Ian Buxton jumped at the chance for a one-on-one interview with Dr. Bill Lumsden head of distilling and whisky creation at Glenmorangie. Today, he shares their conversation with us.
Ian Buxton (IB): We’re meeting today because you’re launching Glenmorangie Private Collection VII. Tell me a little about that. How did it come about?
Dr. Bill Lumsden (BL): Glenmorangie Milsean (the Gaelic word Milsean means “sweet things”) was a whisky I created in a slightly different way. Rather than using different barrels or using different raw materials and waiting to see what the outcome was, I actually targeted a particular flavor profile. I wanted to create a whisky with flavors that reminded me of an old-fashioned sweet shop. Eventually after much research and advice from my friend, Dr. Jim Swan, we had some moist red wine barrels re-toasted such that the residue of the wine was caramelized onto the inside surface of the barrel. Finishing for 2½ years in these barriques gave the base Glenmorangie whisky lovely confectionery and candy flavors.
IB: OK, so to move on, what for you has been the most changed aspect of the whisky industry over your career?
BL: I guess two things have really stood out throughout the length of my career. The first is the continuous rise in popularity of single malt Scotch whisky (now a much imitated drink throughout the world!). The second thing has been the re-emergence of fine non-aged whiskies, and a slow, sometimes grudging, acceptance of these products by some.
IB: And what would be the best…and worst of the changes you’ve seen?
BL: Again so many things to choose from but the acceptance of quality, non-aged Scotch whiskies can only be a good thing for the industry. It gives us distillers/blenders much more flexibility in terms of recipe selection. The worst, the introduction of a number of openly flavored whiskies with well-known brand names makes me very, very nervous indeed.
IB: Back in November 2010 Whisky Advocate posed this question: Is Glenmorangie PLC going to buy a craft distiller in the U.S. like some other Scottish whisky companies are doing? And you replied: It’s very unlikely. If anything, there will be more focus on the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which the company owns. So now that the SMWS has been sold, what’s your corporate take on ‘craft’?
BL: A very interesting question, especially since the word craft is being very widely misused these days. In the eyes of many consumers, and unfortunately also many producers, if a facility is small then it automatically seems to be referred to as craft. All I will say on that is that small distilleries and breweries are capable of churning out poor products.
As far as we are concerned in The Glenmorangie Co. (and I know this view is shared with many of our fellow distillers in Scotland) craft is much more to do with taking care and attention as to how your product is made. We believe that every drop of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg is made in a truly crafted manner.
IB: ‘Craft’ has clearly evolved massively since 2010. How do you see the distinction between ‘craft’ distilleries and Ardbeg and Glenmorangie – which presumably you would regard as ‘crafted’?
BL: Well, I’d refer you to what I just said. Think that covers it. [laughs]
IB: If you could buy any distillery anywhere in the world and bring it into the company stable which one would it be, and why?
BL: In a perfect Billy Lumsden-esqe world rather than buying any existing distillery I would love to establish a new malt whisky distillery, one in which every stage of the production process would be done in a very, very particular way (at this stage I am not prepared to say anything on what this particular way would be!)
IB: And what distillery from history would you bring back to life if you could?
BL: A fairly recent loss to the Scotch whisky industry: the wonderful Rosebank distillery. It was on the outskirts of Falkirk and produced a truly sublime Lowland malt whisky.
IB: What % capacity are Glenmorangie and Ardbeg working at currently? Any plans for further expansion?
BL: Both distilleries are working at maximum capacity. We are always looking toward future needs. We will expand again at Glenmorangie (already expanded 4 times in the last 20 years) and Ardbeg as and when we feel it is necessary.
IB: Any plans to re-open the floor maltings at Ardbeg?
BL: No definite plans, but in common with all the other Ardbeg fans out there, plenty of hopes, desires, dreams etc. [IB noted that Dr. Bill looked rather wistful at this point!]
IB: Could we ever see a revival of Bailie Nicol Jarvie? (Bailie Nicol Jarvie was a highly-regarded premium blended scotch from the Glenmorangie Company, withdrawn in 2014 officially because the malts in it were required for single malt bottlings. If you see a bottle buy it at once!)
