The Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame is a permanent tribute honouring those noteworthy individuals who have made a lasting contribution to the world of whisky.
This year, as we did last year, we have decided to honour members from the industry on both sides of the Atlantic.
Drawn from distillers and blenders to company owners and journalists, inclusion into the Hall of Fame represents the highest accolade the magazine can bestow.
It has to be said that given the wealth of talent represented in these awards, to make the list is an honour. We hope that you will celebrate the wonderful figures who have helped shape the industry, the diversity has to offer and join us in congratulating the winners.
Master Distiller - Old Fitzgerald Distillery
He has never had a Bourbon brand named after him; and until a recent Kentucky Derby Museum event, Foote only signed one bottle in his whole distilling career - that was for Julian Van Winkle.
Foote was the master distiller for the Old Fitzgerald Distillery, aka Stitzel-Weller, from 1982 to 1992, and the distiller at Bernheim facility until 1997. The distillate he perfected in his ten year Fitzgerald stretch is now regarded as some of the greatest Bourbon ever made. Some of his juice was used for Pappy Van Winkle.
"I would say that Ed Foote did the best job with what he had to work with there at Stitzel-Weller, meaning the water supply was different, as was the grain milling method, yeast Y distillation proofs and entry proofs were different than what was made there before 1972 (the year the Van Winkles sold the distillery)," says Julian Van Winkle, president of the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery. "He made our label famous as most of our popularity came while we were bottling whiskey he made. It was arguably the best on the planet according to some. I sure enjoyed it." Inducted into the Kentucky Distiller’s Association’s Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2008, Foote’s distilling career almost didn’t happen.
His professional life began as a teacher, but he needed more money to support his growing family. So, in 1961, Foote answered a classified advertisement
for a Seagram’s management training position. He won the job and was eventually promoted to beer chemist at the Henry McKenna Distillery.
Before long, Foote received an analytical position, overseeing the fermentation samples for Seagram’s five Kentucky distillers. In this job, Foote really learned how yeast impacted whiskey. "Human senses can be so acute. Seagram’s had a whole library of yeast. I could tell what were the samples based on the distiller’s yeast profile," Foote says.
When he took the job at the Old Fitzgerald Distillery, Foote remembers that moment well: "It’s like I went to heaven."
Master Distiller - Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.
Heaven Hill master distiller and 2001 Bourbon Hall of Fame inductee Parker Beam carries one of Bourbon’s strongest legacies into the whiskey world.
According to Heaven Hill, for more than half a century, Beam has been practicing his family's craft for distilling, aging and selecting some of the world's most critically acclaimed Bourbons.
Beam joined Heaven Hill in 1960, working alongside his father, Earl, who handed the master distiller duties over to Parker in 1975. Parker’s son, Craig, began working with him in 1983, forging one of the strongest family distilling histories that continues to thrive with every release of Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and of course, the beloved Parker’s Heritage series. It’s no secret that Heaven Hill and the Beam boys craft a shed load of whiskey brands, including Bernheim Straight Wheat Whiskey, Henry McKenna, Larceny, Fighting Cock and many others.
It’s also no secret how much Parker Beam is admired by the whiskey industry. When Parker was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease, the industry joined in support, raising money for ALS and always showing their public support.
"Parker is an icon who is treasured by his industry cohorts. For decades he has been an ambassador for all Kentucky Bourbons, and because of the outstanding
person he is, Parker is also loved and respected by Bourbon enthusiasts and connoisseurs around the world," says Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge. "He has played a major role in putting Kentucky Bourbon on a global map, and for me personally I feel honoured to have known Parker as a valued and dear friend for so many years." With the latest Parker’s Heritage Collection Bourbon, "The Promise of Hope," Heaven Hill donates $20 from the sale of every bottle to the ALS Promise Fund - a campaign that will raise $250,000. This was Parker’s idea, proving the beloved man’s true legacy is only just beginning.
Master Distiller - Glen Grant Distillery
To use a uniquely Scottish phrase, Dennis Malcolm is ‘in with the bricks’ at Glen Grant distillery, located in the Speyside whisky-making centre of Rothes.
