Whisky Advocate

Richard Paterson – In 140 or Less

August 24th, 2016

Author - Caroline DewarA well-known face to many from his appearances at whisky festivals and online, Richard Paterson began his whisky career as an office boy. Now celebrating 50 years in the industry he has been Whyte and Mackay’s master blender for much of that time. He travels the world constantly on behalf of his brands which include not just the Whyte and Mackay range of fine blends, but also Isle of Jura and Dalmore. I caught up with him after a trip to the Far East and just before he left for London to launch the new Dalmore expression, Quintessence, finished in five different Californian red wine casks: zinfandel, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and merlot.

You’ve just moved to a new office building in Glasgow. What’s the view from your window? Outstanding—see almost all of the city and beyond. Can see if a good or bad day weather-wise.

And the sample room?
About the same size as before but more windows so more light which is good.

You’re third generation in Scotch whisky. Weren’t any of your children interested?
My daughter was but decided to pursue insurance instead. My sons followed other paths.

Are you too hard an act to follow?
No, I never pushed it but did encourage. There’s still hope with the grandchildren! But they’ve a way to go. One is only four months.

If you hadn’t become a blender what other career would you have liked and why?
I always liked the wine and hotel trade. Maybe to run a small hotel/restaurant, but too much competition there now.

Fifty -38You’re celebrating 50 years in the scotch industry. Any special events to mark that? Or haven’t you been told yet?
I believe there are plans but I don’t know the format!

There’s not many people likely to do that now—you, Jim McEwan, Eddie MacAffer…
There’s Dennis Malcolm and David Stewart, too. But now people tend to look at you as if you’re a nutter to stay so long in one place.

Whyte and Mackay has seen a lot of ownership changes in the last, say, 25 years but you’ve sailed on. Has it affected your work?
No because I’ve always made quality something sacrosanct. In the past contributions have varied in some areas e.g. wood supply. The new owners aren’t like that.

So now?
They’re putting their money where their mouth is. We have to remember also that though this company changed, the industry changed a lot too.

And on that point, new distilleries are springing up like mushrooms. Your view on that?
Lots in Scotland and Ireland but especially in the U.S. A lot will realize it’s not for money making. It’s long term and some may fall away. Needs investment AND passion.

Which some do have.
Oh yes. They need to find their style and quality to meet consumer expectation. They also need to be mindful of retaining the good name of whisky and not impair the image.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry?
Whisky festivals. Began with the (then) Malt Advocate with blends, then malts, small batch and distillery exclusives. They give more knowledge to the consumer.

So a positive development then?
Yes. They’ve helped the industry, the blenders, and distillers. Before that we were just ticking along.

What have you liked best and least over 50 years?
Best—whisky festivals. Consumers are more aware, more educated, and discerning about Scotch whisky. Least—the abuse of scotch with horrendous mixers.

You’ve never been big on those or on ice, have you?
No. good if using whisky but more education is needed, including among bartenders. Some people always add ice. Others ask for whisky, and ice is added automatically.

A no-no then?
That shouldn’t happen. You can actually get stale ice cubes that have been lying around in freezers, if you’ve ever tasted them. And you don’t know what water was used.

I have; not good! Another blender told me that the pH of the water is important too. Do you ever get to spend time talking with/learning from producers elsewhere?
Yes, Japan in particular. Taiwan now too. Wherever possible, really. There’s a common bond. I like to hear their experiences and how they’ve contended with problems.

Whom have you respected most in a) Scotch and b) other whiskies?
Scotch: Donald Mackinlay was always one of my icons. He made whisky more alive and less fuddy-duddy. The industry was genteel and discreet. There’s more openness now.

And non-Scotch?
Ken Sato at Suntory. Another inspiring gentleman when Suntory was forging its way.

You’re responsible for some great malt expressions as well as fine blends. How do you personally counteract misplaced snobbery against blends?
I always say that no matter what you’re creating the same passion and drive are in both, particularly for older blends. They get the same care and attention.

Is it an educative approach?
Education, education, education—I drive that all the time. No one should decry one over the other. Bartenders are influencers, too.

Then would you say an old blend is worth just as much as a single malt of the same age?
Absolutely, there’s the same devotion and enhancement to them. I’m trying to create harmony, style, perfection, a loving union.

That’s a lot of work!
It’s like a relationship, a marriage where you sort out your differences and you do the same with the whiskies.

Some of your creations have sold for large sums. Would you have expected that 20 years ago?
No! Good question. If someone had said twelve bottles would sell for nearly £1 million I wouldn’t have believed it.

