Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

A Revealing Chat With WhistlePig’s Raj Bhakta

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Author - Davin de KergommeauxWhen Robert Simonson alerted me recently that the makers of WhistlePig rye were finally ready to “come clean” and confirm that the whiskey* they bottle is from Canada, I was skeptical. However, in an article written for the upcoming summer 2014 issue of Whisky Advocate, Simonson quotes WhistlePig’s master distiller, Dave Pickerell, saying that the original WhistlePig came from Canada’s Alberta Distillers (ADL), and that some of it still does.

Here’s some of what that piece will say:

“It’s fairly common knowledge that that’s where we started,” Pickerell said of ADL. “What’s not common knowledge is that’s not where we are now. We are growing our own rye on site and contracting whiskey from three distilleries in the U.S. and two in Canada.” One of those Canadian distilleries, however, is still ADL.

Has several years of badgering from American whiskey bloggers softened the stance at WhistlePig? Finally, Pickerell has stated for the record that at least some of the whiskey is from Canada. He also went on record in 2010 that this is the very best rye whiskey in the world.

Raj Bhakta and Dave Pickerell at WhistlePig Farm

Raj Bhakta and Dave Pickerell at WhistlePig Farm

When WhistlePig was released in 2010, the firm’s publicist was blunt that they did not want people to know that the whiskey was Canadian. So I was surprised when WhistlePig brand owner Raj Bhakta contacted me last week wanting to talk. Speaking of his whiskey’s Canadian heritage he was quick to say, “That’s not something I’ve shied away from,” although he did later concede that might not have been his approach in the beginning. In any case, he is talking now, and is completely candid that the whiskey they are bottling today is still from the same single Canadian source, not five distilleries as Pickerell implies.

“Yes, we’ve been growing our own grain,” he continued, “and we have been contracting others to distill it for us. We wanted to see how it turned out. That whiskey is currently maturing on the farm in Vermont, but it is not yet ready for release.” And the whiskey in the bottles? It’s still all Canadian rye whiskey, and will be for years to come.

“We’re deeply in bed with Canada, it’s just not our lead,” he continues. “WhistlePig is a Canadian-U.S. collaboration to the core. The latest batch has spent four years on the farm in our own barrels, so much of the flavor is from wood we put it into in Vermont.”

Shortly after Bhakta bought WhistlePig farm in 2007, he began casting about for business ideas. A mutual friend introduced him to Pickerell. He had found what he called “the best rye whiskey in the world,” in Canada and wanted to bottle it. However, try as he might, Pickerell could not convince any of the big players to sell Canadian whiskey at a premium price. Bhakta, meanwhile, wanted to create “America’s first luxury rye.”

Rye growing at WhistlePig Rye Farm

Rye growing at WhistlePig Farm

“Dave had the product and the pedigree, I had the entrepreneurial gusto,” he told me. But after so many rejections, Pickerell wasn’t sure how to tell people the whiskey was Canadian.

“I’ve never not wanted to disclose,” Bhakta told me, citing what he called “the Templeton debacle.” But, he added, “you don’t start out saying, ‘This is Canadian whiskey.’ It’s looked down on. It’s been an interesting navigation. It’s a tricky piece—the people who react are the geeks of whiskey—but we don’t want to confuse the general public.

“Look, I’m a salesman with a bit of P.T Barnum in me,” Bhakta continues, “and I like that.” According to Bhakta, rather than talking about the Canadian connection, they decided to focus on their long-term vision of making rye whiskey in Vermont. “We’re not trying to dance around the issue, but how do you navigate this?” he wondered.

“We have the opportunity to sell younger whiskey,” he noted, “but we are storing our stocks and doing barrel experimentation. Five years from now the critics will come to see there was a much greater vision here. I feel I am getting attacked for building the thing the right way.”

One thing is certain from my conversation with Bhakta. There are no stills at WhistlePig. Although they have applied for a permit to open a distillery, they are still awaiting approval. For now WhistlePig is a farm, pure and simple, and not a drop of the whiskey bottled under the WhistlePig label was actually distilled by Dave Pickerell: sourced, selected, and approved, but not distilled.


*Rather than switch back and forth between the American “whiskey” and Canadian “whisky,” this one time we decided to just use the American spelling. Davin, no shy Canadian, approved, for which we thank him.

