Can you tell the readers a little about yourself?
Yep. So my role at Springbank is as a regional sales manager, so the regions I look tare Sweden, Norway, Holland and Asia. That changes at a monthly basis, since the markets change as we come and go. At Springbank you’re not really tied down to a specific role. By coming to Sweden this week I’ve actually managed to dodge the floor maltings, since some of the guys are on holiday and they need some extra bodies to help out. On Thursday morning I should have been pitching a 12 ton malt floor down at six in the morning, so thanks to being here I miss that. But really you’re involved in every part of the production at Springbank, so part of my job will be to taste the whiskies from the casks to see if they’re ready, so it’s quite an exciting job. No two days are the same and I work in an incredibly relaxed environment, as you can imagine. I leave my house at five minutes to nine in the morning and am at my desk at nine o’clock. I go home at lunchtime for an hour to meet my family for lunch, and then ten past five people would comment that I’m working late. So that’s my life at Springbank. Before that I actually had a polar opposite job. I worked with commercial property in Glasgow, and I had to do evaluation of things like industry units and shops. When I got married my wife and I went on a honeymoon to Thailand and if you’ve ever been to Thailand you appreciate that there is more to this world, to life, than doing a commute to a job that’s stressful and long hours. So we made the decision to change something about our lives, even if it meant moving to Thailand and teaching English to school kids or something. We just wanted to do something different and love life. When I got back I opened up the Sunday paper and saw this dream job advertisement for Springbank and thought “Wow – this is the ideal job for me! It’s travelling, it’s whisky, I’d love to do it. It’s a shame I don’t have the sales or the whisky experience necessary.“. But I have a mot of life experience so I sent them a letter and a CV and much to my surprise I was offered an interview and then the job. So I’ve been at Springbank for a little more than two and a half years now and it’s been the best two- and a half years of my life. It’s been great, I’ve loved every minute. I get to travel the world, meet great people, talk about a great company, a great whisky and then I get to go back to a very sort of sleepy, remote, rural Scottish town and enjoy the slow pace of life there.
So what’s your first whisky memory? What was it that got you hooked to begin with?
Eeerhm, I’m not sure if you can put this on your blog but I was actually underaged… We were in a place called Cumbria and there was a bar there and had an hour to wait for the ferry so we said “oky, let’s go in here and see if they’ll serve us a beer.“. At the time my friend knew a bit more about whisky than me and we saw a “malt of the month”-thing, it was Highland Park. My friend said “You should try that, you’d like it” and I said “No, I can’t drink whisky, it’s too strong” and he said “Well, nose it like this and then you’ll get different tasting notes from it” and broke it down for me. I said something like “actually, I do taste this and that” and ever since then I was interested in it and appreciated it. I was never a whisky anorak or anything as far as that, but really appreciated it and to then get the job at Springbank was just a dream come true. When people ask me what my job is and I tell them it’s basically travelling around the world, talking about Springbank, I can see that the want to punch me in the face.
One thing I really love about Springbank is that they honour tradition but still experiment with a lot of different cask types. Do you have any exciting new releases or plans or experiments concerning cask types?
One of our new releases now is our “Local Barley” with six new “Local Barley” with barley taken from farms local to Campbeltown, which is something they actually did back in the 1960s and they’ve gone on to become one of the most iconic Springbanks ever produced. Now we go back to that and do a contemporary version of that with barley from the same farm that supplied the original barley back in the 60s. I think it’s great and it’s going back to a richer provenance of the barley. Most of the barley comes from the east coast of Scotland where you get a higher yield of alcohol for your ton of barley, so it’s more costly to use locally sourced barley but the whisky is fantastic. I’m really proud of the way it’s turned out and living up to the hype of the traditions of local barley which is great so I’m really, really pleased about that. This is the first release in a series of five. It’s gonna be a series for five years so it’s great to see something with a bit of longevity in it.
And that obviously connects back to the whole idea of the tradition and origin of Springbank. So will those bottlings be traditional when it comes to cask types as well or will you experiment with for example rum cask or anything like that?
The casks will probably be about 80 % bourbon and 20 % sherry casks, and we plan to keep that fairly regular in terms of bourbon and sherry casks. We’ve had our wood expressions previously, and the Calvados one is one of my favourites. In fact, I didn’t have a bottle of it myself and I’ve not been able to track one down until recently when I saw one on the shelf in a whisky shop. The price was good and I said to the guy “Do you have any more of that one” and he said “No, it’s the last one” and I thought, well I’m gonna grab that” and I don’t think he’s too used to people doing their sales tours and ending up buying their own stock. Another really successful expressions is the Longrow Red series, and it’s a typical Springbank story. We hadn’t plan to do a Longrow Red series, really that came out of the blue. We had a phone call from our lawyers. It came a week after our trademarks and they phoned up to say that there is a winery in Australia called Angove Winery that had started releasing a label called Long Row so there’s some copyright issues. So our chairman, a very astute businessman, said “Alright, leave it to us, we’ll contact them”, didn’t wanna pay for lawyer fees and such as well you know. So he contacted the winery directly and said “Okey, we are the Springbank distillery and produce a Longrow whisky and we understand you do the same with wine, but to be honest we’re in Scotland producing Scotch whisky, you’re in Australia producing wine. We can’t really see that there’s any conflict there, so we’re happy for you to pursue this and call the wine Long Row but it’ll be really nice if you’d send over a case of your wine and maybe some barrels once you’ve finished using them.“. So that’s what happened. They sent over some casks that had previously held some Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz and then we put some Longrow in them and it worked really, really well so that’s how that whole thing started. And the recent Longrow Red Pinot Noir came about when I was doing a tasting in New Zealand and told the same story I told you. After the tasting a guy comes up to me and says “I really liked the story you told us about Longrow Red. I own a winery with a great Pinot Noir and I’d love for Springbank to use some of my casks.”. Of course, he’d been at a whisky fair all day and he’d just had six whiskies and I took advantage of that and shook his hand to seal the deal right on the spot. I’ve visited the winery since then and it’s an absolutely beautiful part of the world. This also typical of Springbank, these sort of stories.