And some of these rare ones are still out there?
Some of them haven’t been consumed yet and people have tried to buy them, but it’s not about investment. It’s about sharing them with those you love who also enjoy them.

Of which of your whisky creations are you most proud and why?
Oh Jeez! There are many I like. Dalmore 62 and 64 year old took years to enhance and perfect, but I’d say King Alexander using the six different finishes. Still mostly drink that now.

What gave you the idea for the new Quintessence and how long did you work on it?
Dalmore King Alexander. That success led me to look at individual wines. The Quintessence whisky was put into the different cask types for 5 years then brought together.

There’s no age statement.
No, but I will say it’s older to get the right style coming through. It was one year as an assemblage.

Can you tell us whose casks?
No, but getting those right took a long time and we worked on it for nearly three years before it went into them.

If you even have time for interests outside work, what are they?
Gardening. I like collecting conifers and blending the colors of stones and foliage.

That has rather a Japanese feel. What else?
Falconry, but that’s rare now. I get a great thrill seeing birds of prey and like photography of them. Love history too when there’s something to relate to in whisky.

What are your favorite destinations for a) work and b) leisure and why?
Still love watching planes take off. Work—Japan (but Taiwan and Singapore are good too). It’s the way you’re looked after. A guest is still special there.

And leisure?
Italy and France, for the ambience. In a café with sun and good food.
Wine must be there too.

You do a lot of social media stuff—so friend or necessary evil?
I see it as a promotional tool for more awareness. Humbling that people come and thank me for introducing them to whiskies a certain way. They’ve been enthused, drawn in.

You’re the most dapper man in scotch! How many kilts, suits, and ties do you own?
One kilt, hardly wear it now but many jackets. I do have many ties and handkerchiefs. I try to match them and it’s an image I’ve always had.

You missed out suits. Made to measure?
A lot of them, usually made to measure but not all. It’s still the dress code in some places. It’s a respect thing to your hosts and your audience.

Lastly, if stuck on a desert island which one whisky would you want with you? You’re allowed to admire the work of others!
Honestly, the Dalmore King Alexander. I’ve become even closer to it over the years. Among others I like are Balvenie and Glenfarclas, but King Alexander’s the one.

We’re done. Thank you, Richard, for spending this time with us.

Whisky Weekend Update: New Releases

August 19th, 2016


Glover 18

Photo by Tina Norris.

Photo by Tina Norris.

Release: August 2016
Price: £145
Proof: 97.2
Availability: 1,448 bottles
Style: Scotch-Japanese

Need to know: An unusual blend of Scotch and Japanese whiskies, this third release in the series combines whisky from Longmorn and Glen Garioch distilleries in Scotland with exceptionally rare whisky from Japan’s Hanyu distillery.

Whisky Advocate says: While unlikely to be spotted in the U.S., the previous Glover expressions appeared in Harvey Nichols, Harrods and specialist whisky shops in the U.K. Creators TBG & Co are seeking casks from other international single malt distilleries, so global fusion whiskies don’t appear to be going away.

Copperworks Whiskey_Release 001_August_2016Copperworks American Single Malt Whiskey

Release: August 2016
Price: $60
Proof: 104
Availability: 1,588 bottles
Style: Craft Whiskey

Need to know: The first release from Copperworks is distilled from a craft beer mash, made from 100% pale malted barley.  After double distillation in pot stills, it is matured for 30 months in full-size charred, new American Oak barrels.

Whisky Advocate says: There is a lot of excitement around the American single malt category right now, with this new entry joining pioneers like Westland (also in Seattle) and Stranahan’s, of Colorado. Read the story The Rise of the American Single Malt in the current issue of Whisky Advocate and follow along as these American distillers make history. Subscribe now! 

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition StyleOF1920

Release: September 2016
Price: $60
Proof: 115
Availability: Widely Available
Style: Bourbon

Need to know: The third, and latest, expression in the Whiskey Row Series, is intended to celebrate Prohibition-era whiskey. Whether true to style we can’t say, but Old Forester should know: They had one of just ten permits to produce medicinal whiskey during the noble experiment.

Whisky Advocate says: Previous Whiskey Row Series expressions celebrating the Original Batch (1870) and the U.S. Bottled-in-Bond Act (1897) received mixed reviews in Whisky Advocate Buying Guide.  Will the latest also be the greatest? Be the first to find out what our experts think with the full Buying Guide review. Subscribe now.