As managing director and Master Distiller for the Gruppo Campari-owned distillery, he boasts the impeccable credentials of having been born in the grounds of Glen Grant in 1946, where his father was a stillman, while his grandfather had also worked there as a a mashman and stillman. His career began at his ‘home’ distillery in 1961 as an apprentice cooper, subsequently graduating to the role of brewer at the young age of 24.
The mid-1970s saw him acting as assistant manager for Glen Grant and the ‘sister’ distillery of Caperdonich, before his appointment in February 1979 as manager at The Glenlivet. He returned to Glen Grant and Caperdonich as manager in 1983, going on to run Chivas Brothers’ nine malt distilleries, a grain distillery and three farms from a base at Strathisla.
Malcolm spent a brief period as a brand ambassador, before being ‘poached’ by Inver House Distillers to manage their Balmenach distillery in December 1999.
He was tempted back to Glen Grant in April 2006 when new owners Campari did their own spot of poaching, and the pride and affection Malcolm feels for Glen Grant is evident to everyone who meets him.
Since his return, Malcolm has presided over a significant widening of the brand’s range of single malts, including the limited edition ‘Five Decades,’ single malt, specially crafted by Dennis to celebrate his long involvement with Glen Grant.
In April 2013, HRH Prince Charles openned a bottling line at the distillery, signalling further investment in the future of this site which is indeed fortunate to have so passionate an advocate as Dennis Malcolm at the helm.
Director of Production - J A Mitchell & Co.
Frank McHardy first started work for the company at its Springbank distillery in Campbeltown during 1977. With the exception of a subsequent decade spent across the Irish Sea at Bushmills, McHardy has called the Kintyre peninsula home ever since.
As the ‘face’ of the idiosyncratic Springbank distillery and its range of whiskies, McHardy undoubtedly raised the profile of the brand, and he has always been a passionate champion of Campeltown and an invaluable source of information on its history.
During McHardy’s time with Mitchell’s, Springbank diversified into a third range of whiskies to sit alongside ‘standard’ Sprinbank and the heavily-peated Longrow, namely the unpeated and tripledistilled Hazelburn, first produced in 1997.
Between 2000 and 2004 he was responsible for sourcing of all the equipment and designing the layout of the revived Glengyle distillery, which had last produced whisky in 1925. The development of this venture remains one of McHardy’s proudest achievements, and the principal Glengyle distillery structure was named the Frank McHardy Production Building in recognition of his contribution.
McHardy joined the Scotch whisky industry at Invergordon grain distillery in 1963. He went on to work at Tamanvulin and Bruichladdich, in addition to Bushmills and Springbank.
Though officially retired from his role with JA Mitchell & Co Ltd, McHardy continues to conduct specialist tours of Springbank, and presides over the distillery’s Whisky Schools. He also now offers his services as a consultant to the whisky industry and carries out tastings. He may no longer be the ‘main man’ at Springbank, but Frank has far from retired from the business of whisky-making that he so loves.
Master Distiller - Bruichladdich Distillery
There are not many people who can say they have worked in every job in whisky. Then again, there’s no one quite like Jim McEwan. He started work on August 1st 1963 as an apprentice cooper at Bowmore and after working in every other area of the distillery, ended up as cellar-master and then trainee blender. In 1986 he was made distillery manager at Bowmore and began to travel the world as the distillery’s ambassador.
If there was a whisky show, Jim would be there and when he spoke he wouldn’t just talk of his whisky, but of his island. Jim brought Islay to the world and the world fell in love.
He makes people laugh, he makes them cry (in a good way), he makes them think, he imbues them with a sense of the passion he has for his whisky and for his island. Most of all he makes them understand that whisky is about people. Nowhere is this more clear than at Bruichladdich where he has been master distiller since its reopening in 2001.
I recall sitting on the shores of Loch Indaal with him in 1999, looking across to Bruichladdich, then closed. “I’d love for that distillery to reopen,” he said. “It’s a disgrace that it’s closed.” It hurt him as a whisky man and as an Ileach. Now it’s one of the largest employers on Islay, forging new links with farmers, utilising Islay’s flora to infuse its Botanist gin.