Georgie Crawford of Lagavulin Distillery — In 140 or Less

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Author - Caroline DewarAnother 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 distillery manager of Lagavulin. Georgie Crawford left Islay at thirteen to live on the mainland. In her work life, among a few other places, she spent some time at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society before joining Diageo. She returned to Islay a few years ago to take over the management of Lagavulin.

What’s the view from your office window?

Today it is blue skies and green rolling fields full of sheep. I can also see my house, and now it’s sunny I can see I need to clean the windows!

Get a little man in for that! What’s happening at Lagavulin this week?

Really busy on distilling as usual, but focusing on pulling together final details of our Fèis Ìle program before the tickets go on sale.

What’s happening for Fèis Ìle [Islay Festival] at Lagavulin this year?

Can’t say yet, BUT the staff have outdone themselves with great ideas to entertain our loyal visitors. We are finalizing the Fèis bottling too; another cracker in 2014.

GCrawfordWe’ll hear more soon then, on your website. You’ve been there a few years now. Anything changed in the distillery or company in that time?

We have focused our efficiency and are making more Lagavulin than ever. With the growth in whisky it all counts so we are glad we will have more whisky for the future.

Sounds great. You were looking at re-use of waste energy, etc. Progress?

There’s a new project on this in the pipeline (no pun) and we have optimized the stillhouse energy. I’m happy with the results to date.

What do you mean by optimized here?

By managing distillation temps we can get better heat transfer in our pre-heat heat exchangers, which saves the steam usage at site.

I was going to say ‘cool,’ but not if it’s steam! Very efficient. I’ve met your new female colleague, also called Georgie. A new Diageo hiring policy?

Georgie Bell. We haven’t met yet as she had to call off her visit due to winter gales. She also worked at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society which is just spooky!

Some mainlanders who now live on Islay run back every couple of months for some R&R. You?

No! I love the islands so much that this year’s trips are Orkney & Iceland! It’s the year of the seafaring Vikings in our house!

I know you like to travel. Are those destinations for work or pleasure?

Both for pleasure; you need to leave the whisky behind sometimes. (Or maybe pack a little bottle in your luggage.)

Sounds reasonable. You traveled far this last year, I hear. Where and why?

China on holiday for the culture and heritage. I will remember the view on top of the Great Wall forever. The Terracotta Warriors were also amazing.

What else fills your non-work time?

Our new puppy Sidheag (means wolf) is taking up most of my free time of late. She is driving me and poor 8 y.o. Jock, the Westie, mad!

Fabulous. Another Westie? And I was going to ask how Jock was enjoying island life…

She is a lab cross wire-haired pointer who will hopefully be a gun dog down the line. Jock is standing his ground and loves the longer walks!

Jock not bossed around then. You like cooking; any signature dish? Are your Lagavulin chocolate truffles in the shop there?

I can’t poison the customers! I make a mean lasagna, its bacon that’s the secret ingredient. Can’t beat my homemade shortbread with a cup of tea.

You were going to be starting a vegetable garden…

We should all have aspirations in life and try to live our dreams but if you saw my cauliflowers you would say, “Stick to making whisky!”

Okay, we will. Are there any distillers you particularly admire (anywhere)?

Pre-Diageo, I was just a whisky anorak. I will always remember John MacLellan spending time with me. Billy Stitchell [at Caol Ila] was my in-house go-to.

What would be your desert island dram? Doesn’t have to be Lagavulin!

Only one – impossible! Lagavulin Jazz 2010 from home or Longmorn 15 yo, Talisker 18 yo or Balvenie 12 yo depending on my mood and the weather!

Great choices, if too many. And it’s all over! Hope that wasn’t too testing and thank you so much.

Billy Walker of BenRiach Distillery — in 140 or Less

Friday, 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.

Bruichladdich’s Duncan McGillivray — In 140 Or Less

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Author - Caroline DewarAnother in our occasional series of Tweet-style interviews. Here’s Bruichladdich general manager Duncan MacGillivray, who was interviewed just before Christmas.

What’s the view from your office window?

Out across Loch Indaal to Bowmore. Nice view of Bruichladdich pier too.

Better than mine, even if it is my garden. What season of weather is it today, given it could be any one of four on Islay?

It’s rather grey and unusually calm, late autumn. Damp, but not wet.

What’s going on at the distillery today?

We’re distilling Octomore spirit. The last mashes before the Christmas break. Then we will have a maintenance period.Capture-Duncan

I read that on the web. Why do you expect a lower yield of alcohol per ton of barley from that?

