Gordon Dundas, Brand Ambassador for Europe and Asia for Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd (MBD), has recently paid a visit to Malaysia to launch the three very diverse Single Malt whiskies from different regions of Scotland. Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch all have their unique characters and in this interview, Gordon tells us the variances in their production and how wood affects any whisky.
1. What brought you into the whisky industry?
Well to be honest, I sort of came into it via the side door. I was looking to a new position and starting working for Paragraph Publishing who published Whisky Magazine. It was from that point that my interest in Whisky grew and gave me such a wonderful background in the whisky industry. Like all things, a time came to move on and I moved to Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd.
2. When was your first dram and what was your impression about whisky before and after you had it?
Well my first dram was at a party at University and it was a Glenfarclas . It was strong cask strength I think and so it was a shock to the palate with its high alcohol and rich sherry sweetness. The person who gave it to me did utter the words “try it with water….” Which made a huge difference and it was that change that made the difference. I had a perspective that whisky was not something I would drink but after that point although I did not drink much Whisky, I felt it was something at the right time I could drink!
3. How is it like to manage 3 out of 5 regions of Scotch whisky profile, when they are so different in terms of character?
It is an excellent opportunity. With a portfolio that covers three hugely different whiskies then it is possible you have something for everyone, from the light and delicate Auchentoshan, the spicy sweet and creamy Glen Garioch and the balanced smokiness of Bowmore. It is getting people to find out the difference between them and why they are so different that makes this role so rewarding.
4. How different is the market for Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch?
The markets are slightly different. Auchentoshan for me is great whisky for the connoisseur but also the mixologist. Because of its versatility it can work well in the cocktail arena but it can offer a wide range of tastes for the whisky drinker. It can also bring people into whisky because of its style and also open up the realms of Single Malt to a blended whisky drinker or indeed a first time whisky drinker.
Glen Garioch is more a whisky for a whisky drinker, someone who wants to try something new! Glen Garioch is not very well known but it offers a superb highland taste at that higher strength. Typically Highland whisky which I think will become a hugely popular brand amongst the whisky fraternity.
Bowmore again can also offer something for everyone. It dispels the myth that all Islay whiskies are all about the smokiness. The balance of the 12yo can show that it can be a whisky for many, pairing with seafood, particularly Oysters. This can be an eye opener for many and then when you present the 15yo Darkest which is hugely different, Bowmore starts to show its wonderful side of the balance between the house style from the spirit and the cask flavours generated over time.
Ultimately though we want people to taste the differences between these great single malt whiskies.
5. How is each label unique in their own region of production among other labels?
It is a good question.
Auchentoshan is the no.1 selling Lowland Whisky and is the only Scotch whisky that is triple distilled which helps to emphasize the Lowland style in terms of taste, particularly in the 12yo. A light and delicate style giving the 12yo a unique smoothness and taste like no other.
Glen Garioch is completely different but for me tastes like how a highland Region whisky should taste. The Founder’s Reserve is a robust whisky with plenty of sweetness, highland heather and creaminess. Bottled at 48% ABV makes this whisky different too, with that added alcohol strength giving the whisky a little more punch. The 12yo is more refined and complex, giving a depth of flavor and plenty of fruitiness plus the creaminess and sweetness.
Bowmore is unique because it is the oldest distillery on Islay since 1779. In terms of the end product, the balance of Bowmore is special. With the malt peated for 15 hours at the distillery, this gives us a superb balance in the final product, not too smokey but still very Islay.
What joins all of these whiskies is the quality of the wood used. Morrison Bowmore Distillers only produces Single Malt so therefore the wood is paramount in terms of the quality whiskies and as a result we spend a lot on quality casks.
6. How does triple distilling differentiate Auchentoshan from other Lowland whisky? What is the end result of this technique?
It is to do with the spirit during distillation passing through three uniquely shaped stills. This causes more copper contact therefore giving the whisky a lighter delicate side. Add into that the higher strength of 81% ABV of the spirit after this process and when you nose this spirit, the clean freshness, greenness and fruit aromas come through. 81% ABV is the highest strength in Single Malt production so when it is combined with quality wood, the outcome can be sublime such as the Three Wood, rich dark fruitiness, wonderful mouth feel and the smoothness coming from the spirit.
7. Why is wood so important to the making of whisky?
When making the spirit, consistency in production is vital to ensure the same spirit is produced.
Wood is then for the next 12 years the home that shapes the whisky so it is important to spend money on good wood. Ex-bourbon casks and ex-sherry casks are the main casks we use and we have a wood policy across all of our brands, that means we can obtain the finest casks from America and Spain.
As one revered writer in the world of whisky said to me….”You can make the best spirit in the world but if you put it then into bad wood, bad whisky will always be the outcome”
8. If one is going to try drams of all the three brands of whisky in one evening, which expressions will you be recommending from each label and in what sequence will you have them? Why?
I would start the evening off with an Auchentoshan 12yo. A superb aperitif style whisky with that mix of ex bourbon and ex sherry casks giving a sweet taste and light flavours with smoothness unique to Auchentoshan. I would then go for the sweetness of the Glen Garioch 12yo, wonderfully refined and complex with a creamy palate and lashings of vanilla sweetness. Add water and this becomes like a good crème brulee. To finish, it has to be the Bowmore 15yo, finished for three years in the finest Oloroso Sherry casks. This gives this whisky a richness with dark fruit flavours and richness from the sherry casks. Pairs perfectly with dark chocolate, this whisky for me is an ideal way to finish the night off.