He has helped to recalibrate the notion of what a distillery can do and has challenged conventional thinking by being brave enough to ask, “what is this thing called whisky?” His answer: “It is exciting it is challenging, it is poetic, it is a distillation of place and people.” On his 50th anniversary he wrote, “I’ll continue working on a dream, chasing single malt rainbows in search of the perfect dram.” His journey continues.
Master Distiller - Irish Distillers
Was there ever another career path open to Barry Crockett? He was born in the distiller’s cottage at Midleton where his father Max was the master distiller. He succeeded him in 1981 and last year, after close on 50 years of service, handed the title over to Brian Nation. Those 50 years have been some of the most eventful in Irish whiskey’s history.
Barry joined as trainee when Irish whiskey was struggling, but when he left the distillery it had become the fastestgrowing brown spirit category in the world and Jameson one of the globe’s hottest brands. That really is some legacy.
He was the key member of a production team who redefined Irish whiskey by combining technology, innovation and craftsmanship with a deep sense of history. Midleton Very Rare, the new Jameson and Power’s expressions all sprang from this. When the Single Pot Still range was released in 2011 one deservedly carried his name.
Anyone who has spent time with Barry knows that he is a polymath, able to have a discussion on distillation, Irish history, Classical languages and probably anything else which happened to crop up in the conversation. His knowledge is given freely, modestly and with a distinctive dry humour. With Barry you listen, you learn and your life is enriched. At the time of his retirement he said: “I am fortunate to have been part of the ongoing progress from an early age.” We’d say that we are the fortunate ones to have shared in it.
Not that he has retired. Rather, he is taking a degree in archival studies while settling into his new office at Midleton’s recently established archive. Its location? The house where he was born. His are the shoulders upon which the Irish whiskey renaissance stands.
Gordon & MacPhail
David joined Gordon & MacPhail in 1972 as a business studies graduate, working in various areas of the company before becoming United Kingdom sales director, and in 2007 joint managing director.
During David’s four decades with Gordon & MacPhail, the business has grown and developed significantly, from the days back in the 1970s when some 90 per cent of sales were to wholesale grocers to the current situation where the firm’s products are available in more than 50 countries with a growing loyal band of followers at home and abroad.
Away from business, David Urquhart has always taken his responsibilities towards the community in which he lives very seriously, and is involved with many charitable ventures in and around Elgin and Forres. David is the epitome of compassionate commerce, and has done much to ensure that Gordon & MacPhail passes on through generations of the family in increasingly profitable shape, with its integrity very much intact.
Whyte & Mackay
The ever-immaculate figure of Richard has injected a unique level of showmanship into the business of demystifying and marketing Scotch. He has worked steadfastly to illuminate the art of blending, engaging consumers all over the world through his charismatic, flamboyant and energetic presentations and Masterclasses.
But to consider Richard Paterson a showman is to underestimate his very real skills and achievements as a blender and a custodian of some of the oldest and rarest single malts in existence.
Above all Richard is passionate and sincere about whisky, and he has been responsible for developing a highly-regarded, award-winning range of aged Whyte & Mackay blends and numerous limited edition expressions of his beloved Dalmore, while also working with the company’s Isle of Jura and Fettercairn single malts.
Richard Paterson is justly proud of being a thirdgeneration whisky blender, with both his father and grandfather heading the former family company of WR Paterson Ltd.
Wild Turkey Distillery
Master distiller James C. “Jimmy” Russell knows Bourbon like he knows breathing. It’s fitting, then, that the longest-tenured master distiller in the Bourbon industry today is known as 'the Buddha of Bourbon'. Russell has been making whiskey at the Wild Turkey Distillery for 58 years.
Growing up five miles from the distillery, he idolised his father and grandfather who taught him the traditions and techniques of Bourbon craftsmanship. His first position at the distillery was sweeping floors, but his dedication to the art of making great Bourbon has elevated him to the top of Kentucky’s most-treasured industry.
Four Roses Distillery
Jim has been the master distiller at Four Roses since 1995. It’s a vocation that requires the use of every one of his considerable talents: from chemistry, artistry, and craftsmanship; to marketing and salesmanship.
His passion and knowledge, not just for Four Roses, but also for the entire Bourbon category is infectious.