Some of my readers are new to whisky so do you have any piece of advice for them?
Yeah, I think people are overwhelmed by different complex tasting notes, so instead of trying to find honeycomb or raisins, really try to go back to basics – do I like the whisky or not? If you like the whisky that’s all you need to worry about, you know. Don’t be afraid to try it with a bit of water. I’m not gonna tell you how much water you should put in the whisky, I’m not gonna tell you how to drink your whisky but if you like it with a bit of water to try and get different flavours from it, do that. Just go with something you like and definitely try to get to whisky fairs where you can try many different whiskies without having to commit to buying a whole bottle. Just treat it as fun, don’t take it too seriously.
What do you think of the so-called whisky boom?
It seems to be a difficulty getting hold of older whisky, that’s why we have these non-age-statement whiskies. The Japanese whisky industry has been quite transparent and said that’s why they’re doing it, which I think is commendable. At Springbank we’ve always had a problem with our stock of older whisky. The oldest whisky we’ve got in the warehouse is twenty-five years old. But since we’re a bit of an odd company in different ways we don’t really mind running out of older whisky. As long as we’re making enough whisky at the moment to profit and for the community of Campbelltown to benefit, we’re happy with that. Whether there will be a sort of whisky bust or not, I don’t think it’ll be on the same scale a previous generations have seen. Distilleries now scale back production rather than doing like a new jerk stop with productions, which I think is a healthier way to make whisky. Springbank has been owned by the same family since the 1820s so we’ve seen many whisky booms and busts, so we simply make enough whisky to make profit and make sure we don’t have an over supply for a future generation to deal with. Springbank has obviously stood the test of time so that business ethos has payed off. That’s really important to us, to not over-stretch ourselves and cause problems for future generations. We employ 70 people in Campbeltown, which is a lot considering we last year produced 135 00 litres of alcohol. It’s so inefficient on so many levels but we do all of the production and bottling ourselves. I could do my job anywhere in the world with a computer and Internet connection but I live in Campbeltown and am a part of the community so the community benefits from it. That’s a great thing about Springbank. We like to make our whisky with a hands-on approach, creating a truly artisan style whisky. And also, in order to prevent the distillery being sold to another company, creating a more efficient style of production and probably cutting down on jobs, all of the 70 people who work for the distillery have to vote before a sale goes through. We also have a unique pension scheme at Springbank where me and all of the members of staff have the opportunity to buy casks twice a year. After ten years the distillery will buy them back from me or I can get four casks to replace that one cask I owned. And those four casks will become even more casks ten years later, which will mean a nice pension scheme for me. Also, if a company is looking to buy the distillery they wouldn’t own most of the stock which would make the distillery unattractive to buy. This ensures the company to become more likely to stay independent and it also provides the staff with a nice pension scheme.
According to you, which is the best moment or environment to enjoy whisky?
Sometimes after a day at work, or if you’re on a business trip and you don’t want to drink a beer on your own, you can sip a whisky and it sort of opens up for conversations where people will ask “what’s that you’re drinking”, it creates a sort of social circle. One of the first times I ever drank Springbank was at a backpackers hostel. Me and some friends had done a kayaking trip and we had brought some Springbank 10 to drink, so we asked some Australians if they wanted to come and have a drink. Whisky gets everyone involved. You can drink it alone but I personally like to drink it with people. It’s not even so much about analyzing the whisky, it’s just a social lubricant and a great drink for that. You can even just nose the whisky and savour it. You can just sit and enjoy it, you don’t have to stress it or drink it like before the ice melts or anything like that, as opposed to cocktails for example.
Do you think there are a lot of prejudices in the whisky society?
We try to make the whisky industry as open as possible but whisky has had the stigma of being “an old man’s drink”. thankfully more and more younger people and women are drinking whisky. My wife, for instance, have enjoyed whisky for some time and she sees it as not only a high-alcoholic drink, but something you can pick out different flavours from and savour. So I think that these sort of barriers are coming down. There’s also a prejudice against non-age statement whisky, but for me, if the whisky tastes good and you like it that’s the main thing. It doesn’t matter what age it is. Springbank have had non-age statement whisky for some time, but are moving away from it more and more, in the opposite direction of many other distilleries, which is kind of typical of Springbank. We like the fact that we’re being quite transparent about the whisky. We believe it’s good to show the age statement where we can. I think people like to know what they’re drinking, but ultimately all that matters is if the whisky you’re drinking is good or not according to yourself.