We go on with our interviews to independent bottlers from Scotland: this time, it’s
How did you fall in love with whisky, how did everything start?
My Dad’s Whisky collection really inspired me! He was a piper in the Black Watch regiment and it was through his piping that he would be gifted Whisky at weddings, funerals and birthdays. He managed to amass any amazing collection without paying for any of it and all these different Whiskies, with different labels, stories and brands really sparked an interest as the one thing they all had in common was they were all made in Scotland. From that point on I was fascinated by Whisky but it was only after I graduated from University that I learned about single cask Whisky and so I followed that path.
Which was your career in the whisky world?
I started my career in Whisky in 2012 when I started Hannah Whisky Merchants ltd, I bottled under the brand Lady of the Glen since then. Prior to this I have had no experience in the Whisky industry or any family that have worked within it.
How did the whisky industry change since when you first started working in it, and how did the liquid change since when you started drinking whisky?
I only started working within the industry relatively recently so I have not seen many great changes. Closed distillery casks are much rarer and much more expensive, where I previously sold a Caperdonich cask for around £86 a bottle, our recent outrun contained a Caperdonich that was closer to £400. There has also been an increase in the amount of new independently owned distilleries opening up and a further development in the amount of Whiskey distilleries in England and internationally so it feels like it has become a lot more competitive.
You are quite young, and Lady of the Glen is a relatively young brand, since it was built up in 2012. Which are the main issues for a start-up independent bottler, and do you think the business itself has changed in the last eight years?
Our main issue starting up was the infrequent outruns and the limited access to casks. Since 2012 I have built better relationships with some of the larger Whisky companies to allow us to source casks at better prices and from a broader range, in addition to that I have developed better relationships with international bodegas and wine producers to source there ex-wine and spirit casks so this gives the business greater access to unique casks, boedgas in Portugal such as Josafer near Porto, Hidalgo Barrels in Spain for ex-sherry and Veneta Botti for Amarone in Northern Italy to name a few. Finally the more frequent outruns have allowed us to consistently release product which has been essential for us to develop a reliable business relationship with our distributors.
Do you source new make spirit or look directly for casks, and do you usually work with brokers, distilleries or private owners?
We purchase a relatively small amount of new spirit each year and we buy from a limited range of reliable sources these days. When I first started it was mostly private owners and brokers that I bought from but this has changed almost entirely now. Now I look to mature casks at my discretion and be more selective with the releases, there are over 200 casks under the business’s ownership at the moment and we are continually growing this.
What are you looking for in a cask, before deciding you’re going to bottle it? How would you describe the philosophy of Lady of the Glen as an independent bottler?
Within each outrun we try to ensure that there is a release that meets a specific criteria so to answer your question it varies. Within each outrun we look to release a Sherried cask, an older cask and a cask that is on the cheaper side. However, no matter what the cask is or how it fits into the criteria I ensure that it is not from a distillery that we have released in the last 12 months and that it meets a minimum quality standard. Only in exceptional circumstances do we release casks under 10 years old and we try to ensure that each Whisky has a balance of the original distillate and the cask influence.
If we get closer to your warehouse, what about you, do you have any particular cask that you have great expectations on? We’re talking from a whisky lover’s point of view, not on the commercial side.
Indeed, last year I released a cask of Caol ila that was re-racked into Amarone wine, #313406. This release was exceptionally important for me as I had to put in a lot of effort to find an Amarone vineyard that could sell me casks and once I had the casks it was then a gamble to see how they would turn out. However, the cask itself surpassed my expectations, I simply wrote the tasting notes as ‘experience mossy notes with hints of pineapple and brown sugar’ but this failed to express the stunning cask influence; black cherry and chocolate and other notes that you would expect with Amarone wine. It really worked and it sold out very quickly. The release was so popular that I re-racked our entire range of Islay into Amarone wine so some have been sitting that were reracked at the same time as #313406 and I cannot wait to try them with the added maturation. We will be releasing one of these casks in the next outrun and I’ve already sampled it and it was much more intense than #313406.
You have been reracking some casks and you’ve been experimenting quite a lot with some sherry and wine finishings in your releases, in order to get new flavour profiles; how much can a cask impact on a whisky, and what do you think of the practice of reracking?
I have found that casks can have a huge impact as you would expect. Through studying my postgraduate Diploma in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt and through my own reading I have learned a lot about how cask influence takes place and what it does but the actual experience of tasting results of my rerackings is always an enjoyable if not nerve racking experience as you can never truly anticipate what will happen. I remember purchasing a number of high quality and relatively expensive casks from one bodega, after a reracking I expected a lot of cask influence but when I sampled them after a year they were only light burnt orange colour which would imply limited cask influence, normally you would expect a much darker colour from the sherry cask especially considering the reputation of the bodega. However, when I nosed the samples and tasted the samples they were elegantly sherried with toasted flavour too which made the whisky taste more balanced. Reracking is practice that I adopt so that Lady of the Glen can produce high quality unique Whisky. When done with care and patience reracking is an excellent way to create truly unique Whisky that benefits from careful wood management and highlights the distillery’s positive traits.
Which are your favourite “hidden” distilleries, that aren’t so famous but do produce a great spirit?
I’m not sure there are so many hidden distilleries today. However, distilleries that I find really enjoyable are Bunnahabhain especially when sherried. Blair Athol is an exceptionally robust and lovely Whisky to release and Dailuaine is always lovely too.
Which are your three best whiskies ever, that you’d bring with you on a desert island?
I think I would take Johnnie walker black as my daily dram on the Island. I would take the Lady of the Glen 14 year old Secret Islay 2002 cask #2905 for the weekends and to celebrate catching fish. My top dram would be the Jazz festival Lagavulin which I would use to celebrate creating fire and such things.