BL: No immediate plans, however it is not out of the realms of possibility.
IB: The Scotch whisky industry has expanded its production capacity enormously in the last decade. How sanguine are you that markets will emerge to absorb this whisky as it matures? Do you see a risk of another “Whisky Loch” or, worse still, another round of closures?
BL: I believe recent expansions have been done in a much more measured manner. Rather than another round of closures or filling of another Whisky Loch my nervousness is more to do with actually being able to supply ever increasing demand for Scotch whisky.
IB: What does the future hold for Dr. Bill Lumsden? Any unfulfilled ambitions or dreams?
BL: As a huge fan of wine, a spell creating wine in some interesting part of the world still holds a degree of intrigue for me. Somewhat more obscurely, I have always been totally fascinated by the weaving of fine cloth for the fashion industry!
But Jack and Stephen Teeling can tell you what Walter Teeling was doing. He was a distiller; one of thirty or so in The Liberties, then a vibrant part of Dublin and in the late eighteenth century arguably the distilling capital of the world (as it remained for many years afterward).
How wonderful then that his descendants have been able to establish their distillery within a few yards of where their forefather set up his stills. But after a couple of decades, Walter’s operation seems to have been absorbed into a larger concern in the nearby – and splendidly-named – Marrowbone Lane. That would seem to be that.
However the Teelings reappeared in distilling’s history in 1987 when their father John established Cooley distillery. Brothers Jack and Stephen worked for the family concern until shortly after its 2012 acquisition by Beam Inc. There was no falling out; simply a recognition that their entrepreneurial spirit would never sit entirely comfortably in a corporate structure. Control from Deerfield, Illinois simply didn’t appeal.
As Jack Teeling, the proud master distiller of their new venture, explains, “I could have gone off and got a franchise or could have got involved in property, investing or financial services but I felt I had a specific insight into Irish whiskey therefore, it would be foolish of me not to utilize that knowledge and those connections and relationships and see if I could actually carry on what we had started in Cooley.”
Blood and whiskey, you see, is thicker than water and whiskey, as we have established, is in the Teeling blood. A new distillery was probably inevitable.
But instead of re-creating Cooley Jack and Stephen set off down a different path, determined to create a brand to carry the family name and control their own destiny. And where better to do that than in Dublin, Irish whiskey’s spiritual home, but one which had been abandoned in 1976 when the last still (in the old Jameson distillery, since you asked) ran cold.
That was in the worst of times for Irish whiskey. It was kept alive largely as something of a novelty; considered fit mainly to fortify coffee. The Irish whiskey industry was on its last legs as scotch took over the world. Across the whole island of Ireland a once proud, world-beating trade was reduced to just two operating concerns. Dark days.
The Liberties fell victim to urban decay, street after street of mouldering warehouses, derelict factories, and low-rent modest brick cottages. It was not, to put it kindly, a fashionable or particularly desirable place to live or even visit; the wrong side of the tracks. The city turned its back on the crowded terraces that had once generated such prosperity and pride.
But times change. The Liberties is now hip. Gentrification has arrived here as new young businesses take advantage of cheap space in a central location. Cool digital agency creatives rub shoulders with the owners of refurbished blocks; stylish new apartments are juxtaposed with a hipster ‘urban bike’ workshop. And distilling is back.
With funds from their share of the Cooley sale and some shrewd financing deals, Jack and Stephen have ploughed around $10m into the Teeling Whiskey Company, styling themselves ‘The Spirit of Dublin’.
Three gleaming stills will eventually produce around 300,000 cases of whiskey annually. Right now, bolstered by a supply deal from their old firm, Teeling offers a core range of Small Batch, Single Grain, and Single Malt which are backed up by a super-premium aged Vintage Reserve range.
The fact that they have whiskey to sell, as well as a story to tell, is central to their business plans. These handsomely packaged bottles got the business off to a flying start, allowing the fledgling company to create an international distributor network and build the brand before some of the other planned new Irish whiskeys can even come on stream. It’s as smart a deal as you might expect from their previous whiskey experience.
