Whisky Advocate

The Bill Lumsden interview

November 15th, 2010

As I mentioned here, I had lunch with Dr. Bill Lumsden the day before WhiskyFest New York.  Bill is the Head of Distilling and Whisky Creation for The Glenmorangie Company. That includes Ardbeg and Glenmorangie.

I asked you what questions you would like me to ask Bill.  Here they are, with his answers.

Rumor has it there are no old stocks of Ardbeg. True?

Untrue. We have a limited amount. That’s why we stopped bottling Lord of the Isles. But we still have some. Watch this space.

Is Glenmorangie PLC going to buy a craft distiller in the U.S. like some other Scottish whisky companies are doing?

It’s very unlikely. If anything, there will be more focus on the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which the company owns.

Which closed/mothballed distillery would you like to see active again?

Rosebank. It has always been a personal favorite, and I have several bottles saved for future enjoyment.

What made Ardbeg and Glenmorangie decide now to certify bottlings as Kosher? Any plans of new certified releases in the future?

We realized that a lot of Jewish drinkers were not drinking our products becuase they didn’t know if they could. We certified Glenmorangie Original (10 year old), Glenmorangie Astar and Ardbeg 10 year old for this reason.

Any new special bottlings like Rollercoaster for 2011?

Yes, there will be new bottlings. John, when time gets closer, you will an exclusive peak. I’ll just say this for now. In 2011, we’ll release a wacky new Ardbeg. In  2012, we plan on releasing an old-fashioned, traditional Ardbeg.

We’ll also have a lovely old new Glenmorangie, perhaps around Christmas time. Look for a new release that I am calling the “grandson of Sonnalta” in the Private Edition series. Plus, you know how you and I have discussed how much we like Sassicaia wine from Tuscany? Well…there’s a clue to something new in the future.

Will Supernova become a standard release in the Ardbeg range?

That’s less clear cut.

Are you selling any casks to independent bottlers?

Only our Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottlings.

An plans on doing your own floor maltings again?

I have had the same dreams (he said with a twinkle in his eye). If that ever were to happen, we probably would bottle the whisky made from our floor maltings exclusively, and not blend it in with whisky from malt that we have brought in, like the way Laphroaig does it.

Would you ever identify on the bottle when you use caramel coloring?

We do it when it is required. We are not trying to hide the fact that we use it, and we are trying to minimize it’s use. We only use it for “standardization” (to keep the color of a given whisky consistent). I would like to see it (caramel coloring) banned!

Can you give me in a sentence or two the house character of Glenmorangie?

It has a softness and silkiness on the palate, a sweet taste, and great finesse and complexity.

Will there be an Ardbeg 17 year old anytime soon?

Not anytime soon?

What’s the age of Glenmorangie Cellar 13?

It was a 10 year old. If you like this whisky, then you should try Astar, its spiritual successor.

Is your company going to be bought by Diageo?

This is very topical. I don’t know. It’s pointless worrying about it.

Will there be a Glenmorangie Signet-like Ardbeg anytime soon (i.e., using caramel and/or chocolate malt, etc.)

No, but we are always experimenting.

Thank you Bill!

36 Responses to “The Bill Lumsden interview”

  1. Michael says:

    Thank you John. It was very interesting. I am already saving money for 2012 Arbeg release :-)
    I was surprised to hear that there is still possibility for Diageo to take over.

  2. The Leveller says:

    Be interesting to see what the outcome of any Diageo takeover would be – their interest is almost solely in gaining full ownership of the top-end Champagnes and Cognacs of Moet Hennessy which will complement the premium scotch blends in the likes of China, Russia, India and Brazil… they already own a chunk of it and the relationship with LVMH has been interesting over the past 20 years.

    Personally, I can’t see what they would want from another Islay whisky which would hardly ‘move the dial’ in terms of their multi-billion operations. Even Glenmorangie is probably too small for them to get excited about – apart from a few in-market specials (e.g. Cardhu in Spain) they don’t do ‘big’ malt brands: outside UK/US, Black Label does the trick much more profitably. They may even be forced to sell for competition reasons (but maybe not).

    Presumably Diageo would take a sneaky look at the Ardbeg and Glenmorangie warehouses and put up an auction – giving Ardbeg a fourth(?) change of ownership in less than 20 years…

    Perhaps the Committee could get together with some financiers and put together a buyout!

  3. Mike Dereszynski says:

    Thanks John and Dr. Bill,
    I now know the “what” (Sassicaia).
    All that’s left is the “when & where”.

