Alan Winchester, master distiller at The Glenlivet talks to SLTN
Q: What do you make?
A: The Glenlivet
Q: Where do you work?
A: The Glenlivet sits in a wild and remote glen near Ballindalloch in Moray.
Q: How long have you worked there and how did you start?
A: I’ve been in the whisky industry for over 45 years. My professional whisky journey began in 1975 as a distillery guide at the Glenfarclas distillery. Fast forward to 2002, I was named Chivas Brothers distilling manager, and represented the company on various industry bodies, including president at the Management Committee of Malt Distillers Association of Scotland. In 2009, I had the great privilege of being named The Glenlivet master distiller. Finally, although in 2018 I retired from my Chivas Brothers distilling manager role, I still enjoy my continued relationship with whisky through my ambassadorial role as The Glenlivet master distiller and promoting Scotch whisky throughout the world.
Q: Describe the production process.
A: Each part of the process has important influences in the overall creation of The Glenlivet; the operation of the mashing stage and the method of distillation which has influences dating back to our founder George Smith, is still retained to this day, and the shape of the stills has remained unchanged over many years. Then the selection of and procurement of high-quality oak casks to transform this classic spirit to what our consumers enjoy as The Glenlivet.
Q: Please provide brief tasting notes for your products.
A: For the classic The Glenlivet 12, I would say:
Nose – fruity and summery.
Flavour – delicately balanced with strong pineapple notes.
Palate – well-balanced and fruity,with strong pineapple notes.
Finish – long, creamy, smooth.
Q: What would you say sets your product apart?
A: The innovation displayed by our founder George Smith in an area famed for distilling illegal whisky is seen as an important historical change in the traditions of whisky distilling. His distilling technique played a huge part in the creation of the now famous Speyside style, which includes maintaining high quality and innovating with different cask types.
Q: What one fact should bartenders know about your brand?
A: Back in August 1822, King George IV arrived in Scotland for a state visit and asked to try a drop of the infamous Glenlivet whisky. It was illegal at the time, but even that didn’t stop the king. Two years later, in 1824, The Glenlivet became the first distillery in the Glenlivet parish to become a legal distillery.
Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?
A: Of course, holding the role of master distiller of The Glenlivet. Speaking about, representing and enjoying The Glenlivet with consumers around the world.
Q: What’s your favourite way to drink your brand?
A: My normal method is with a splash of water, but it certainly lends itself well in a cocktail.
Q: What’s your career highlight so far?
A: It’s very hard to choose but being part of the team to oversee two expansions of The Glenlivet distillery, and the reopening of Glen Keith were very proud moments. The construction of Dalmunach distillery, which is one of the most energy efficient in Scotland, was also a hugely significant achievement during my time with Chivas Brothers. Receiving the Master of The Keepers of the Quaich lifetime achievement award was also certainly a career highlight.
Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?
A: So many people within our company and in the wider industry have earned my respect. I have always been well supported by my colleagues and others in the wider industry, many of who are close friends.
Q: How do you relax outside of work?
A: Having a dram, visiting distilleries throughout the world, hill walking and researching the history of distilling.
Q: If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?
A: George Smith and his neighbouring illicit distillers in 1824. We could discuss how they made their whisky over a dram of The Glenlivet 18 year old at The Glenlivet Distillery.