Whisky Advocate Fall 2016 Issue’s Top 10 Whiskies

August 16th, 2016

Whisky Advocate’s Fall 2016 issue will be hitting the newsstand in early September. Here’s a reveal of the ten highest-rated whiskies in the issue’s Buying Guide. We start with #10 and conclude with #1.

2009Limited Edition- 173#10 – Four Roses 2016 Limited Edition Single Barrel Elliott’s Select, 58.4%, $125

There’s a certain complexity here that you just come to expect in limited edition Four Roses. This one doesn’t disappoint. Rose petals, honeysuckle, caramel, roasted pine nuts, cotton candy, dark coffee, and vanilla. The creamy mouthfeel delightfully brings in warm cinnamon roll, chocolate truffle, and honey taffy, balanced by herbs and subtle earthiness that settle with a long-lasting cinnamon-forward finish.—FM

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 90

EWSB_2007 copy#9 – Evan Williams Single Barrel 2007 Vintage (Barrel No. 724), 43.3%, $30

Aged slightly more than 9 years. (The annual single barrel releases jumped last year from approximately 10 years old to 9 years old, with both a 2005 and 2006 vintage released in the same year.) A mélange of fruit (apricot, candied citrus, pineapple, golden raisin) spiked with fresh mint and cinnamon on a bed of caramel and vanilla. In true form, this bourbon is flavorful and well-rounded.—JH

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 90

swiss-highland-single-malt-ice-label-g#8 – Swiss Highland Ice Label Edition 1, 58.5%, CHF179

Inside an ice palace located 11,332 feet up the Jungfraujoch, this American oak oloroso butt matured gracefully at a chilly but constant 25°F. A rich vista of currants, red Anjou pears, pecan brittle, musty spices, and saline, with a rootsy, earthy vibe. Flavors climb through intense vanilla, fleeting balsamic notes, a ridge of succulent cherry, sherry, and sultana. Orange and grapefruit at the summit. Drawn-out spice and oak finish, then clove and peppermint. A pinnacle of Swiss whisky making. (981 bottles)—JM

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 91

Ghosted Release 21 Year Old#7 – William Grant Rare Cask Reserves Ghosted Reserve 21 year old, 42.8%, $140

A purity and fragility rarely encountered, with aromas as fleeting as footprints on wet sand: marshmallow, meringue, honey, and rose petals. A delicacy to the structure brings banana, caramel, spun sugar, and orange peel. The oak spices build slowly, making the lips throb from the inside. It’s an elaborate maze of ethereal suggestion and an apparition of calm beauty. It atrophies reluctantly, leaving tangy peels and lengthy sweetness anchored by spicy base notes. (12,000 bottles)—JM

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 92

LSB16 copy#6 – Lock Stock & Barrel Straight Rye 16 year old, 53.5%, $150

Another Lock Stock & Barrel all rye-grain whisky from the pot still at Alberta Distillers. To the sweet oak caramels, vanilla, and potent spiciness of new charred American oak barrels, it adds spring flowers, blistering black pepper, and blackstrap molasses. Firewood, Smith Brothers black cough drops, and new leather bring dimension to ever-present cloves and egg-noggy nutmeg. Canada balsam, licorice, cherries, clean oak, and the heat of high proof, then a long, hot, sweet and spicy finish with vegetal undertones.—DdeK

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 92

Heavy Peat copy#5 – Limeburners Barrel Strength Heavy Peat, 61%, A$700

Burning driftwood, crisp bacon fat, and melting asphalt in a heat wave cut through with vanilla cream, butterscotch, and chocolate ganache. Great Southern distillery has unleashed a multidimensional beast that opens innocently with vanilla and honey, quickly blown away by a blast of salt and pepper before a deep, primeval base of peat and spice well up from the depths of your soul. Amazingly, great tenderness even at this strength, with a long, complex finish of smoke, sweetness, and spice.—JM

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 92

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve#4 – Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve (No. 3405), 60%, $47

Think caramel bomb. Once you pass the crème brûlée, caramel chew, and other variations of the confectionary, vanilla custard, pumpkin, toasted pecan, raisins, light German chocolate cake, praline, tobacco, cigar box, sandalwood, and earth surface. It’s mouth-coating, covering every inch, tingling from the palate’s roof to the back of the neck. The incredibly long finish sits there with caramel. The only knock here is that caramel can be overwhelming, but it’s also bourbon’s staple note. (New Hampshire only)—FM