When you talk to him you get the sense he is willing to do whatever is necessary to create and produce a Bourbon with perfect consistency day after day.
He watches over the character, quality and consistency of each barrel. Every stage of the distillation process is critical and you’ll find Jim’s heart and soul in every one of them.
William Grant & Sons
David Edmond Grant, great grandson of William Grant of Glenfiddich, played a highly significant role in the success of the company during the years when Glenfiddich single malt was transformed into a major global brand.
Born in 1939, David joined William Grant & Sons Ltd fresh from his studies at Oxford University in 1962, and in timehonoured company fashion he served a thorough and extensive apprenticeship both within the family firm and in other arenas of the Scotch whisky industry.
In 1969 David took on the key role of Glenfiddich global brand manager, and, he played a key role in its growth.
During the 1980s, William Grant & Sons Ltd actively began to explore diversification into non-whisky areas of operation, and from 1983 David was charged with heading up New Product Development.
David Grant continued to play a vital role on the board of Grant’s until his retirement in 2000, latterly serving as corporate affairs director. He remains a shareholder with an active interest in both the company and the wider Scotch whisky industry.
Master distiller and brand ambassador Buffalo Trace Distillery
Elmer is known throughout the industry for his expertise and knowledge of Bourbon whiskey. His career in Bourbon began after the Second World War when in September 1949 he began working in the engineering department of the George T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort.
In 1966, Elmer was promoted to plant superintendent, responsible for all plant operations and reporting to the plant manager. 1n 1969, he became plant manager.
Elmer retired in 1985, but continues to serve as ambassador for Buffalo Trace, educating the world on the unique qualities of Kentucky's Bourbon whiskey.
It was in 1984 that Elmer introduced the single barrel bourbon concept to the world with Blanton's single barrel Bourbon, named in honour of Col. Albert B. Blanton.
He is also only one of three living master distillers who have a Bourbon whiskey named after them.
Pot stills are the very heart of the magic distillation process, and one company has become synonymous with the very finest copper stills.
For the last 80 years or so various Forsyth family members have worked in the business, most recently two Richards: Richard senior, who is the company's chairman, and his son Richard, who joined a few years ago.
Richard Snr has now entered his 44th year connected to the whisky industry. He started serving his time as a coppersmith in January 1968 although actually worked holidays aged 13.
Forsyths invests heavily in making sure it has the finest artisans, and by maintaining quality has flourished.
In the last few years the company has contributed to the distillery expansions of The Glenlivet, Macallan, Glenmorangie and the building of the new distillery Ailsa Bay at Girvan. It designed, installed and commissioned the fully automated distillery in Taiwan that is now so successfully producing rising star Kavalan, and it has involved in projects in Jamaica, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Sweden.
Master distiller and brand ambassador Tomatin Distillery
Now joining the lofty ranks of those having passed 50 years in the industry, Douglas has worked at the same distillery throughout his whisky career.
He started at Tomatin in 1961 as a clerk, and has worked through almost every area in the distillery; from the maltings, filling store, mash house, still house, cooperage, head brewer in 1988, then distillery manager in 1990. He was appointed master distiller in 2009, and now works as a brand ambassador.
With his vast experience, his role is to keep track of the whiskies as they develop their own distinctive characters and then he decides how best to utilise these casks, whether to maintain the consistently high standard of the Tomatin core range or to use as a specially selected release.
With help from the other members of the team he chooses the correct balance of used Bourbon and Sherry casks in which to mature the various whiskies.
Dr Nick Morgan: I first met Evan more than 20 years ago when he was still manager at Cardhu. Of course he was from that generation of distillers, now all gone, who were more like lairds than simple managers.
He had an air of authority about him, and an intense stare that could be slightly intimidating, were it not for the sly wink, the hefty slap on the shoulders, and the big laugh.
He had worked almost everywhere; the absolutely iconic distilleries like Talisker, Lagavulin and Cardhu. The famous names such as Caol Ila, Dalwhinnie and Cragganmore. And then the forgotten ones; Rosebank, Towiemore, Coleburn and Linlithgow. Fifteen distilleries in all.
And of course he travelled, often I suspected somewhat to the mystification of his bosses. The USA, Latin America, Europe, Asia, there wasn't anywhere he didn't go to first in the service of Johnnie Walker and Cardhu, and later to support the 'new' Classic Malts.