The phenolic content affects the efficiency of fermentation, resulting in lower yield.

And why take the middle cut at a different point, for those who don’t know your process on this one?

You can alter the strength and character of the spirit by altering the middle cut. We have an unusually short middle cut which gives us better quality spirit.

Are you still being whisky mavericks (that’s a bit Wild West!) under the new ownership?

It’s business as usual at Bruichladdich. No change in attitude or approach!

Glad to hear that. You’re general manager, not distillery manager. What’s the difference? 

I am able to take a broad overview of operations rather than attending to the day to day needs.

What do you mean by broad overview? Can you expand/give an example?

I take a more ambassadorial role now. I don’t have to worry about the day to day running of the plant as we now have a manager, brewer, and engineer.

In that case, any inclination to travel as much as Jim McEwan or do you do that anyway now?

[At this point Duncan had to go – called to the Laddieshop. We waited while he did manager things. And…he’s back!]

Jim loves to travel. He has just done Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Canada, U.S., and Germany and is heading to [Australia] and NZ in the New Year.

But that doesn’t answer my question – how about you?

I may travel more next year – but not to the extent Jim does… He loves it.

I hear you’re a Gaelic speaker. Get to use it much?

Speak Gaelic with Alasdair in the bottling hall pretty much every day.

What’s this about a passion for tractors? Tell us more.

I have restored a David Brown 880 (1964) and a Massey Ferguson 135 (1966).

That’s impressive, though tractor models not my area of expertise! And the old lorry you rebuilt. What’s the tale behind that?

The lorry is a Ford AA 1 ton truck (1935) restored by David McLellan and myself. It has spent its whole life on Islay.

I heard it was the first lorry to come to Islay; is that correct?

We believe so. It was driven up from Ford’s Dagenham by original owner Willie Christie of Islay Woollen Mill.

A great story. Any new expressions coming soon of The Laddie, Octomore, or PC coming that you can tell us about now?

We have Octomore and Port Charlotte releases distilled from Islay barley coming. No release dates yet.

Any unfulfilled distilling ambitions?

We’re just enjoying the exploration of different barley varieties and provenance from around Scotland. It’s a fascinating and ongoing project.

Fascinating indeed. No plans for vodka or Islay rum from local sugar cane fields then! And the Port Charlotte distillery?

Port Charlotte distillery was halted by the financial crisis. Remy Cointreau have not decided what they are going to do with it yet.

I sense you won’t have trouble filling your time if you ever retire. And you adore seeing your grandchildren. Are they on Islay too?

I love seeing the grandchildren, but they live in the Scottish borders. I get to see them often though. No intention of retiring; always seem to have something on the go.

Social media and the Internet: fan or foe?

I suppose it’s a necessary evil. I do look at Facebook etc. for the family now and again. I don’t’ really get involved though.

What would be your desert island dram (it doesn’t have to be one of your own!)

Bruichladdich 15, 2nd Edition: one of my all-time favorites, finished in a very good Sauternes cask. I’ll take that to my island. If unavailable, then a Highland Park.

And we’re done. Thank you!

Cutty Sark’s Jason Craig — In 140 Or Less

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Caroline DewarWe’re all Tweeting, expressing ourselves in 140 characters or less. This occasional series asks whisky luminaries to express themselves in the format, but all in one place. Here’s Jason Craig, Global Brand Controller for Cutty Sark. (We gave him the spaces in his answers for free, so they may go a bit over 140…)

What’s the view from your office window?

The River Tay on one side and a large tree covered hill on the other side; the sun is low and the colors are gorgeous.

Not bad; better than a car park, unless you’re fibbing. You take guitar lessons. Frustrated rock star?

Always! Love the idea of it; really annoying that my young daughter makes me look bad though. In 10k hours I would be Slash from Guns n’ Roses; if I had the time, obviously.cutty sark

Might not take that long. You like listening to music and audio books. Compatible with all your travel but running a youth soccer team and going to movies aren’t.

Long haul = movies and work. Driving a car = audio books. Air travel means showing up for football matches in a suit sometimes; lots of abuse, i.e. “check Mourinho out!”

So cruel! You’re a sociable guy: good choice for a brand created for making cocktails. Lots of nights in bars necessary? 

Cocktail bars, late nights, interesting drinks and people: all for understanding the consumer and the trade. Sometimes wish my family or friends were there though.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles! Cutty Sark has great history. Good to see a brand promoted for mixing and cocktails. Do you have a favorite?