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 92

Circus copy#3 – Compass Box The Circus, 49%, $275

Ringmaster John Glaser’s latest Big Top attraction: the nose juggles dark marmalade, almonds, sweet sherry, dates, and dried pineapple. Flavors swing like a trapeze between deep orange, dried tropical fruits, nuts, and chocolate, with the silky composure of a seal balancing a ball on its nose. Ridiculously smooth; if you’re looking for burn, try fire eating instead. Knife throwers accurately pinpoint the finish: fruit, (thud) chocolate (thud), spice (THUD). In this manner, Mr. G. will challenge the world! (2,490 bottles)—JM

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 92

#2 – Booker’s Rye, 68.1%, $300

Is this perfect? From the look and nose, yes. Rich caramel and campfire smoke early on; it’s robust, but balanced. Crème brûlée with a sultry smokiness, raw honey with a dusting of nutmeg and a Scotch ale malt profile that’s creamy and mouth-coating. Alas, a heavy bite hides much, needing water to open up. A drop adds complexity, spice, vanilla, chocolate, and licorice.—FM

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 92

1792 Full Proof Bottle#1 – 1792 Full Proof, 62.5%, $45

No age statement on the label, but aged for 8 1/2 years. Bottled at the same ABV as its entry proof into the barrel. Lush and mouth-coating. A pleasingly sweet bourbon, with caramel, nougat, and chewy toffee, mixed with ripe orchard fruit, golden raisin, and creamy vanilla. Soothing finish. A wonderful way to end a meal. (With a cigar, perhaps?) This is a beautiful bourbon and a great value given its quality, ABV, and price.—JH

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 92


Whisky Weekend Update: New Releases

August 12th, 2016


2016 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon OFBBday2016lower-res

Release: September 2016
Price: $80
Proof: 97
Availability: 14,400 bottles
Style: Bourbon

Need to know: This release marks 15 years for Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, created to pay homage to founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday on September 2. This year’s release comes from 93 barrels distilled on June 4, 2004 and matured together on the 5th floor of the warehouse.

Whisky Advocate says: Previous releases have also typically had around 12 years of age, with Whisky Advocate editor and publisher John Hansell observing, “Many of the Birthday Bourbon releases are wood driven…” However, they also appear exceptionally well chosen and deserving of their cult status, with many scoring 90 points and above in Whisky Advocate Buying Guide. This is the largest release ever in terms of volume, so 2016 may be your chance!

Coopers_Croze_800x850-301x320Jameson The Cooper’s Croze

Release: August 2016
Price: $80
Proof: 86
Availability: Widely available
Style: Irish Whiskey

Need to know: The first of the trio of Jameson’s Whiskey Makers Series to arrive in the U.S., this whiskey was curated by Ger Buckley, Jameson head cooper. As you might expect, it celebrates barrel influence, with a combination of  new American oak, bourbon barrels and Iberian sherry barrels.

Whisky Advocate says: Other whiskeys in this series yet to appear in the U.S. include Blender’s Dog (from head blender, Billy Leighton) and Distiller’s Safe (from head distiller, Brian Nation). Jameson has recently revamped their portfolio, indicative of the excitement in Irish whiskey right now. Get the full story on Irish distillers, large and small, in the winter issue of Whisky Advocate. Subscribe now.

Rye Whiskey Cocktail—in a Can!

August 10th, 2016

author-jeffery-lindenmuthCraft beer drinkers have it figured out: aluminum cans can go places where glass bottles can’t—piled into a backpack, relaxing by the pool, tossed at the ballpark. Wine lovers are also in on the act, with single-serve cans of wine, like Barefoot Refresh, catching on big at the beach this summer. And now, we whisky lovers finally have a portable package to call our own— a 100 ml can of rye whiskey cocktail called Hochstadter’s Slow & Low.

SlowCanIf you’re not already familiar with Slow & Low, The Cooper Spirits Company of Philadelphia crafts this pre-Prohibition cocktail using straight rye whiskey, air-dried navel oranges, Pennsylvania honey, Angostura Bitters, and a hint of rock candy (that’s sugar, to the rest of us.) One thing is certain: this cute can is no lightweight, packing a generous pour of 100 ml (3.38 oz. for the metric impaired) at 42% ABV. Is that a single-serve? The new package of Slow & Low will be available nationwide, alongside the existing 750ml bottle and 375ml flask, with a suggested retail price of $3.99.

We’d certainly welcome more creative whisky and whisky cocktail packaging. Give us mint julep in a juice box! And bourbon and soda by the keg! In Japan, canned highballs are available everywhere, including restaurants and vending machines. We are already enjoying an unprecedented selection of great whiskeys; Now, it’s time to package them in sizes, formats and ready-to-drink combinations to suit the many ways that whisky lovers enjoy life. What would you like to see next?