And then, when he retired from Cardhu in 1993, he chose to relocate to the United States to work first for Schieffelin and Somerset, and then Diageo there, relentlessly promoting both Walker and his beloved malts across the continent.
I couldn't count how many people Evan Cattanach has spoken to during the years, how many he has inspired with his passion for Scotch Whisky, or for that matter how many bottles were sold on the basis of his personal intervention.
I do know that few could resist his charms when he spoke (and sometimes sang) about the subject most dear to his heart many in his audiences left loving Scotch, and not a few left loving him.
His contribution to the industry during the years has been simply immense, and few deserve such an honour as the Icons of Whisky Lifetime Achievement Award more than Evan
Doug McIvor: Without Jack and Wallace's pioneering work in the late 1960s and 70s in pressuring the blend owners to supply their single malts the story of whisky as we know it could have been very different. When I joined Milroy's in 1990 it was already established as a haven for whisky lovers and the big bearded bear that is Jack was displaying his aptitude in filling cases of rare whiskies for countless Japanese visitors. A copy of Wallace's famous Malt Almanac was always included in the sale and Jack sat busy autographing bottles. Wallace, meanwhile, would be nurturing a few containers of whisky to the Far East.
Their flair with whisky began in their early teens in the cellars of the family pub in Dumfries where they were able to extract liquid from bottles without damaging the seals. And they could differentiate between several blends at this tender age. I had the pleasure of working with both of the brothers and we remain great friends. Wallace, always the quieter of the two but with a tremendous sense of humour. Jack was and is notorious for tempting one to join him for a so called "picnic" and a "glass of lemonade".
I ended up in St Thomas's hospital as a result of one such "picnic". (This was actually down to food poisoning not the alcohol) and woke the next morning to find him snoring in a chair at the bedside. I've not touched lemonade since. I often tell people that there's only two things that give me a hang-over. Cigars and Jack Milroy.
Dave Broom: It was my first real introduction to single malt. event: a Greek wine tasting at UDs Hammersmith offices. Wallace is in attendance. "I've had enough of that stuff," he says to me after about half an hour of nosing and spitting. "Let's try some of these new Classic Malts." They were very new at that time. He walks over to the display cabinet, pulls it open, much to the horror of the PR people, and proceeds to take me through an impromptu tasting consisting of large measures in big glasses, of the range.
I remember little of the afternoon bar, my editor telling me: "Dave, if one goes to lunch it's understood that one doesn't return to the office, especially if that lunch has been taken with the Milroys." Wallace was unfailingly supportive to me in my early days of drinks journalism, tips, advice, contacts, comments, not to mention his tasting guides and full glasses.
David Stewart is the gentle man of blending. Self-effacing to a fault, he has, during 40 plus years at William Grant & Sons, managed to quietly craft a portfolio of whiskies which are not only among the most popular in the world, but are hugely respected by his colleagues in the industry.
He has masterminded a discreet revolution at Glenfiddich which has seen the world’s No.1 single malt brand pick up extra depth in its 12 Years Old expression. He’s innovated with the use of a solera system in the 15 Year Old and peaty barrels in Caoran Reserve as well as building a range which demonstrates that being No.1 does not mean you lack in complexity.
If that wasn’t enough, he’s built Balvenie from the secret love of a few aficionados to a brand in its own right as well as overseeing the building of two new distilleries: Kininvie and the recently opened Ailsa Bay. Stir in the Grant’s blends and Monkey Shoulder and you have a body of work the breadth of which few can rival.
Say that to him and he would undoubtedly just say: ‘Thanks very much,” and immediately try and deflect the praise elsewhere. Not any more.
Dave Broom: All master blenders don't view their job in the same way. Some are restless globe-trotters, clocking an impressive mileage and stepping on all international stages to promote what they have designed in their sample room. Others avoid the spotlights and prefer the comforting twilight of a warehouse. David Stewart belongs to this second category.
Joining William Grant & Sons in 1962, as a whisky stocks clerk, aged 17, David has patiently learned the mysteries of blending, the clerk of yesterday becoming the master blender of today who keeps the records and memory of 770 000 casks stored in 45 warehouses.
