Gordon Motion, Master Whisky Maker at Edrington discusses his life and career with SLTN
Q: Which brands do you produce?
Q: Where do you work?
A: As master whisky maker for Highland Park I travel quite a bit, which is a really exciting part of my job. That said, much of my time is spent between our distillery in Kirkwall, Orkney and our head office in Glasgow.
Q: How long have you worked there?
A: I’ve been with Edrington for the last 21 years, during which time I have worked across a number of different brands from The Famous Grouse to The Macallan. I was appointed master whisky maker in 2008 and in recent years have focused my attention on Highland Park.
Q: What’s a typical working day like?
A: Today, I am in the mountains of Taiwan presenting Highland Park Valfather at the global launch of the final iteration of the Viking Legend Series. However, a typical day involves looking through the Highland Park stock we currently have laid down and checking what is available, ensuring we have the liquid to cater for the increasing global demand – not just for today but for the coming decades. I also work to make sure we have the correct spirit laid down to create the whiskies we haven’t even planned yet but will be created in the years ahead, some of which I might never see bottled!
Q: Describe the production process.
A: As a Scotch we can only use malted barley, water and yeast. The malt is crushed and steeped in the mashtun. The wort is then run off, cooled and sent to the washback where yeast is added, starting the fermentation process which will last about three to four days. This creates a beer-like ‘wash’ of approximately 8% ABV. Following this we double distill the liquid until it is 70% ABV. We then age our spirit in oak casks, of which over 90% are ex-sherry first-fill and refill, and the others made up of ex-bourbon. We also fill other types such as ex-Rioja casks which were used in Twisted Tattoo. Highland Park also has one of the last surviving distillery floor maltings and we are the only distillery to use our own peat from Hobbister moor located south west of Kirkwall in Orkney. Due to the weather conditions and high winds on the island it is very difficult for trees to grow, therefore unlike elsewhere in Scotland (eg. Islay) the peat on Orkney is made up of heather and small shrubs. This gives us a sweeter smoky finish and is a truly unique aspect of Highland Park.
Q: Please provide brief tasting notes for your products.
A: The core Highland Park range has a gentle heather honey, smokiness due to the peat, while the sherry casks give dry fruits or vanilla notes creating the perfect balance of flavours.
Q: What would you say sets your products apart?
A: It’s all about the unique peat which no other whisky can use or replicate, along with our specially made sherry casks. Our heritage is also extremely important to us – through our bottles we tell the story of our background and people. We have stayed true to ourselves and to those who founded the brand – our collections are inspired by our past but through innovation and creativity we ensure every liquid and its packaging is on-trend and stands out within the heavily populated single malt market.
Q: What one fact should bartenders know about your brand?
A: We are the only distillery to use Orkney peat, meaning the liquid delivers a sweet, smoky character no matter if it’s served neat or in a cocktail.
Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?
A: The people in the industry are very friendly. I know a lot of the master whisky makers and blenders across the country and a lot of the production staff. We’re all ‘friends at the well’.
Q: What’s your favourite way to drink your product?
A: Highland Park 12 year old, straight. If it’s a variant that’s higher than 40% ABV, I add a touch of water.
Q: What’s your career highlight so far?
A: My career highlight has to be becoming the master blender – it was my dream for so many years.
Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?
A: Several master blenders who have been around for a lifetime – the likes of Richard Patterson and Dave Stewart who have both been in the industry for over 50 years. People like them, who have dedicated their life to Scotch whisky.
Q: How do you relax outside of work?
A: Outside of work I enjoy DIY – my biggest achievement has been building my own house and I’m currently renovating another one.
Q: If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?
A: If I could have invited anyone, it would have been Nelson Mandela. I admire the compassion he showed to those who persecuted him and the work he did to rebuild his country. I’d offer him a dram of Highland Park.