Back in The Liberties, now proudly established as the first new distillery in Dublin in125 years, visitors are crowding into the Teeling plant to browse the visitor center displays of historic bottles, see the stills in action, taste in the stylish bar, linger in the café, and, of course, take home a bottle or two as a souvenir of this phoenix-like revival.
Walter Teeling would be proud; the Teelings are back; whiskey has come home.
Hunter Laing & Co. has announced plans to build Islay’s first new distillery in the past ten years at Ardnahoe, near Port Askaig. The £8m project will be carried out in two phases. First, the construction of the distillery, warehousing, and visitor center to include a café, tasting room, and shop. The second
phase will encompass expansion of the distilling operations and additional warehousing. Pending approval, construction is planned to begin in May of this year. Their stills are projected to be distilling an initial batch of malt whisky by the end of 2017.
Hunter Laing & Co., a family operation, has been blending and bottling independently since May 2013. Their portfolio currently includes bottlings under the names Old & Rare and Old Malt Cask, among others. Managing director Stewart Laing and sons/directors Andrew and Scott have been considering ownership of a distillery. In today’s press release Stewart Laing commented, “The surge in demand for single malt Scotch whisky from Islay in recent years has been extraordinary. While the established distilleries on the island have been increasing production, there is obvious room for yet further expansion in output as discerning drinkers the world over are charmed by the rich, smoke-filled flavors that have become such an integral part of the island’s style of whisky. The new facility is being designed to create a particular style of spirit that we know from our experience of selling whisky in 65 countries around the world will appeal to the Islay whisky lover. By building this distillery, we are fulfilling a long held dream.”
As the dream of Stewart, Andrew, and Scott comes to fruition the anticipation builds for malt whisky fans and the economy of Islay.
At Café ArtScience in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this is what happens when you order the Mind Over Matter cocktail: The bartender sets a rocks glass in front of you; it appears to be filled with smoke. You remove the cork coaster that sits on top of the glass like a lid. You quickly inhale the vapor that escapes. You get a heavyweight wallop of orange and spice, a beeline up your nose, straight to the olfactory bulb of your gray matter.
It’s Compass Box Orangerie, a whisky infusion, in 3D. You take a sip and you find yourself kinda disoriented. There’s only a residual trace of that exotic, musky citrus that consumed you. Instead, the familiar rumble of smoky peat advances across your palate. As you sip over time, the actual liquid Scotch in the glass (Compass Box Peat Monster) calms ever so slightly as a small ice cube of Amontillado sherry melts.
Whisky—or any drink, for that matter—changes over the time it sits in your glass. But it’s transformation in mono. Drinks made with Le Whaf, a carafe-like instrument that generates a cloud of spirit, allows for drinking in stereo.
Le Whaf was invented by David Edwards, a writer, serial inventor and a professor at Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He founded Le Laboratoire, an art and design center in Paris, as well as Café ArtScience, a sleek, high-ceilinged restaurant that evokes Scandinavian minimalism and offers experimental cuisine. Edwards also founded a pharmaceutical company, Pulmatrix, which actually might be the most interesting piece for our whisky-obsessed purposes, because it helps us understand that the impetus for Le Whaf stems from his attempt to devise an efficient way to deliver medicine to the lungs. Like a nebulizer, but better.
Thankfully for us, Edwards realized that this science can be used for pleasurable pursuits, too. The invention caught the attention of the folks at Ardbeg, who have placed Le Whaf in bars throughout the UK. Branding it “Haar,” a Scottish word for “cold fog that sweeps in from the sea without warning,” it’s meant to evoke the marvel typically occurs on Islay when the weather lends the coastal landscape a mystical appearance. Lyricism aside, it offers an entirely new and interactive way to experience peat. No interference, no distractions, just a straight haze of ancient moss, like smoke from a peat-fire without the heat. Surreal.
Here’s what happens: There are crystals at the base of the carafe that vibrate like drums when an electrical current passes through. When the bartender pours the spirit in, the vibrations set off a pressure wave (AKA: sound wave). The air causes the drink to bubble, which causes surface molecules to jump around. Droplets fly, cymbals crash, and the string section shifts to allegro. The droplets with alcohol are more dense and fall back onto the liquid, so the flavor-rich cloud that forms isn’t actually alcoholic. The mechanism is designed to tip so the smallest droplets float out and can be captured in a glass. (Standing ovation.)