  4. Scribe says:

    John, great idea on your part to solicit questions ahead of time — and great that you “closed the loop” with us as well! Thank you! Hope you can do that again as your travels take you to other interesting companies!

  5. Michael says:

    In another interview with him, I read that : ” While whisky is his passion, wine is his hobby. As he tours the wine regions of the world, he’s always thinking about the wine barrels and imagining how their flavors might work for a particular cask maturation.” I do hope that we will not have any Ardbeg wine finishes ;-)

  6. lawschooldrunk says:

    Thanks, John and Bill.

  7. Gal says:

    Wacky new Ardbeg? sounds like lots of fun.
    looking fwd!

    and whats the thing with boxers briefs? TMI!

    Micheal, a wine finished ardbeg can actually be good, what do u know!

  8. Joshua says:

    While happy to know about the containment of Bill’s package. I disagree – Boxers all the way!

  9. Dave Nims says:

    John,

    I thought you had more class than to ask Bill Lumsden about his choice of underwear. How does a lame locker room gag fit into a whiskey column? The next time you interview a woman, will you be asking about her choice of bra? Or if she wears a thong? I’m no prude, but I have absolutely no interest in learning about Lumsden’s “package”. Unless the package contains a bottle of fine whiskey. Please!

    • John Hansell says:

      It actually was a question asked on my Facebook posting by a reputable writer. But, you’re right. Bill has a great sense of humor, and I was attempting to show that side of him, but I see that it could be taken the wrong way so I took it out.

      • sam k says:

        Most of us took the question in the spirit in which it was intended and found the humor in it, John. You can please some of the people some of the time…

        • Joshua says:

          Sam, I’m with you. A joke now and then can be a good thing and, I got a chuckle out of it…

        • ps says:

          The ‘boxers or briefs’ gag is a decades old, light-hearted interview joke. Presidential candidates have been asked the question. Thanks for the interview, John.

      • AdamH says:

        Put it back in! It was a funny and appropriate tangent. I’d prefer to see you asking an oddball question in every interview, just to keep things mixed up and fun.

      • Dave Nims says:

        John,

        Thanks, you made the right choice in deleting the question. You do have class! The problem with the gag is that it is pure locker room guy talk. So the gag conveys a subtle suggestion that whiskey is a guy thing, which has not been true since the pre-Prohibition saloon. I note that all those who defended the gag are male. No surprise. But now back to whiskey. Your interview with Lumsden was interesting and informative! As is your blog. Thank you.

        • sam k says:

          Dave, I’m not sure how you know that ps is a male, but good for you. Nearly every posted name on this blog appears to belong to a male, so what would you expect? I’m not even sure Gal is a female, to be honest. Maybe, but how could I know?

          Also, if you recall the first time that now-famous question was asked publicly was when Bill Clinton was running for president…and it was asked by a female, on national TV! So much for locker room guy talk. You’ll also notice no women felt it necessary to jump in here to agree with you.

          But now, back to whiskey!

          • AdamH says:

            It’s just silly when any person tries to impose some antiquated sense of “propriety” on the rest of us.

            But it’s much worse when that person succeeds in getting a writer to censor his own writing.

            PS: Boxers

          • John Hansell says:

            AdamH, it wasn’t Dave’s comment that convinced me to pull the question. It was my wife. She was with me during the interview and it was her impression that Bill assumed that this question was in jest but would not be published. She was very surprised to see the question in my post and thought I shouldn’t have posted it. That’s why I took it down. (Bill was on the road, so I didn’t get a chance to run it by him.)

          • Dave Nims says:

            Sam,

            So, it appears that a woman agreed with me, John’s wife. Good for her and good for John to take her advice on this (admittedly) minor matter. Now, as we both agree, back to whiskey! I am a great fan of Glenmorangie. And Bill Lumsden is obviously a whiskey genius. Regardless of his choice in undergarments, may he continue to pursue his whiskey magic!

          • mongo says:

            please don’t refer to bill lumsden’s package as a minor matter: it may result in a compensatory raising of prices.

          • sam k says:

            Never said that a woman didn’t (or wouldn’t) agree with you…just said that none appeared to jump in on this thread to do so. That still appears to be the case, but Amy is on guard for all of the fairer sex on this topic, so I guess it’s time for us all to carry on!

          • Henry H. says:

            This feminist male found the question, along with Lumsden’s quick and and ostensibly serious answer, to be a jarring, hilarious departure from what had preceded it. I took it as John’s refreshing way to let the air out of all the deadly serious, picayune questions posed by us tough-guy whisky drinkers.