I think that classics are classics for a reason. I love an Old Fashioned. Got to be made the old school 6 minute way though…if I have the patience.

Old school way? Tell us more.

Not using gum syrup: taking the sugar, crushing it and letting it dissolve in the glass. Love the theater and anticipation of it. Bartenders don’t get enough credit!

Agreed. Some great cocktails on Cutty’s website, classics and new. Where did all the recipes come from?

We have a lot of pals associated with Cutty, the brilliant Maxxium Mixxit team – Wayne, David, Amanda, plus Gary “Godfather” Regan in the states who makes good soup too!

Cutty in soup might be nice! I’d like to try some of these myself but don’t know what size of measure a “shot” is. Any idea?

The only thing that goes in soup is a spoon or fresh bread… A shot is 25ml in grown-up countries or the 2 fingers approach in less formal places…I much prefer the latter.

Great – we’ll all try that size. Does Cutty’s usage message for mixing mean younger drinkers than average? Does that depend on market?

Most brands’ target audience age is 25+. Cutty drinkers, men and women, are already that age. Our approach aims to keep it that way! Blow away the Scotch whisky cobwebs.

I endorse that, wanted to see it for ages. A lot happening on Cutty in recent years. New pack, age extensions, Storm, Tam O’Shanter, Prohibition. Biggest challenge?

Our brand is young and cool, offers so much, loved by millions and the quality is exceptional. Biggest challenge is not taking it too seriously.

Certainly an old brand but a cool image. Some fun promotions too. The giant crate? Please tell more. Was it only London?

Cutty Cargo. Giant wooden crate, London, 380 writers, consumers, influencers – 9 acts, great food, brilliant drinks – the best emerging talent from London – NYC next.

Terrific. And Speed Rack for women bartenders. Open to misinterpretation?! Or intentional wordplay? It’s a nice idea.

I think they are brilliant. Speed Rack is a cute play on words, they raise money for breast cancer and are up front about it. We love them.

Seems the older whiskies = dumpier bottles. Tam O’Shanter pack very different from main blend, as is the whisky. What were you seeking to achieve there?

Start with the story behind the name. Dumpy allowed the etched illustration to wrap round the bottle, liquid and pack awards enhance the whole brand. Maleficent dram.

Assume you mean the Cutty Sark reference in the poem. But where did the liquid take the brand? I bet [master blender] Kirsteen Campbell had fun.

Yes the name comes up in the poem. Kirsteen, please blend 25yo Macallan, Highland Park and Glenrothes and several others…the result proved we are “A” league whisky.

Indeed they did. Cutty Sark is back in the UK after some years’ absence. Why now?

Blended scotch growing, cocktails are growing, Cutty Sark is  a perfect base for mixed drinks and classy cocktails: we asked, they said yes! Long overdue – sorry UK.

Seems reasonable. Cutty Sark Prohibition is about to reach US shores. Any big launch plans? And going forward?

Prohibition is landing (legally now) in the US and many other markets too. Launching in our Cargo Crate in NYC early 2014. Might be some fedoras and passwords needed!

Maybe follow up with Gangster’s Moll and St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Seriously, any other expressions coming?

Oh hell yeah, we have around 6 killer ideas all being tested just now. Our “Spirit of Adventure” means that we can play at the edges of the category. Watch this space.

Will do. On a different tack (but marketing and personally relevant too), social media: friend or foe?

Definitely friend, gotta play there, gotta speak to our consumers, gotta embrace their world, not make them embrace ours. I love technology which keeps you in touch.

You travel a lot. If not living in God’s own whisky country where would you be? Why?

I love cities and mountains/lakes but need technology.  Love Japan: they combine all that, have great food and ancient history. Be like “Lost in Translation” though.

And they drank whisky in that movie! Your desert island dram? Doesn’t have to be a brand you’ve worked on!

Ouch! Hard question. Which of your kids do you love more? Highland Park 18yo. Loved it before I worked on it and still do. Orcadian Nectar….and it is in Cutty 18yo too!

And we’re done. You’re a star – thank you. Any few last words you’d like to add?

Just that our mission is to ensure Scotch whisky is for everyone and to blow up so many of the rules and regulations.

