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 director of distilling, whisky creation, and whisky stocks at the Glenmorangie Co., Bill Lumsden. He’s understandably quite busy, but took time out to answer some nosy questions.
What’s the view from your office/lab window?
I am lucky to have a splendid view of the Balmoral Hotel and in the background…Edinburgh Castle! Oh and the lovely St. James Centre! [The Centre is a 1970s concrete monstrosity shopping mall.]
Sublime to ridiculous! What was your route into the whisky industry?
Studying for my Ph.D., I discovered the sublime taste of malt whisky. That was it; no other choice. First job was with DCL (Diageo) as a research scientist.
And from there to here was…?
Working in all aspects of whisky production; you name it. First job at Glenmorangie Co. was Glenmorangie distillery manager, then the predecessor of my current role.
Well rounded then. I assume no typical day. What tasks might take up your time?
Absolutely no such thing as typical – with an incredibly low boredom threshold ‘typical’ would irritate me. Most days involve some organoleptic analysis of whisky.
Nosing and tasting then! Or just nosing? How much time do you get to spend at the distilleries?
Both nosing and tasting (but of course I don’t swallow in the office). Not nearly as much as I would like but basically at both at least once a month.
And how much time travelling? You pop up all over the world.
Hard to be precise but probably spend about 25% of my time in the markets. Usually do 2 trips a year to both Asia and the U.S. and some trips to Europe, London, Paris etc.
Do the public appearances take up lots of time? Are they enjoyable?
Out in the market sometimes I barely have time to sleep/eat/shower but it is still enjoyable. Genuinely gives interesting consumer insights into the whisky world.
Where does family life fit in?
All I will say on that one is that it costs me a fortune in presents from my many trips away.
You’re renowned—among other things—for work on maturation wood. What drives you there?
An understanding from early in my career that it doesn’t matter how good the raw spirit, if it’s not matured in good quality oak you simply cannot make good whisky.
Yes, the laws governing production of Scotch are so strict that the oak barrel is one of the most successful ways of playing tunes with the flavor of your whisky.
And you’ve played some great tunes. Still sourcing oak from the Ozarks?
Absolutely, it’s one of the key cornerstones of the quality of Glenmorangie. I have recently doubled the quantity of this type of wood we use for our top marques.
Presumably not a cheap option, then.
A very, very expensive option, but critical to the taste profile I am trying to achieve.
Do you like or use European oak?
I like European oak for some of my whiskies, but will typically use it for a limited part of the maturation, due to the higher level of tannin.
So the U.S. oak works better for you…?
I prefer American oak for the base maturation, as I particularly like the soft, sweet, creamy flavors it imparts (for both Ardbeg and Glenmorangie).
Any other elements/ingredients in Scotch production still largely unexplored or unexplained?
Trying to create new products; some people are looking at aspects of primary production.
I believe the fermentation offers the most potential for new flavors.
Do go on, please…
Ha ha! Not going to fall for that one. However, there are other strains of yeast out there I think could give an exciting alternative range of flavors to our products.
No trick intended! Your parent company owns champagnes, and so yeast. Any ambition for a sparkling Glenmorangie or Ardbeg?
From my experiences of drinking whisky champagne cocktails, I’m not certain that this would be a good idea!
I’ll just have to play with Ardbeg as a Kir base then. Kir fumé anyone?
I am very partial to a Mosquito (an Ardbeg-based mojito), and even, believe it or not, an Ardbeg Bloody Mary, but I haven’t yet tried it in a Kir.
Sadly, utterly obsessed with it, particularly the cut/fabric of suits. At any one time, I’ll have at least twenty clothing items still in their wrappings in my wardrobe.
Not sad; just particular! Ever thought of a modeling career? Seriously, though, what else do you enjoy outside work?
Modeling? Ha ha, very funny, Caroline! Interests: walking, wine, jogging, wine, cooking, wine, gardening, wine, etc.
Just a thought as an alternative career! I’m sensing a wine theme here. Anything in particular?
Very eclectic tastes and enjoy all sorts of wines. But my favorite whites, by some distance, are white Burgundies, and Cab Sauv is probably my favorite red grape.
It’s white Burgundy for me too. You cook: any signature dish?
Not really any signature dish per se, but I guess the dish I cook most is grilled rib eye steak with a blue cheese sauce.
All your fine whisky creations: any one of which you’re most proud and why?
I guess my magnum opus would be Signet, which is a very personal product to me, particularly given the length of time from when I had the original idea.
Do tell us more.
Idea from student days and disliking coffee: better aroma than taste. Led to considering the roast of the beans. A short leap to maybe roasting barley the same way.
Any favorite country to be in a) for work, and b) for pleasure?
Work: Japan. Just love the fact that the culture, the cuisine, the people are so different from the West. Pleasure: so many places but my top 3 are France, Italy, and U.S.
Lastly, what’s your desert island dram (you’re allowed to appreciate the work of others if you wish)?
My desert island dram would have to be my 1981 Glenmorangie Distillery Manager’s choice, which was bottled from my favorite single cask (ex-bourbon).