Angels whisky club INTERVIEW Graeme Bowie; Ardnamurchan Distillery Manager, interviewed by Paul McLean, Angels Whisky Club.
Graeme, It was really good to tour the distillery recently with our Finnish group. How are plans for opening and filling the first cask? A; Opening should be in the next couple of weeks. We are just waiting for approval from HMRC. The first filling will be unpeated spirit into an ex Bourbon Barrel.
Q; Can you describe what you did previously in the whisky industry? A; Just celebrated 30 years in the industry. Started in the warehouse at Glen Grant Distillery, after a year moved on to production. Back then there were 3 men on a shift, mashman, stillman and a fireman. I started as the fireman, making sure the coal fires were stoked at all times. Glen Grant has 8 stills so you were kept busy. After a year of that I started on the milling and mashing side then as a stillman. They were great times and we had a great bunch of people working there. In 2000, I moved to Balmenach Distillery, again working for Dennis Malcolm. I covered all areas of production. In 2006, I got the chance to move into the Assistant Manager’s role at Balblair Distillery. John MacDonald had just come from Glenmorangie, so it was a new management team for the distillery. Working with John and the rest of the guys there was good and I learned a lot about the management side of things. It was during my time at Balblair that I started to do some travelling in Europe to do whisky fairs and masterclasses, which I really enjoyed. Inver House Distillers are a special company to work for, from the managing director down to the girls that answer the phone at head office reception, everyone is wanting and doing their best for the company. It was in early 2013, that I saw an advert in the paper for a Distillery Manager for Adelphi Distillery’s new Ardnamurchan Distillery. I was very happy at Balblair but knew I had to apply as it was time for the next step. I knew nothing of Ardnamurchan but I had met Alex Bruce, Adelphi’s Sales Marketing Director at a whisky fair in Vienna in 2011. He seemed a genuine person, who was passionate about whisky. My wife, Astrid came with me for my first interview, so she could see what the area was like. It was a shock, although Balblair is in a rural setting this was something else. Single track roads, no shops close at hand but the scenery was stunning. The Adelphi board sold this project to me straight away during the interview. After a second interview I waited a month, then Alex phoned me to offer me the job. I was delighted to accept, this was a huge project and an exciting challenge. So on the 1st of May 2013, my wife, a dog, three cats and I followed the removal van to Ardnamurchan.
Q; I have taken many tours with wee groups/large groups from all over the world, what is your favourite memory of whisky making? A; It would be of the people I have worked with over the years. When I started at Glen Grant, I was on shift with Togie Grant and Allan McDonald. These were guys who knew about making spirit and I learned a lot off them but we had fun as well. Togie on nightshift would often break into song. On a Saturday morning we would cook a big fry up, the manager at the time was Bob McPherson, and he knew we did this and would often join us for breakfast. Great guys, as were all my fellow workers.
Q; Adelphi Distillery is now Scotland’s most acclaimed independent bottler of single casks of rare malt whisky, I know you are manager, but what are your day to day tasks? A; Being in charge of making a quality new make spirit is obviously important, but site safety is also important. I have HMRC , Sepa , HS reports to do, order malt, yeast, casks. Spirit charges need doing, paperwork for all the processes is required. Budgets are constantly being monitored to make sure we are not over spending. I could have meetings with other industry colleagues regarding bulk sales. I might have a tour to do for customers. I also have to train my Assistant who has to be able to run the distillery in my absence.
Q; I know Adelphi bottles straight from the cask without colouring or chill filtration, do you have any say in the purchase of casks or how the whisky is finished? A; Alex Bruce purchases all the empty casks. I let him know when and what we require.
Q; Having been on your location a few times and knowing the differences between well known distilleries and Glenborrodale, how did you adapt to living locally? Are you living in the castle? A; No, not the Castle. I live in the house beside the distillery. My wife and I have settled in well and made some good friends. We do a big shop once a month in Fort William but there are a couple of small shops 20 minutes away where we can buy small items like bread and milk. My wife now works at Kilchoan Primary School doing the admin so that keeps her busy. It would be perfect apart from the rain and midgies!!
Q; Adelphi has a great association with Maclean’s, Charlie as you know (family always gets into these places!), the land used to be part of the Maclean lands back a few hundred years, even a wee pointy outcrop is called Maclean’s nose, the Clan bottling from 2012 Clan Gathering, Charlie chose it, Chief sold it at the castle, and then there is myself! Do you have business with many of us Maclean’s? A; I see Charlie 4/5 times a year. My granny was a Maclean from North Uist so we could be related!!.
Q; As far as you know are there any special bottles/whisky soon to be released? A; Sorry but that is Alex’s department.
Q; Have you /planning to (as a distillery), take any whisky risks? Any new ideas, innovations, a new concept, or just stun the whisky world? A: I just want to be able to make a quality spirit that people will appreciate. We are using a woodchip boiler for steam, and all the woodchip is source locally. We are the first in the industry to do this. Any new venture is a risk but I am confident we will get it right.
Q; how many bottles you have on sale annually? And if I may ask, how many do you keep personally? A: Again that is Alex’s side of things. I do not collect whisky as I think it is for drinking. The only bottle I have kept is a Balblair hand bottling that all the staff signed when I left.
Q; do you have any signed bottles or special numbered bottles for collectors? A: No. I do have a signed bottle of Champagne that was given to me by Ken Loach who directed the film The Angels Share that was made at Balblair.
Q; Do you have any thoughts about finishing? Port, Sherry etc. A: We will not be doing any finishing. As long as the spirit is good and it is in a quality cask it will not need to be finished.
Q; what are your views on; adding water to a dram, ice, coke etc? A: Everyone is different when it comes to whisky. Personally I would add a drop of water into a cask strength whisky but if it is 46%abv or lower I don’t. Is this right or wrong, who knows, but that is how I drink whisky as I like it this way?
Q; if water is acceptable, is this bottled water, tap water? A: I use bottled water. Some places have too much chlorine in the mains water.
Q; a chilly Scots winter day/night, what dram (any dram) would you sample? A; My favourite dram is a Balblair 1978. Lots of gorgeous, deep, fruity flavours.
Q; apart from working, how do you enjoy yourself? A; I used to play football and golf but I am older and not as fit as I used to be and we do not have a golf course on the peninsula. I have got into sea fishing and I have just bought a small boat so I will spend most of my free time, if the weather is good, drifting on Loch Sunart hoping to catch something big and tasty.
Q; If I asked you to “sell” Adelphi in no more than 50 words … A; Adelphi is all about quality. Whatever we do, whether it is producing our own spirit or buying another distillers, before it goes into a bottle it must be quality.
Q; Finally, how do you see the whisky industry advancing in the coming years? A; It is very hard to predict. It is looking great at the moment, what with all the new markets opening up but you never know as tastes change. All distillers can do is carry on making quality whiskies and hopefully the sales and marketing teams can get them into the market for people to try and enjoy.
Many thanks Graeme, I hope to visiting again soon, our group from Finland didnee want to leave, needed a push! They all appreciated your tour and drams, as did Liz and I.