Whisky Advocate

Billy Walker of BenRiach Distillery — in 140 or Less

February 7th, 2014

Another in our occasional series of Tweet-style interviews. As always, it’s 140 characters or less (we don’t count the spaces) in the answers from the CEO of BenRiach Distillery.

Author - Caroline DewarWhat’s the view from your window at HQ?

Edinburgh airport. Unfortunately, I don’t just get to see the planes – I hear them too.

But I understand you’re up at The Glendronach today…

Yes, it’s looking fantastic. Weather staggeringly good for the time of year.

You’re originally a chemistry graduate. Did you choose the whisky industry or fall into it?

I chose it, but a bit of inevitability, coming from Dumbarton, home of J&B and Ballantine’s blending and bottling.

What’s been your career path?

Pharmaceutical research; Ballantine’s; Beecham’s; Inver House; then Burn Stewart: bought that out and after 20 years bought BenRiach.

BenRiach ‘04, GlenDronach ‘08, Glenglassaugh ‘13. All Highland/Speyside. Ambitions for more, other regions, new build?

Not new build. If something came up adding balance to the business, we’d consider. Hard at present as many from outside interested in a hot industry and raising prices.

BenRiach: 6 ranges, quite comprehensive. Any more to come? New finishes maybe?benriachMDBillyWalker

No…might be a bit of rationalization.

What of the distillations since you bought it? It’s been 10 years now.

We’ll definitely do something to recognize the 10 year milestone.

You found peated stock on buying it. How much of a boon was that?

Quite a lot. It let us do something not done before on Speyside. Those creative enough to do it years ago were revolutionary. It’s a different style from the islands too.

The GlenDronach – a pity the previous owners removed the coal-firing of stills?

Oh, sure, but they were made to do so by Health & Safety people. But we do get a more even heat distribution with indirect firing – and it hasn’t impacted on quality at all.

You’re doing great things with it. A smaller range than BenRiach – so far.

A more traditional range.  It was very visible for years then marginalized for 10 years to ‘08. It has an uncluttered footprint with the sherry, just us and Glenfarclas.

I loved the 1968 years ago. Has your bottling sold out?

Not yet but it will soon. We have a few more casks of it and the strength is holding up well. Good news!

Future plans there?

Emphasis on brand build. Infrastructure / cosmetic changes, we’ve done those. The location makes it look good. We replaced old wooden washbacks with new ones.

Glenglassaugh: your new baby. What’s happening?

We found the distillery ran very well. We’ve done up the dunnage warehouse, mended roads, landscaped, converted maltings to warehousing.

Is there a stocks gap, and how are you dealing with that?

Now running at full capacity. It’s a long play. We’ll feed out vintage stock and continue Evolution and Revival. A 20 year gap but due to vintages we can get a good income.

Still bottling on site?

No. Need a good sheet filter or whisky loses brightness. No chill filtering but still need brightness. We bottle existing Octave casks too, but we don’t sell any more.

Anything more?

More to come. One will be a blend to commemorate the distillery’s founder, Colonel James Moir, with Glenglassaugh as the base.

Will we see big range development here too?

No, we’ll take time to allow brand’s personality to develop. We’ll see where the journey takes us.

Your brands are at a lot of whisky festivals. Do you speak at them yourself?

I’ve done some and enjoy it. Might do 1 or 2 this year but I don’t enjoy the traveling so much now.

I’m told your interests are football and cricket. Any particular football team?

I’m a Rangers supporter, so there’s a question over whether I’m still a supporter or not!

[For non-UK readers, Rangers was one of Scotland’s top clubs but was demoted a few leagues after some financial scandals. Now having to win their way back up.]

Cricket: might seem odd for a Scotsman but my Dad loves it too. How did that come about?

School, our physical education teacher was an enthusiast. It was part of the sport curriculum and I liked it.

So are your key markets linked to countries with cricketing prowess?!

No, but we’re in South Africa and Australia, and SA is key! UK is important too, as are Europe, North America, and Taiwan. No one place dominates.

Are you still intent on not selling via supermarkets and large chains?

Yes. We support private, independent retailers. They support us and have done for a long time.

What’s your desert island dram? You’re allowed to appreciate the work of others!

Either BenRiach Authenticus or The GlenDronach 18 year old. If not possible, I’d be comfortable with a vintage Caol Ila, north of 20 years old.

And we’re done – thank you.

5 Responses to “Billy Walker of BenRiach Distillery — in 140 or Less”

  1. Sean Russell says:

    Hi Billy,
    Stirling work on your success with GlenDronach – it’s so much more than a whisky, and has made me seriously think about changing my own career!
    As a (very) big fan, it would be nice to see at least one or two expressions of the core range appear in one high street store – even on an irregular basis. If only to save me giving my own stock away to friends and family who have tried it and are constantly asking for more!
    Is there absolutely no way you’d consider doing at the minimum a seasonal release of maybe the Revival, Allardice or Parliament? At Xmas time maybe?
    There’s no doubt it would be a hit, and maybe by giving a larger audience a sneak peak of what they should have been drinking all these years(!), would save me having to give all mine away (the single casks are safe though!)
    Slainte!
    Sean.

  2. Matt B says:

    Hey Sean (above me),

    There’s pros and cons to that idea, mostly cons. Representing GlenDronach at bigger stores and more mainstream avenues means big supply and demand issues. Retailers fining suppliers for lack of supply and prices steadily going up. Who needs that? If you can get it, and others can seek it out, then don’t worry about the big corporate players. Support the indie stores and smaller distilleries and enjoy the journey.

    M

    • two-bit cowboy says:

      Cheers on your last line, Matt B.

    • Sean Russell says:

      I completely agree and also endorse the support of independent stores – wholeheartedly. They have passion, knowledge and personality and I’ve developed some really good relationships with them.

      I wouldn’t expect a Tesco (and I have many issues with those guys at the best of times!), or a Waitrose to be supplying single cask expressions and the-like. I was hinting on maybe one or two of the core range.

      That said, it doesn’t make a huge difference to me as I’ll continue to use my current indie suppliers – it was more of a general question to get some clarification on.

      Would this be the same reason you only ever see the 12yr original in duty free?

      Thanks!

  3. Jason Debly says:

    What I would like to know is whether or not GlenDronach is still used in the Teacher’s Highland Cream. I suspect not, and taste the difference, but would be interesting to hear from someone in the industry on this.

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