Whisky Weekend Update: New Releases

August 5th, 2016


15_-1332824150Laphroaig Cairdeas Madeira

Release: July 2016
Price: $74
Proof: 103
Availability: “Very Limited”
Style: Single Malt Scotch

Need to know: This Islay Single Malt Scotch is fully matured in bourbon barrels, then married together before a second maturation in Madeira seasoned casks.

Whisky Advocate says: The last incarnation of Cairdeas reviewed proved “youthful, vibrant, and thumping.” It should be interesting to see what Madeira imparts to this annual release, in terms of complementing Laphroaig’s characteristic peat and smoke. Don’t miss the full Buying Guide review and rating in Whisky Advocate, Fall 2016. Subscribe now.


indexKilchoman Bourbon Barrel ImpEx Cask Evolution 02/2016

Release: August 2016
Price: $140
Proof: 120.2
Availability: 249 bottles
Style: Single Malt Scotch

Need to know: The second in the series, this single barrel was hand selected by founder and master distiller Anthony Wills and bottled at cask strength. Like all Kilchoman bourbon barrels, this one was sourced and shipped intact from Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky.

Whisky Advocate says: Despite their relative youth, Kilchoman whiskies have shown incredibly well in our Buying Guide tastings—often scoring 90 points and above! There is no age statement here, but we love the full transparency, distillation date of August 8, 2011, and a bottling date of May 16, 2016.


IMG_6196-square-410x410Kings County Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon, Batch 1

Release: July 2016
Price: $65
Proof: 100
Availability: 112 bottles/375 ml.
Style: Craft Whiskey

Need to know: Like all bottled-in-bond, this bourbon was distilled, aged, and bottled entirely at one distillery, from barrels filled in one season—in this case barrel #300, distilled May 26, 2012 and bottled June 31 of this year.

Whisky Advocate says: Right now, only 70 bottles remain for sale at the Brooklyn distillery location. While Kings County does not ship, this true grain-to-glass distillery is certainly worth hopping the A Train. Colin Spoelman, co-founder and master distiller, informs us more Bottled-in-Bond is on the way and should appear at retailers by September!


BeamDoubleOak2Jim Beam Double Oak

Release: September 2016
Price: $22
Proof: 86
Availability: Widely Available
Style: Bourbon

Need to know: Double Oak? It means what it says: Following 4 years of maturation in freshly charred new American Oak barrels, this bourbon is transferred to yet another newly charred American Oak barrel.

Whisky Advocate says: This entry sits around the same price at the “double-aged” Jim Beam Black (with 8 years in barrels) and Jim Beam Bonded, which scored 88 points in Whisky Advocate, Summer 2016. Beam seems to excel with value at this price point! Can they do it again? Be the first to find out with the full Buying Guide review in Whisky Advocate, Winter 2016. Subscribe now.

Farewell to Evan Cattanach (1935-2016)

August 3rd, 2016

author-jeffery-lindenmuthWhisky Advocate reports that Evan Cattanach, prolific distiller and industry legend, has died at the age of 80. His long and illustrious career in Scotch whisky is made even more impressive by the fact that he got a relatively late start—at the age of 25, when he began his employment at Scottish Malt Distillers. Across his career in Scotland, Cattanach worked at fifteen Scotch distilleries, in four of the six Scottish whisky areas, including managing operations at Oban, Cardhu, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Dalwhinnie, and Cragganmore. His name is also closely associated with the Classic Malts series, as he was involved with their original selection in 1985.

Evan Cattanach_hi resHowever, Cattanach may be best known across the U.S., and the world, for his work outside the distillery, as one of the first master distillers to exit the distillery doors, contributing to the creation of the important role of brand ambassador as we know it. “I never had the good fortune of knowing Evan while he still worked at the distilleries. However, he was one of the first true ambassadors of Scotch whisky here in the U.S., and he was among the first to spread the whisky gospel when we began hosting WhiskyFest events back in the late 1990s,” says John Hansell, publisher & editor Whisky Advocate. “He was an inspiration to me and always was a pleasure to be with. I will miss him dearly.”