“In a glass of whisky cloud, you have about 60 to 80 micrograms of whisky floating. It’s about a thousandth of a shot floating in full glass,” Dr. Edwards explains. “That shot has been divided up to millions of little droplets. The surface area of the droplets is a lot larger than the surface area of a single slug of whisky. When you passively increase surface area, you massively increase vapor content.”
It’s no coincidence that Café ArtScience is practically in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s back yard. Bartender Todd Maul has long been recognized as a mad scientist when it comes to cocktail-making. He’s right at home amid the minimalist décor at the Café ArtScience’s bar consists of beaker-like vessels lining a high shelf and a rotovap, a machine commonly found in chemistry labs. It works at a very low temperature to extract the flavors of a distillation instead of letting them boil into the air to produce intensely flavored liquid. Maul is obsessed with deceiving the senses and altering the drinking experience.
“I’m interested in pinning down the starting point of a drink—your first interaction with it,” says Maul. “It could be a juxtaposition to what’s in the glass or it could be a continuum. It could be visual or it could be olfactory. The cloud is a float on the drink. The nose is directly and immediately and passively affected. The Orangerie gets bigger. I like the idea of tricking your brain.”
DISTILLER OF THE YEAR – MGP Ingredients
Ten years ago, very few people knew that there was a big whiskey distillery in the little Ohio river town of Lawrenceburg, Indiana; if you talked about it, people often assumed you meant the Four Roses or Wild Turkey distilleries in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Those of us who did know mostly just knew that there was supposed to be some truly good whiskey being made up there…but it was being used to make Seagram’s 7. And we despaired, thinking we’d never see the straight stuff.
Ten years later, after some exceptional releases of Lawrenceburg-sourced whiskey from High West and Redemption, after being saved from closure twice (first by Angostura, who briefly dubbed the place LDI; then by grain specialists MGP Ingredients), after national press coverage of Templeton’s failure to be completely forthright about their MGP-sourced whiskey, after the flood of MGP-made Bulleit Rye that’s washed over the nation’s backbars, more whiskey drinkers know at least something about MGP and that big old distillery. (It is old, too: there’s been a distillery on the site since 1847.) Unfortunately, what most of them now thought they ‘knew’ was that there was a big distillery in Indiana that made every craft whiskey in America.
They’re wrong about that, of course, but MGP does supply the whiskey that fills the bottles of a significant number of small and not-so-small brands: Redemption, Templeton, Bulleit Rye, Belle Meade, George Dickel Rye, Widow Jane, Angel’s Envy Rye, Old Hickory Bourbon…and on and on. It’s not so surprising that some people think that MGP is craft whiskey.
2015 was the year that MGP decloaked, as it were, and opened up. (We had a great piece on MGP in 2013, written by Fred Minnick, but we’re often ahead of things.) The lawsuits about sourced whiskeys revealed MGP as the maker of the excellent juice, which brought on scrutiny from the mainstream media. MGP suddenly became the topic of articles explaining how this “unknown” Indiana distillery was the source of so many new brands. MGP told us about more experimental whiskeys they were making, with a wide variety of mashbills. Then they finally delivered their own brand, Metze’s Select, honoring long-time master distiller Greg Metze. It was quite a year.
MGP’s story mirrors that of the American whiskey industry. A huge place that was booming in the 1960s, it was quickly forgotten as “white goods” took over the spirits market, but kept on making great whiskey, that was sold cheaply. But when things turned around, there it was, just waiting to be discovered. MGP still makes whiskey almost exclusively for other bottlers, and plans to continue that business, but it has had a huge effect on the industry, and on consumer tastes. Look for “Distilled in Indiana” in tiny print on all those whiskey labels; you can count on the quality. — Lew Bryson
That’s our final Whisky Advocate Award announcement for 2015. We’ll see you in the comments section.