            Assuming that women will be offended by such silliness, especially when it can be read to poke fun at all us guys who do *in fact* make up the great majority of two-legged creatures who take whisky so damn seriously, seems to me to perpetuate sexism via a valiant, chivalrous speech in the name of protecting those who another commenter unfortunately termed “the fairer sex.”

            Furthermore, I find it unfortunate that the original complainant now attempts to backtrack (“admittedly minor matter” indeed!) after jumping all over John in his very own public forum in order to enforce some misguided notion of political correctness. If you can’t take the heat…

          • AdamH says:

            As a professional writer who supports his family off underwear jokes and related genres, I take serious, personal offense at the suggestion that those of us who create such material don’t “have class.”

            I demand an apology and a retraction of this unfounded implication. It’s offensive to underwear-jokers everywhere!

            *This is satire to make a point.*

          • sam k says:

            Well now, I’m just trampling over everybody’s sensibilities, aren’t I? I guess God put me here for a reason!

  10. joe hyman says:

    when I spoke to bill at whiskyfest, i ran the signet/darker malts in ardbeg past him, and he kind of winked and blurbed about the the wacky ardbeg… so, maybe, not quite, but similar? here’s hoping… i tend to like the maltier whiskies. i think a maltier, peaty ardbeg with some sherry finish would be spectacular.

  11. Alex says:

    What’s “we do it when it is required” mean about disclosing the use of caramel coloring? They disclose when they’re required to disclose, or that they affirmatively disclose whenever coloring is required? I can’t imagine that they are ever required to disclose the use of coloring, and I haven’t seen any of their bottles disclosing coloring nor any claiming the lack of coloring.

    I think he was answering a question different from what he was asked. It sounds like he’s answering whether they use any coloring, and it sounds like he’s saying they use coloring when they have to. Therefore, the labels probably don’t claim the lack of coloring to give them the flexibility to use it when they want to.

    • sku says:

      Some countries, Germany for one, do require that any use of caramel coloring be disclosed. I took it that that is what he was referring to by saying that they do it “when it is required.”

    • joe hyman says:

      i think he answered the question fairly… he was asked about ‘identifying’ the use to which he answered ‘when required’…also, he admitted to the usage ‘for standardization’…we whisky purists cringe at the thought the evil e-150, but the whisky masses need the added security of consistancy, and that means color as well as flavor.

      • sam k says:

        I agree, Joe, but I have to wonder. Surely the color of the whisky wouldn’t differ much from bottle to bottle on the store shelf…they’d most probably have come from the same batch. Behind the bar there’s only one bottle on display at a time. Are the distillers concerned that the bottle you may have bought a few months ago won’t match the one you bought today when they’re side by side in your liquor cabinet? Can the differences be so dramatic from batch to batch that they’d need the color boost? If so, why would that be?

        Wouldn’t this mostly be a problem with single barrel bottlings? If so, those bottlings thrive on their individual differences, so why the caramel? Anything else would probably be a mixture of many barrels into a large vatting, which would necessarily diminish any color differences. Still seems like a lame addition to an otherwise pure, high-quality product. Am I missing something here?

        Another reason that American straight whiskeys make me proud…no worries, mate!

      • Red_Arremer says:

        It’s corporate higher-ups and big stakeholders who’s minds are put at peace by knowing caramel is keeping their product consistent for their consumer market, who they invariably think of as cringing conformist dimwits.

        A few market researchers have also said that studies indicate caramel brings some benefit in terms of product viability. I’m not sure what kinds of studies these were, but I’d really like to see them claim that this or that OMC, Signatory, or DT Nc2 bottling would sell better if it had coloring.

        • sam k says:

          Thanks for your perspective, Red. The more I consider this topic, the less it makes any sense to me whatever. Makes me think of that old Kinks song, Paranoia the Destroyer, but in this case it’s the true character of the whisky being destroyed!

  12. George Jetson says:

    There are those within the industry who swear that spirit caramel has a positive influence on flavor as well. It’s use is primarily for color consistency, so the brand loyal consumers won’t peek behind the curtain to learn that the flavor of their whisky does drift over time.The ploy is if it looks the same, it tastes the same. The German food purity laws require disclosure of all “additives” on the label. This applies to all beverages too. The “E” coding system in the EU classifies additives according to their type. Look for “mit farbstoff” on the label, which indicates that coloring has been added.

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