Despite “retiring” from this second phase of his career in 1993, Cattanach continued as an enthusiastic and effective communicator of the joy of Scotch whisky, whether leading tastings across 200 cities, celebrating Robert Burns Day with whisky fans by delivering his flamboyant Address to the Haggis, or presenting an incredibly popular seminar at WhiskyFest. In 2011, Whisky Advocate honored Cattanach’s work with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

New Releases: Inchmurrin, Garryana, and Kilchoman

July 14th, 2016

Author Melanie GochnauerLoch Lomond’s Island Collection will be released in the U.S. The single malt whisky collection includes three bottlings: Inchmurrin 12 year old, 18 year old, and Madeira Wood Finish. Each is non-chill filtered and has an ABV of 46%. Retail pricing for the 12 year old is $85, $160 for the 18 year old, and $95 for Madeira Wood Finish.


Garryana is Westland distillery’s newest American single malt release. It is the first in their Native Oak series. According to the press release Garryana, “…features a component whiskey matured in Quercus garryana,species of white oak unique to the Pacific Northwest.” Distribution of the 2,500 bottles begins today in the U.S. and select international markets. Garryana is bottled at 56% and priced at approximately $125.


The latest release of Kilchoman 100% Islay is set for distribution. It’s bottled at 50% ABV and has a MSRP of $105. According to the press release, “This, the 6th edition of the annually released limited edition, is a vatting of fresh and refill ex-Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels filled in 2010 and bottled in 2016. This latest edition will be the most mature 100% Islay to have been released to date. Produced exclusively from barley grown at the distillery, the 100% Islay range has a lighter peating level compared to the rest of the Kilchoman range, creating a uniquely fresh and distinct style of Islay single malt.”


Brian Nation of Irish Distillers, Midleton – In 140 or Less

July 13th, 2016

Author - Caroline DewarBrian Nation has been the master distiller at Irish Distillers’ Midleton distillery since 2013, having joined the company in 1997 as an engineering graduate. Like a number of other distillery managers I’ve met, it seems he never intended to be a distiller. Softly spoken, but hugely enthusiastic about his whiskeys, he also became the first Irish Distiller to receive the Worshipful Company of Distillers award for achieving the highest IBD (Institute of Brewing and Distilling) exam results in the world.

Where were you born and brought up?

Born in Turners Cross in Cork City and brought up there.

So west of Midleton then. Any history of distilling involvement in your family?

No history of distilling involvement in my family, but I have a number of uncles who are partial to a drop of Jameson!

What’s the view from your office window?

I can see our fermenters and our newly built pot brewhouse (built in 2012) through some lovely trees.

Keeping an eye on the place then. Did you have a hand in designing any of that?

Yes, a major part of my role at the time was my involvement in the project team responsible for the design, installation, and commissioning of the distillery expansion.

Was that exciting, nerve-wracking, or both?

Definitely both! But a great opportunity to be involved in such a large scale project. Learning gleaned from the experience is invaluable now as master distiller.

You joined Irish Distillers as an engineer. What was the path to master distiller?

Unplanned! I didn’t set out to end up as head distiller, I initially started as an environmental engineer and then became a project engineer.

And from there?

Process engineer, engineering manager, and eventually head distiller after working under master distiller emeritus Barry Crockett for ten years.

That’s a lot of engineering.  Do you get to meet your Scotch whisky distiller colleagues much? If so is there friendly rivalry or all love and harmony?

We meet up from time to time and the banter and craic is always great.

What do you like best and least about your job?

Being involved in new distillate development is without a doubt the best part of my job. I am also very interested in plant optimization.

B Nation 2I’ll assume from that, there’s no downside. Jameson recently launched new ranges. What creative input did you have and who else was involved?

The Distiller’s Safe, from The Whiskey Makers Series, was the new expression that I was most involved in. I worked very closely with our head blender, Billy Leighton.

How did that relationship work out?

I was like a kid in a sweet shop and Billy was like the dad who kept me under control. Thankfully he did!


Because we ended up with a whiskey that is truly distillate-driven and showcases the craft of distilling very well.

What do these new Jameson ranges offer that you didn’t have before?

They explore the brand’s rich heritage, celebrate our remarkable present, and share an insight into our innovative future.

Remind us of what they are again.

They comprise of the Whiskey Makers Series, Deconstructed Series, a range of Heritage whiskeys, and Gan Eagla.

Briefly, one at a time, what’s the difference between each range, for you? Let’s start with the Whisky Makers Series.

The Whiskey Makers Series celebrates the people behind the Jameson family of Irish whiskeys and their craft.

And Deconstructed?

The Deconstructed Series explores the key flavor notes of the original Jameson Irish whiskey.

And Heritage and Gan Eagla?

