch, Richard would evaluate directly from every cask, first without and then with the addition of a little water. He remembers in some of the coldest winters the true nature of the whiskies could only be revealed by adding hot water to the whiskies.

This job gave Richard a degree of independence and he loved this part of the job. He saw himself as a protector for the blend, weeding out bad casks so they didn’t negatively affect the blend. His father’s rule of thumb was that 96% of evaluation can be done by sight and nose, and only if these two indicators don’t give you a definitive conclusion, do you then taste the liquid. Richard feels that nosing each cask is like meeting different people with individual personalities.

Many of these casks that Richard tested were used in vatted malts, many of which went to Japan. Whyte and Mackay, through the work of Jack Ligertwood, had a very good relationship with Japan, and the Japanese used their whisky in many of their blends. Many of Whyte and Mackay’s critics thought they should only be exporting bottled whisky, but didn’t realise that that was not what the Japanese wanted. As well as working with relatively young bulk malts, Richard worked with contracts for aged blends such those at Harrods. Using 21 to 25 year old whiskies, Richard particularly enjoyed working with these distinguished expressions because of their rare and complex attributes.

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Having been involved with blends at this level, Richard realised that if he wanted to become a master blender he needed to get under the skin of what makes a single malt. To do this, he would need to spend more time at the distilleries, discovering what brings the character to each spirit. In 1972 Richard travelled further north than he had ventured before, beyond Inverness to Whyte and Mackay’s flagship distillery: Dalmore.

On his way to Dalmore, on the Cromarty Firth, Richard had some casks to nose at Tomatin. As the warehouse staff had been so busy, they had not laid them out for him and he had to climb through the racking. Racking was relatively new in the early seventies, much more efficient and less labour-intensive than dunnage warehousing. In doing this, Richard learnt a valuable lesson which now seems obvious, but wouldn’t have been recognised if the casks had been laid out. The casks on the bottom held more mellow whisky. The damp air at ground level had affected the evaporation speeds; the casks at the top were sharper as the drier air helped maintain the alcohol strength. This was one of the valuable lessons he began to learn by being in the field, away from the office and bonded warehouses in Glasgow.

At Dalmore, Richard was to experience an extended family. There were several members of the same family and several generations working with the distillery at the same time. To these families the distillery wasn’t simply a workplace but an extended home. This created great loyalty and woe betide anyone who was disparaging about the whisky – after all it was their life!

After his first visit to Dalmore, Richard was asked to write a report on what made the spirit of Dalmore. It was through writing this report that he realised the complexity of the constituent parts of new make spirit, with every part of the process affecting the outcome and the wood playing a major role. A couple of years later in 1974, Richard would visit Fettercairn distillery specifically to look at their older whisky stocks and consider the influence of wood on the spirit through time.

In 1974, Richard married Susie. Susie came from the Prosser family who were a very well established Glasgow car dealership. He remembers a speech at his wedding with which he ended by saying “please don’t drink and drive, but if you must, make sure you’re drinking a Whyte and Mackay and driving a Prosser’s car”. The 1970s was a period of change in the industry, not just in the production but also in the working attitudes within Whyte and Mackay. The company moved to new open plan offices that gave a feeling of modernity and excitement. In 1975 Richard was promoted to chief blender and, in September 1976, his first child Sally was born.

Over the next few years Richard worked under Bobby McCall. Bobby was responsible for acquisitions of casks and Richard for blending the products. Richard considers their close professional relationship one of the most rewarding and considers Whyte and Mackay and the aged blends, their finest creation.

The mid to late 1970s was a boom time for the whisky industry and with high sales predictions, the effects of over-production were not felt until a few years too late. There were butter mountains and wine lakes; whisky lochs were soon to follow. In 1983 DCL closed 45 of their distilleries with another ten to follow two years later. Whisky was becoming unfashionable; a drink people’s fathers drank and white spirits were becoming increasingly popular.

During this time, organisations like the 49 Wine and Spirits Club of Scotland and the Institute of Wine and Spirits’ of Scotland became important, bringing members of the industry together. Richard became the president of the “49 Club” in 1980/81 organising dinners, speakers and events; in due course he became president of the institute. He remembers the experience of these two presidencies with great fondness and they had huge significance for him. Although he found public speaking daunting, he began to develop a sense of confidence and a degree of professionalism. He refined and developed this skill during the years of the early 1980s.  Anyone who has seen Richard present will know his confidence and showmanship in speaking and expressing his knowledge and love for Scotch whisky.

In 1986 DCL was taken over by Guinness and as part of that deal DCL had to dispose of several brands. Some of those brands found their way to Whyte and Mackay and into Richard’s portfolio. In 1988 the company decided they needed their own bottling facility, and as their bottler had been so loyal through the years, they bought them. As part of the deal they owned a 49% share in the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre near Edinburgh Castle. Richard even has the model of Friar John Cor and a still in his new office today.

Through the years the company itself has been bought and sold, sometimes giving a great deal of uncertainty. However Gallagher’s takeover in 1990 brought stability and the company bought the Invergordon group in 1993. 1994 was a difficult year for Richard. His father was very with cancer and he passed away. Nor had his professional life been easy with the loss of his directorship, which he had held since 1989 in a restructuring at William Muir, the bonded warehousing and bottling plant. 1994 was also the 500th anniversary of Scotch and there was a competition to see who could create the best blend to commemorate the occasion. All the best blenders entered and on a memorable evening in October, Richard had his confidence renewed as his name was pulled from the envelope.

Richard Paterson in his Glasgow office sm.jpg

The following years were difficult for the company. Bought and sold several times, with a complete redesign of their core blend and the loss of many staff, there came an opportunity in 2001 for a management buyout, bringing Whyte and Mackay back to independence. This was Scotland’s largest buyout at £209 million. Whisky as an industry was on the rise again and interest rates were low. But even with these circumstances all was not well. The company name change to Kyndal didn’t help and, after seventeen months, the shareholders had had enough. This was the lowest time in his career, but through all this turbulence Richard kept on keeping the liquid consistent. In 2002 he was rewarded by winning the International Wine and Spirits “distiller of the year” and Whisky Magazine’s “blender of the year”. The Malt Advocate voted him “Industry leader of the year” and the accolade of which Richard is most proud came from Diageo: he was awarded the “Outstanding Achievement in the Scotch Whisky Industry” trophy.

Over the next years there were still more challenges to overcome. However, with management changes the company turned the corner, was sold to United Spirits Ltd and then, in 2014, to Emperador. Through all the changes the whisky has remained the same high quality, and this is down to the one man who has also been there through it all, in the industry for the last fifty years, of which forty seven have been with Whyte and Mackay. There’s been a lot of whisky made during those years, an incredible reputation built; he and his nose are still going strong.

By Colin-Hampden White