More From Inside MGP

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

My article, “LDI: The Mystery Distillery,” was published in the Winter 2011 issue of Whisky Advocate. It was a hard story to write because no one involved with the former Seagram-owned plant in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, would talk about it. Not aauthor-cowdery word, on the record or off.

A few facts about the place were known, but by 2011 it wasn’t even possible to determine exactly who owned it. Available public records simply showed the owner as Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana, LLC.

Between when the story was written and when it went to press, LDI was sold. In the nick of time, we were able to update the piece to report the sale. “In late October,” we wrote, “MGP Ingredients Inc., a major food grade ethanol (i.e., vodka) producer, announced that it is buying LDI for $15 million.”

What we did not know then was that the new ownership would be as open as the previous had been secretive. We recently spoke with Dave Dykstra, MGP vice president for sales and marketing; and Don Coffey, vice president for research and development, about the company’s plans for the Indiana plant.

David Dykstra

David Dykstra

Dykstra began by explaining the facility’s historical footprint as the maker of Seagram’s Gin (now owned by Pernod-Ricard) and Seagram’s Seven Crown American Blended Whiskey (now owned by Diageo). Both brands are in the value segment and though large, both have been moribund recently. Now they are growing again.

In addition to that business, MGP believes there is a need for a bulk producer that won’t compete with brand companies, globally. This applies to their whole product mix: vodka, gin, and whiskey.

“We see a huge need for it,” says Dykstra. “Most companies like dealing with us because we’re not their competitor.” They have grown the business in the 18 months since they bought it, picking up many new customers.

Although MGP is best known as a grain neutral spirits producer, the Lawrenceburg acquisition marks their return to the whiskey business. McCormick, a historic distillery in Weston, Missouri, was owned by MGP from the 1950s until 1999. MGP also made whiskey at its distillery in Pekin, Illinois, until 1993.

With its new whiskey program, MGP is aiming for 50% to 60% of its whiskey business to come from contract distilling (in which the customer buys the whiskey when it is distilled and pays an annual fee for maturation), with the rest coming from bulk or ‘spot’ sales (in which the customer buys and takes immediate delivery of aged whiskey).

“Our focus is on the European and Asian markets for growth,” says Dykstra. “And we’re focusing on the private label business.”

One early change they made was expanding their whiskey offerings. They now make five bourbon recipes, three rye recipes, and one each for corn, wheat, and malt. No other major American distillery makes that many different recipes…and they are working on more.

Coffey explained that, with so many different mash bills in play, they have decided to use one yeast for all whiskey products.

Don Coffey

Don Coffey

“We’re freezing that as a variable,” says Coffey. But when it comes to maturation, variety is once again the rule. “We used seven different barrels for the new mash bills,” says Coffey, “different toasts and chars, to create different sub-species of bourbon and other whiskeys.” The idea is that producers will be able to buy distinctive whiskeys from MGP, whiskeys that are uniquely their own.

“We have eight novel bourbons going now, with four more cued up,” says Coffey. “The standard is the 21% rye recipe, but we will offer a variety of small grains: oats, quinoa, whatever the customer wants. We’ll study how the small grain changes the bourbon’s character, as compared to the standard.”

Since mixtures of one or more straight bourbons are still considered straight bourbon, not a blend, the possibilities are endless.

MGP intends to be most innovative and consistent supplier of distilled spirits.

“What customers value from us are consistency and reliability, the ability to replicate success,” says Coffey. ”We want to be the customer’s research and development team.” It is their intention to supply liquid, not packaged products, as they have no bottling facility. It was sold separately to Proximo Spirits. Many of MGP’s customers are bottler-rectifiers and they don’t want to compete with their customers.

Going forward, they expect to upgrade many of the distillery’s systems and will expand capacity as needed. They’ve sold most of the aged inventory made under the former owners but the warehouses are filling up again.

As a large, fulltime, non-brand producer that values creativity and innovation, MGP of Indiana adds a welcome new dimension to the American whiskey landscape.

Euan Shand — In 140 Or Less

Monday, September 9th, 2013

Caroline DewarBy Caroline Dewar

We’re all Tweeting, expressing ourselves in 140 characters or less. It seemed like a fun thing to ask whisky luminaries to express themselves in the format, but all in one place. It’s easier to read, and a lot easier to find. Here’s Euan Shand, Chairman of Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky Ltd. (We gave him the spaces in his answers for free; they may go a bit over 140!)