The Heritage whiskeys bring to the fore over 200 years of remarkable stories and milestones from the brand’s rich history. Gan Eagla represents the future of Jameson.

Do you have a favorite among them and why?

Distiller’s Safe. It’s truly my type of whiskey as it’s heavily distillate driven. Plus, I’ve named it after my favourite piece of equipment, the distiller’s safe.

Why is that?

It highlights the importance of the cut in making the perfect pot and grain distillate used in creating Jameson Irish whiskey.

So for my Jameson-fan brother, married to an Irish lass and living in Rome – is that the one you would recommend?

Absolutely, either that or Jameson Original as from there the world is your oyster.

For a Scot, he’s consumed quite a lot of Original already. Is there as much interest in “finishing” in Irish whiskey as there is in scotch?

Innovation in the Irish whiskey sector, including maturation techniques such as finishing, is certainly on the rise.

Any examples?

It’s been led by Irish Distillers through the release of new and interesting whiskeys such as Jameson Caskmates or Green Spot Château Léoville-Barton. [Caskmates has been finished in stout-seasoned casks. Green Spot Château Léoville-Barton is the first single pot still Irish whiskey to be finished in red Bordeaux wine casks. Château Léoville-Barton was owned by an Irishman, Thomas Barton, whose descendants are still involved today.]

An Irish connection! Is Irish less restricted creatively than scotch or does the distilling process allow more flexibility or is more done with blending?

Irish whiskey is governed by a set of rules similar to those in the Scotch whisky industry – creativity can come in all forms.

Such as?

Tweaking the grain type, distillation style, or maturation in new cask types. At Midleton we encourage our craftspeople to experiment, break down preconceptions.

In my research you said family was your main interest outside work. Are your children young?

I have three children – two girls, aged nine and seven, and a boy aged two. It’s a busy household but great fun.

So any interest in what Daddy does then?

The two girls are very interested, especially if they see Jameson as they walk through an airport or a shop.

Any particular activities you enjoy with them?

I help train the camogie (ladies hurling) teams that the girls play with. They have very busy schedules with camogie, gymnastics, karate, and soccer. [Hurling is one of Ireland’s national sports and goes back hundreds of years. It can look akin to hockey and lacrosse and is a fast and furious game played by two teams of fifteen people.]

Are you mainly a taxi driver then?

I spend a lot of time bringing them to these events. Sundays we tend to go for a family day out which is relaxing. My son is happy to play soccer in our garden – he’s great fun.

I understand you also like cooking. Any signature dish?

Yes, I find it relaxing. I like to try different recipes, but the problem is I usually take too long.  Signature dish is oven baked turbot with a scallop & prawn white sauce.

I’m coming to your house. What wine, beer, or whiskey would you match with that?

I find that a Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish whiskey works quite well with this dish.

You presumably travel a lot for work; do you enjoy that?

Yes, to talk about my role and our whiskeys. I really do enjoy it – meeting people worldwide. To see their passion for Jameson and our other whiskeys is truly amazing.

Favorite place you’ve visited for work?

For work, it has to be New York – I really loved the atmosphere there; it was great and the people that I met were so passionate about what we do.

And leisure/holiday?

The Cayman Islands as part of a Caribbean Cruise – I can’t wait to go back for a longer stay.

Caymans, yes. Like the sound of that. Last question! Stuck on a desert island which one whisky would you have with you. Doesn’t have to be one of your own…

This is a very difficult question to answer because I like different whiskeys for different occasions or experiences!

Well, I have to be firm. Choose.

I’m going to cheat and pick two – Jameson Distiller’s Safe and Powers John’s Lane Single Pot Still.

No, it’s one only so I’m going to let you take Distiller’s Safe since you helped create it.

Brian Nation, we’re done so thanks for sharing some of your time with us.

The American Single Malt Summit’s Quick Payoff

July 6th, 2016

author-jake-emenIn the current issue of Whisky Advocate, the burgeoning American single malt category was explored, showcasing not only a diverse range of whiskeys, but also that their producers were beginning to come together for the greater good.

“A lot of us have the same frustrations knowing we produce this product that gets unfairly lumped into these other categories,” says Matt Hofmann, co-founder and master distiller of Westland distillery.

“As a distiller of single malt, I think it’s a constant source of aggravation for me and everybody else that nobody really knows what American single malt is,” says Paul Hletko, founder and distiller of FEW Spirits, and newly elected president of the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA).

