Next up in my series of interviews of people in the whisky industry is Alistair Longwell, Distillery Manager for Ardmore.
I'd never really had Ardmore more before but after trying the sample of Ardmore Traditional i'm really interested in trying out more of their range.
1. How long have you been involved in the Whisky Industry?
All of my working life. As I write this, I am just a few days into my 26 th year of employment with Wm Teacher & Sons, having joined them straight from school on August 10th, 1987.
2. Whatâ€™s your earliest Whisky Memory?
There was always whisky in our house as my father collected whisky miniatures (he has just under1, 500) and after each Hogmanay there was always the guarantee for the intrepid early-morning explorer to come across a few un-quaffed drams still to be put out of their misery!
My earliest memory of Teacherâ€™s is quite a vivid one. While sitting as a wee boy on the top deck of a double-decker bus travelling down the hill on Springburn Road, by the old Co-op building, I remember gazing over the huge barrel stows outside Teacherâ€™s blending and bottling complex at Craigpark. I used to marvel at the skills of the men who could make such huge clean lines of stacked barrels, when barrels themselves were of a rounded shape!
3. Whatâ€™s your proudest moment in your career within the Whisky Industry thus far?
There have been a few proud moments but the pinnacle was being given the managerâ€™s job at Ardmore in late 2004 and as Ardmore is the last link to the original Teacher business that is still in operation this was a real highlight. Ardmore is a truly unique distillery. It combines amazing heritage, traditional production methods and a fantastically loyal staff, producing a considerable volume of peated highland whisky to support the most authentic of malt-rich blends, Teacherâ€™s Highland Cream. I still get a rush when I walk into the Teacher Building at No.14 St Enoch Square (now operated as a conference venue by the IET), as that is where I had my job interview back in the summer of 1987.
4. What was the last dram you had?
I shared a dram with some enthusiasts from Germany of an experimental whisky we are maturing here at Ardmore. We have matured spirit for seven years in American white oak puncheons and then transferred into European oak barriques, previously used to mature Douro Valley red wines and Cockburnâ€™s ruby port (total of 14 years seasoning). The resultant whisky is a delightful combination of the summer fruit influences of the port wood, together with the dry, earthy peat smoke and sweetness of Ardmore pushing through. One to look out for in a year or two!
5. What other whiskies and/or distilleries inspire you and why?
I have a sweet tooth and particularly like Scapa from Orkney. Scapa distillery in St Ola faces across Scapa Bay towards its peated Orcadian counterpart, Highland Park, which I also have a liking for. I was fortunate to spend a little bit of time up at Scapa
in 2004 and developed a real affinity for Orkney. Looking into Speyside, you canâ€™t beat The Glenrothes, The Macallan or Balvenie and if you are lucky, a nicely sherried Mortlach is an excellent walking companion. For a lighter palate which still prefers full flavor, then nothing can touch Teacherâ€™s with its exceptionally high malt content and I would encourage anyone to try Teacherâ€™s Origin which is double matured and has an even larger dollop of Ardmore in the blend which tops out at 65% malt â€“ a real malt drinkerâ€™s blend!
6. What is your dram of choice?
Ardmore Centenary â€“ the average age of the casks used for this extremely limited bottling were nearer 14 years of age which falls within the ideal age band for Ardmore in first fill ex-bourbon wood of 12 to 15 years. This is a delightful sipping whisky which, whilst appearing slightly light on the nose, delivers in spades on the palate!
7. The whisky industry seems very strong at the moment, where do you see it going over the next few years?
It is interesting to see that quite a few of the smaller independents are cashing in their chips right now e.g. Tullibardine & Bruichladdich, and the bigger distillers are scrabbling for capacity. This says two things: firstly that Scotch Whisky is in boom time due to new consumers in emerging markets and a general move to premiumisation in mature markets. Secondly, those who have previously gambled and invested are getting out whilst the going is good. I donâ€™t think this is necessarily indicative of the traditional boom and bust cycle of our industry however. I believe there will continue to be growth in the short to medium term and we will see more craft distillers opening up to get a slice of the demand for artisanal whisky, quite similar to the movement from craft brewing into craft distilling that the US has experienced over the past few years. In short, the pie will continue to get bigger and with that there will be opportunities for all distillers whatever their scale.
8. Where would you like to be in 5 years time?
Donâ€™t know about five yearâ€™s time but I can certainly think where I wouldnâ€™t mind being in four years time â€“ standing atop Sugar Loaf mountain in Rio de Janeiro conducting a Teacherâ€™s tasting amidst a samba party for the successful gold winning athletes! Teacherâ€™s in Brazil is a phenomenal success with sales close to 800,000 cases and the forecasts show that rising to above 1 million cases by the time the Olympics roll into town.
9. What is the strangest whisky superstition youâ€™ve came across?
Not so much superstition as a bit of pulling the wool over the eyes. As I said previously, my father collects whisky miniatures and used to periodically conduct a stock check. Quite often he would find bottles whose contents had reduced markedly or even disappeared completely. He used to believe my brothers and I when we said it must have been the heat in the loft (where they were stored) which was causing evaporationâ€¦
10. What dram would you absolutely not be able to live without?
Ardmore Traditional Cask. Itâ€™s my go-to dram when I want to relax in the evening. In summer time I like it on ice (it stands up fine) and in winter just a drop of water opens this up beautifully to expose the trinity of â€˜Sâ€™ â€“ Sweet, Smoke & Spice! Interestingly, it is also my wifeâ€™s favourite dram. On our first date she was at pains to point out that she hated not just the taste but the smell of whisky. However, we ended our evening with a nightcap in a famous old spit â€˜n sawdust bar in Aberdeen called the Grill (it has a fantastic malt collection) â€“ needless to say by the end of the night Kim was drinking Ardmore neat!
Many thanks to Alistair for taking the time to answer these questions and I hope you enjoyed viewing them, more in this series in the coming weeks and remember to have a look at the Ardmore. website for more of their range.