There are many people in the Scotch whisky industry who are closely associated with a distillery, but none have the links which tie Dennis Malcolm to his beloved Glen Grant. The man who is now its master distiller was born-on site in 1946. His career path was fairly obvious. After all, his grandfather had worked for Major Grant, his father was a stillman. No surprise then that in April 1961, the 15 year old Dennis turned up for work as an apprentice cooper.
His rise up the whisky ladder was rapid: brewer at 24, assistant manager by the 1970s. After a spell as manager of Glenlivet in the late 70s, in 1983 he was back at Glen Grant, now as manager. Even when he was further elevated to having responsibility for all of Chivas Brothers’ plants, he would spend slightly more time talking about and taking you around ‘his’ distillery. A period at Balmenach lasted from 1999 until 2006, when Campari persuaded him to return home once more.
Length of service can often result in a resolute defense of traditional practice. Not so with Dennis. It was under his watch that the computerization of the Chivas estate took place. For him, control was good because control meant a guarantee of quality, and quality meant happy consumers.
Don’t let that lead you to believe he is a cold technocrat. Anyone who has met Dennis will come away speaking of his boundless energy, his gleeful enthusiasm for his whisky, his profound generosity and hospitality.
No matter the age of his guest, it will be Dennis who will run faster, talk quicker, laugh louder. He will be the first to the safe in the wall where The Major hid his dram.
Dennis once told me that filling a cask today knowing that it would only be used in 30 years time was like a planting a tree that future generations would enjoy. He has not just planted one tree, but a forest, and in doing so brought some of that joy of life and great whisky to everyone who has tasted Glen Grant. — Dave Broom
Where do you start? With this year’s retirement after over 50 years of service; with that sunny day when the gates of Bruichladdich creaked open once more; with the ambassador turning whisky drinkers around the world into honorary Ileachs; with the distillery manager at Bowmore opening the spirit safe to let people try the new make as it changed slowly through the run; with the mashman, or the apprentice cooper who started work on April Fool’s Day in 1963 (Jim, was this really all just one great prank)? Or do you start with the cheeky wee boy looking through the window of the malt barns and seeing the old guys leaning on their shiels, puffing on their pipes?
Do you talk of the laughter, of the tall tales than grew to the height of Everest with each telling, of the madcap ideas that then turned out to not be so crazy after all; or the poetry of his tasting notes; the deep and tangible love of place and family; of the tears of joy, of the hilarious insults doled out to his colleagues—a sure sign of respect on the west coast—or his modesty and belief that what was important was the whisky and that the forgotten men who worked for generations were the important ones.
Maybe you begin with distillery tours which you never wanted to end. Maybe it’s about the patience with which he met with every visitor to the distillery who wanted to come and say hello because they had met in some obscure bar many years before. Or maybe it’s the man smiling in the rain along the side of the road after another tasting, knowing that tomorrow would bring another tasting, the next another, and again and again…but never stopping smiling.
Where do you start with a life that has touched so many? Take your pick. Add your own.
Jim McEwan, we salute you. — Dave Broom
Join us tomorrow as we announce the final award recipient in our 22nd Annual Whisky Advocate Award program: Distiller of the Year.
Springbank Sherry Wood 17 year old, 52.3%, $130
We are all keen to laud start-up whisky-making ventures, and buzz phrases like “hand-crafted” and “artisanal” are bandied about with gay abandon. But we tend to forget that in the distilling outpost of Campbeltown, the Springbank distillery has been operating on a hand-crafted, artisanal basis for the best part of two centuries.
Springbank malts all its own barley requirements in-house on a traditional malting floor, it mashes in a cast iron open mash tun, and the wash still is both directly-fired and internally steam-heated. Finally, the mature spirit is bottled on-site.
When it comes to releases, many are decidedly small-batch in nature, sometimes frustratingly so for aficionados. Marketing is relatively low-key, too, so it is sometimes difficult even to know when releases have occurred.
So it was that in February 2015, a 17 year old cask strength expression of Springbank, fully matured in sherry casks, crept under the radar and onto the shelves of specialist retailers. Just 9,120 bottles were available globally.
What made this variant of Springbank stand out was the superb way in which the malty, gently peaty house style was complemented and enhanced by well-chosen sherry casks.