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Few Spirits’ Paul Hletko

In the fight for shelf space and consumer recognition, American single malts have been left in the lurch. “Right now you can’t write all four words ‘American single malt whiskey’ on the label because that category doesn’t exist,” explains Hofmann.

With this serving as a collective call to action, the meeting dubbed the “American single malt summit” was held during the ACSA conference in Chicago this March, it now appears hopeful that a potential quick payoff is on the way.

The Current Regulations & Proposed Changes

As it stands, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) currently offers only this generic “malt whisky” category:

Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent malted barley and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers.

The first problem is that the definition includes multiple categories of scotch equivalents. An American malt whisky as defined could be equated to either a scotch single malt or a scotch single grain with a mashbill of at least 51 percent malted barley.

Looming even larger for Hofmann is the statement on new barrels. “I think that’s the biggest problem right now with the current malt whisky definition,” he says. “It’s in the spirit of things to use used barrels, that’s how it’s done in Scotland and most [American] single malt producers are doing that. And even though a lot of them are using new oak as well, including us, we want the ability to use used oak barrels.”

American producers are looking to walk a more traditional path there, while elsewhere they want to retain certain key differences. At the top of that list is the ability to use column stills as opposed to pot still production alone, and while more of a formality, also retaining the American standard maximum distillation and barreling proofs of 160 and 125, respectively.

“We don’t want to limit innovation because that’s one of the great strengths of American single malts going forward,” explains Hofmann. “But there are certain things you need to protect.”

Rather than changing the malt whisky definition, they’re seeking the creation of a separate American single malt whiskey definition:

  • Made in the United States at a single distillery
  • 100 percent malted barley mashbill
  • Must be aged in either new or used barrels
  • 160 proof maximum distillation strength from either pot or column stills; 125 proof maximum barreling strength


Upcoming TTB Commenting Period Could Provide Swift Resolution

After a successful American single malt summit established the groundwork for an agreed upon definition, it was time for the next step. In early June, a cohort from the ACSA—including Hofmann, who’s newly elected to its board of directors—traveled to Washington, D.C. with the creation of the American single malt category one of a number of issues to discuss with the TTB.

“I think the ACSA’s role is to work with all of our members to help build all of us up,” says Hletko. “I think one of the things that we can do to work with all of our members is to specify and have special categories created. It kind of comes to us to be leaders in the industry to drive this consumer acceptance forward and to bring it out as a category.”

What wasn’t known when the summit was planned was that the TTB was preparing to open up a rare 120-day public commenting period for much of their coding and regulation.

Matt_Hofmann_Portrait copy

Westland distillery’s Matt Hofmann

“We started doing this with no understanding that [the commenting period] was going to happen,” says a laughing Hofmann. “It just happened to be really good timing. There are probably other routes of going in and doing it but that would probably cost more money than we have to spend quite frankly. So this is a right place, right time situation for us.”

The commenting period should open within a few months, after which the TTB will circle its wagons and offer its recommendations. With the blessing of dozens of American single malt producers, there shouldn’t be much standing in the way. Hofmann hopes that within a year he’ll be slapping “American single malt whiskey” on his Westland labels.

“So now it’s spreading that message to hopefully be able to get the 40 distilleries making American single malt total and get them on board with the definition as well,” says Hofmann. “One, because it’s more powerful to go to the TTB with 40 distilleries instead of ten, but two because we also want to make sure it represents what everybody thinks American single malt whiskey should be.”

The other factor that should help spur the TTB into action is the current reigning state of confusion. That isn’t good for anybody, from the TTB to the distilleries, and from the retail storefront to the bar owner.

“Part of the reason why we’re doing this is to protect the category and educate the consumer and give some sort of guidance,” says Hofmann. “Yea, it’s difficult for us, but it’s also difficult for the consumer and it’s difficult for the retailer. It stinks to have something where you don’t know where to put it. If you know where to put it and how to sell it, everything becomes much more streamlined for them.”

That’s why, should the category gain approval, the main focus will shift toward ongoing education. “We talked about doing things at WhiskyFest, like we’ll set up our booths next to each other,” says Hofmann. “We’d love to do a panel discussion at a WhiskyFest, and put four or five American single malts in front of people. Things like that that are consumer facing and get people an understanding of what it is that we’re trying to do.”

As far as potential opposition, whether it’s from the bourbon big boys or potentially Scotch whisky producers, Hofmann realizes it’s a possibility but hopes it’s not the case. “It’s possible, I haven’t heard anything official, just rumors of rumors,” he said. “So we’ll see. And we’ll fight that battle when we get to it.”

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