David is the longest serving master blender in the industry to remain with one distiller. Forty-seven years to watch over William Grant & Son portfolio, for a number of years in total anonymity. If the man is as self-effacing as modest, the talent reveals itself in the bottle.
He has shaped the company's portfolio, bringing Glenfiddich and Balvenie on the highest steps of the podium in international competitions, gaining the admiration and the affection of all his peers in the industry. For David is a nice and charming man and an open mind to innovation too. The Balvenie Double Wood – probably his favourite creation – was the pioneer of finish maturation, now so popular in the industry.
A balanced spirit, with a honeyed tone and gentle charm. Who are we speaking of? Balvenie or David Stewart, the quiet man with an inspired nose? For sure, David Stewart.
John Ramsay is one of blending’s quiet men. Joining the industry in 1966 he has been responsible for countless bottles of some of the world’s most loved brands. He was Master Blender with Wm.
Lawson from 1981 and is now in charge of Edrington’s huge range which includes Famous Grouse, one of the world’s largest selling whiskies, the most popular Scotch whisky in Scotland and a brand with a heritage stretching back to 1896.
With Famous Grouse alone, John is responsible for more than 30 million bottles of whisky sold in more than 30 countries every year.
To add to this, he also blends Cutty Sark for Berry Bros and Rudd, and plays a major role in The Glenrothes and Highland Park ranges.
He controls the whisky-making process across all aspects of production, which is very technical. While he accepts that the blender must have knowledge of barley varieties through to “the uses for Solid Phase Micro Extraction (SPME/GC) as used by our chemists”, John’s also happy to accept that there’s a creative side to his work – not only producing new products but fusing apparently disparate elements into a seamless whole.
He’s quick to refute the notion that you should be able to taste individual malts in a blend. “The malts will direct the style, but blending is a synergy – the blended complex exceeding any component part.” This is achieved, he feels, by Edrington’s insistence on using the unfashionable (and expensive) technique of marrying the whiskies together before bottling. “Not just malt and grain,” he emphasises, “but malt, grain, water and time. Utilising these four elements allows me to blend for consistency, as well as maximising flavour and mouthfeel by the use of a very gentle filtration regime.”
It takes a special person to become the master distiller at Jack Daniel’s. For a starter, there have been only been six since the distillery was founded, including Jack himself and the legendary businessman Lem Motlow.
When Jimmy Bedford took on the role in 1988 he was inheriting some legacy. He has not only proved himself worthy of the challenge, but has played a major role in taking his whiskey to greater and greater heights. Jimmy Bedford was brought up on a farm just outside Lynchburg, Tennessee, where the distillery is sited. He started working there in 1968, nearly 40 years ago, and worked in yeasting, fermenting, milling and distillation during the next 20 years, gaining invaluable insider knowledge of the Jackmaking process.
His appointment to the master distiller’s job coincided with a phenomenal growth in demand for the whiskey and Jimmy has worked tirelessly both in maintaining the quality of the whiskey and in championing it across the world. It’s not the easiest of jobs. The distillery sits in a dry county a few hours south of the whisky-making heartland of Kentucky.
There is no whiskey community to fall back on, and because Jack Daniel’s isn’t a bourbon, the distiller there is treated as a distant relative in every sense.
No matter. In the years at the helm Jimmy has earned the respect of the industry by playing major part in taking a strong-tasting brown spirit to iconic status within the drinks world. And his whiskey-making skills have been recognized through the outstanding single barrel Jack Daniel’s releases that he has presided over.
Jimmy is a gentleman in the truest Southern sense of the word. He has Jack Daniel’s flowing through his veins. He has given his working life to a whiskey he loves. For that alone I can think of no worthier winner of the Icons of Whisky Lifetime Achievement Award.
It is a credit to Robert Hicks that when we asked arguably the best three whisky writers on the planet to write something about him they all responded immediately. This is what they had to say:
MICHAEL JACKSON: As the trade of whisky writer became recognised, I frequently found myself on tasting panels with blenders.
They tend to work very quickly. I don’t. Whenever we met on a panel, Robert would complain that I was slowing down the judging. He would have other complaints about my technique.