Of course, the 17 year old is far from new in merging Springbank distillery character with sherry wood influences, as many bottlings have long included a relatively high proportion of whisky matured in sherry casks. Here, however, the combination of malt, rich fruits, smooth, oily sherry, phenols, and brine reach their apotheosis in this excellent, individualistic single malt.
This bottling also wins plaudits for affordability. Springbank likes to produce whiskies to be drunk, rather than admired on a shelf. Here’s hoping that the distillers will consider making this expression a permanent addition to the core range so that more than 9,120 people can sample its undoubted delights. —Gavin Smith
Just two days and two categories left as we announce our 22nd Annual Whisky Advocate Award winners. Check back tomorrow to learn who this year’s recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award is.
Dalmore 21 year old, 42%, $530
Dalmore first introduced a 21 year old expression back in the days of American Brands’ ownership during the 1990s. That variant contained around one-third whisky matured in sherry casks and the rest aged in bourbon wood. Ultimately, it was dropped from the lineup, leaving the 18 year old as the standard bearer at the upper end of the regular age range, along with an annual 3,000-bottle limited release of 25 year old.
Owners Whyte & Mackay Ltd. felt that there was room for another product in the upper age sphere, and in 2015 a new version of the 21 year old was released, along with a 30 year old retailing at four times the price. With the 21 year old, master blender Richard Paterson departed from the previous bottling at the same age in a major way. He matured Dalmore for 10 years in American oak barrels before a further 11 year period of secondary maturation in first-fill Matusalem oloroso sherry butts from his favored bodega of Gonzalez Byass, which has been supplying Dalmore distillery with casks for over 100 years.
Everyone knows that Dalmore thrives in sherry wood, and the result here is a sherry-matured classic; well-integrated, robust, yet refined and even elegant, with the brand’s hallmark rich orange, coffee, and chocolate characteristics being augmented by licorice, cinnamon, and balsamic notes.
Only 8,000 bottles of the ‘new’ 21 year old have been produced, and according to Richard Paterson, if there is to be another release at the same age in future, it will entail a different maturation regime, making this effectively a limited edition. Paterson has frequently used Gonzales Byass oloroso casks in previous Dalmore creations, but the results have rarely been bettered. —Gavin Smith
The Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year award recipient will be revealed tomorrow.
Ardbeg Supernova 2015 Release, 54.3%, $160
And so it ends, as it should, with a blast-off into some peaty galaxy far far away. Supernova was always designed to be Ardbeg’s peatiest expression, made from a selection of the smokiest casks in its warehouses. That in itself poses a challenge for any whisky maker. Producing a heavily peated whisky is relatively easy: you light a big fire and let it smolder for a long time. (Yes, I know there’s more to it than that, but go with me on this, okay?) Making a balanced heavily-peated whisky is considerably more difficult, because you have to control that great drying, scented fug with sufficient sweetness and texture in order to add complexity. That is what has been achieved so brilliantly here. Yes, it is big and seemingly uncompromising, but it is also layered. Having lived with it for a while I’m getting mint, fresh herbs, creosote, seaweed, smoked fish, and that aroma that Bill Lumsden and I love, vetiver. Will we see its likes again? He says no, but that’s what they said about Star Wars. —Dave Broom
Our Highland Single Malt of the Year will be announced tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Tamdhu Batch Strength, 58.8%, $88
Tamdhu was always one of the quiet ones. You know, the distilleries who were happy to sit in the background, adding their qualities to blends, unknown by the vast majority of whisky drinkers. Since Ian Macleod bought the distillery from Edrington, however, there has been a slow emergence into the bright lights of the world of brands. The end of Edrington’s stewardship had seen the exclusive use of sherry casks, a policy its new owners have continued and benefited from. It makes sense. A great, balanced, sherried whisky is one of life’s pleasures. This is one of those. It cloaks its high strength in generous toffee fudge while allowing that extra alcohol boost to give more complexity and flavor delivery: dried fruits, nuts, date, chocolate. It’s amazingly easy to drink and at a great price. There will be slight variation between batches, but that’s part of the fun.—Dave Broom
Check back tomorrow for the Islay Single Malt of the Year Award winner announcement.