Why Pasadena, CA now instead of Huntly, Aberdeenshire? Euan Shand (Cask Photo)

Pasadena is a gorgeous city, has great potential being near one of the largest whisky drinking conurbations in the world and is great for golf.

Better golf weather then!  What’s the view from your office window?

I actually look onto a car park! Though it’s a nice one with lots of convertibles.

Bummer! I envisaged mountains or sea. You’re a motor racing fan. Do you follow Indy Car over there?

Forgot to mention I do see the San Gabriel mountains! How could I miss that? I love motor racing and do follow most of the US races, including American Le Mans Series.

What are the reasons for your different ranges? Short answer for each one, please.

Rarest: flagship, extremely rare and collectible; Tantalus: 40+ years old, dead distilleries; Octave: our pioneering octave range.  I’ve got more ……

Go on then!

Singles: 20–40 YO; Dimensions 10: 20YO malts and grains; Smokin’: because it’s smokinnnn; Big Smoke: Islay.

What’s coming in the next few months from Duncan Taylor – anything special in the approaching holiday season?

An addition to Rarest, likely a 45 YO Bowmore. The entire new Tantalus range, all around 35 – 45 YO incl. Banff, Port Ellen, Glenrothes and more.

You have some beautiful packaging. Is it all done by your graphic designer?

All designs done in house plus we tap into the strengths of some of our friends who are craftsmen in wood.

You’re very lucky to have them.

Since buying DT Scotch you’ve won a slew of awards. Useful? Meaningful?

Always good but some mean MUCH more than others. We only get involved in blind tasting awards from real experts such as the Malt Maniacs, Whisky Advocate

Your distillery build’s taken a while to start. Any particular finance, world economy, design or planning issues?

We’ve started the building process. We had environment issues, now resolved. I wanted to build using my own cash resources and have done so. No family trust fund here!

What were those issues?

I forgot to mention the bats and voles…

Protected wildlife! Where do they fit into the project?

As we are renovating a very old existing building we had to make sure that we didn’t do anything when the bats were mating, also any groundworks would upset the voles…

What about the green aspects? What are they? And how are the stills to be fired?

Was going to be all green but didn’t make financial sense to cost an extra £1m for wood chip heating etc. so that’s on the back burner, pardon the pun. I’m going for gas.

Bats and voles don’t burn too well either! When will it be finished?

Don’t you just love environmentalists… Finished July 2015 as it’s a reasonably large distillery, output circa 1.6m liters.

Any hankering still to buy a distillery in Scotland?

Yes, still want one, but it has to be the right one.  Those that are available I’m not interested in. Not that there’s many around. Though I think there might be plenty soon.

Why is that?

There’s too many being built not of commercial size. If everyone fights their corner on uniqueness then that becomes old news and history shows that outcome.

Lots of craft distilling in the US – any ambition to start up production over there?

I’m currently in discussion with a US craft distiller, interesting project, can’t say too much at the moment.

Are you primarily a blends man or a malts man?

I like both but have most fun with blends….you can play about with them and come up with some wonderful taste profiles. Blends not blondes…

Your wife might object to the latter.

Luxe furniture range – nice idea. How’s it going?

It’s all new and being patented now. It’s our green contribution, reclaiming old casks to make bespoke furniture. Amazing craftspeople and the designs are stunning.

Social media – fan or foe?

Social media is wonderful. It gets to places that we would never have got to before, so I’m a fan.

Anything back home that you miss or can’t get over there?

I miss the wet, dreich, cold, dark, miserable winter nights. Other than that it’s all good, even get my favorite digestive biscuits here.

Interview with Crown Royal XR LaSalle master blender Andrew MacKay

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Lew Bryson, Whisky Advocate managing editor, chats with Crown Royal’s master blender, Andrew MacKay.

When Crown Royal master blender Andrew MacKay was asked to create a second Crown Royal XR bottling, after the XR Waterloo bottling was a success, he thought of the LaSalle distillery, west of Montreal, which is where he learned the whisky business. I spoke to him yesterday about this new, limited bottling.

The new Crown Royal XR LaSalle is blended with whiskies distilled at LaSalle, correct? When did the distillery close, and how old would those whiskies be?

It has whiskies from the LaSalle distillery in it; I wouldn’t want to imply that those are the only whiskies in it. It was shut down completely in 1993; it’s still used as a warehousing site; there are still a few multi-story brick warehouses. That distillery was started in 1924, finished in 1928. People asked, “Why build a distillery in the middle of Prohibition?” [We both laugh.]

The whiskies are obviously from pre-1993, but when we’re putting these blends together, the idea is not to hit an age profile. It’s designed to be a smooth, gentle whisky in your mouth. That creamy character of Crown Royal is there.

You’re going to have aged whiskies in there, and there is continuous, base whisky — which comes off the still with the characteristics of a vodka — and that’s aged in used barrels. If we put that in a new barrel, it would just overwhelm it. But if you have a barrel that had just contained bourbon, and put that vodka in it, it pulls out the fruity aromas and flavors from the wood. That’s part of our arsenal. It’s interesting how the different barrels lend themselves to different whiskies.

The XR takes the LaSalle ryes, and accentuates those rich aged notes, then blends the younger whiskies in to get that creamy Crown Royal character. It’s designed to feel and taste this way. It’s quite distinct from bourbon; it’s quite distinct from Scotch. We try to be very distinctive, and we know we have to make our distillate the best it can be; we can’t just depend on the wood.

How does Crown Royal blend: what ages separately, how long is the mingling, how many steps? Was the blending of the LaSalle XR different in any way from that process?

All the whiskies are aged separately, in individual barrels, different bonds (warehouses). We’re surveying everything at three years of age, and maintaining the library as it ages. Every 8 to 12 months, we’re getting samples. We’ll take all those out of the library, nose them, and guide them back.

The calendar is really a guide – you’re moving backwards and forwards in time. What I’m making today is for ten years from now: these are the whiskies I need to make, these are the barrels to put them into. But I’m also looking back, seeing what I actually have from ten years ago, and how it’s matured. You have to consider the evaporative loss, where it’s produced, the barrels you have, how much they cost.

Planning like that must only get more complex when a brand is as big as Crown Royal, right?

Most people don’t perceive how difficult maintaining a successful blend is. Excess stock is good, you get that richness from the aged whisky. But unmitigated success means you’d better have the older whisky you need. You may even have to go to the open market to get the continuous base whisky. It’s a fascinating game.

And back to the LaSalle XR?

The LaSalle is unique. We were looking for something distinct right off the bat. The Waterloo XR had a distinct flavor: the mealy, doughy, breadlike but not yeasty richness from Waterloo whisky. It could withstand the age of the barrels it was in. If you wait too long, the wood overwhelms the distillate. The Waterloo was able to stave that off. It was a success, and marketing liked the product, so they wanted another. [he laughs]

What happened with the Waterloo…I was blending Crown Royal by then. Mike Connors, the master blender before me, always used Waterloo’s whisky as the gold standard. When they asked me to make a special XR, it was easy: pull samples from Waterloo! But when they came back two years later asking for another, I was on my own. I started looking at the inventory.

If you have a few hundred barrels out of LaSalle that have been sitting there, in terms of blending Crown Royal, that’s a drop in the bucket. But in terms of the XR series, that’s an opportunity. That’s the joy of being able to create something brand new. Once I settled on the LaSalle rye, it was a matter of accentuating the bold spicy notes while blending with enough bourbon [barrel-aged] whiskies and continuous whiskies to get the rich and creamy notes; and on top of that we wound up with a small floral note. The LaSalle is all about that richness, but mixing it up a little.

Where else can you go with the XR series?

Don’t ask me, they haven’t come to me with that one yet! My job is to maintain the Reserve, and the Black, and make sure they will be continuous through time. When they let you create something new it’s a challenge, it lets out that nugget of creativity.

It was great talking to Andrew, but I took the opportunity to tell him, around the time he was explaining the blending process — “moving backwards and forwards in time” — that this was exactly the kind of thing Canadian distillers should be explaining to consumers: exactly why Canadian whisky is the way it is — “We make it this way on purpose,” he said, laughing — and what a painstaking process blending really is. He said he agreed with me completely; now we just have to get through to marketing.

The Bill Lumsden interview

Monday, 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!

Lunch with Dr. Bill Lumsden TODAY! Have any questions for him?

Monday, November 8th, 2010

At 1:30 PM today (Eastern Time, US), I’m having lunch with Dr. Bill Lumsden, Head of Distilling and Whisky Creation for The Glenmorangie Company. That includes Ardbeg and Glenmorangie. That’s about five hours from now.

I realize that this is last minute, but…do you have any questions you would like me to ask him?  I’ll do my best to get the answers.