At first, Robert would become genuinely impatient, then it evolved into a routine – I think. What made this especially piquant was the fact that at the end of the tasting, Robert and I tended to have arrived at remarkably similar conclusions. The more he criticised my methods, the more I pointed out the similarity of results.
I enormously enjoy these exchanges, and I think Robert does too. We're both just back from Whisky Live in Tokyo, where we had the odd sparring session.
CHARLIE MACLEAN: My enduring memory of Robert Hicks was when I was interviewing him for this magazine several years ago. I asked him about how he maintained the consistency of Ballantine’s and Teacher’s from batch to batch.
"Do you save a reference sample from theprevious batches?" I asked.
He looked at me pityingly.
"You have not been listening to what I told you about how whisky changes in the bottle. Even in the sealed bottle it changes slightly over time. We require unsold bottles to be returned for disgorging after five years (it used to be three years). Once the bottle is opened and air gets in, the change is much more rapid.
"So there is no way we can rely on samples from previous batches. We rely on our noses, on our memory of what the blends should smell like."
Robert has taken on a new role. I understand Sandy Hislop, his assistant of many years standing, has gone with Ballantine’s to Chivas Bros.
I wonder what the new owners of Teacher’s are going to do to ensure consistency...?
DAVE BROOM: Great blends need a great blender and Robert is just that. He ruled his blending room like a benevolent dictator. No detailof whisky production escaped his notice.
A visit to his control tower was a guided tour into the deepest secrets of whisky making. He was in control of them all. A perfectionist, he realised that whisky was a composite of a myriad of smaller details and he ensured that he was on topof all of them. His love and enthusiasm for his subject never seemed to wane, those visits would always be filled with a container-load of glasses being passed to you... some to back up his argument, others simply because he felt they were wonderful drams. They always were.
He has travelled the world, building the reputation of not just his blends, but blended Scotch as a whole. The ease with which he took on the mantle of educator and entertainer has made him the perfect ambassador for one of his old charges, a brand which he has given a new lease of life to with one of the most outrageous brand extensions for many years.
I will never forget his expression when the door of the distillery warehouse was flung open to reveal a mass of tiny quarter casks.
It was this sheer enthusiasm for whisky and willingness to try new things which made his new bosses snap him up. He is a master of blending, a master of whisky.
Dr Barry Walsh has been a central figure in the development of Irish whiskey and a big part of the reason it has reached where it is today – growing, both in sales and appreciation.
He worked for Irish Distillers for nearly thirty years, mainly as master blender, and still plays a role in Irish whiskey to this day as a consultant.
He is also deservedly a winner of Whisky Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
During his career he played a part in Irish whiskey’s move from being a mainly struggling domestically focussed industry to being the growing, export-led category it is today with Jameson as the undisputed brand leader.
It takes a special sort of journalist to be so established in one field that his or her name is forever associated with it. Amazingly, Michael Jackson has achieved the honour not in one area, but two.
I first encountered Michael 13 years ago, when the British pub trade was in a state of upheaval caused by changes in the law which restricted the number of pubs big brewers could own. New pub companies were springing up, and I think it’s true to say that we all got carried away with marketing speak and gimmicks for a while.
Not Michael. He won’t remember, but I went on a press trip with him and listened to him talk inspirationally about specific beers, about tradition, about maintaining standards.
His message: that there is no substitute for quality; that true pedigree would win in the end, no matter what else was marketed at us; that we should always seek out the best. I never forgot the lesson. Fast forward 12 years and Michael is being interviewed by German television. It’s my first day in this job. They ask him what his favourite whisky is.
“That’s impossible to say,” he says. “I mean if I’ve had a lovely day on Islay, it’s windy and I’m sitting on a hill looking out over the sea, then a single malt from Islay would be my favourite. But if I’m in Kentucky on a hot day and having a drink with my friend Jimmy Russell, then his Wild Turkey 101 is my favourite ...”
And in the next five minutes he gives more valuable information than you’ll get from a month’s reading. That’s the thing about Michael: he’s not only knowledgeable, he can communicate his sheer love of the grain – in whatever guise it’s in – like no one else.
Brought up in the Northern English county of Yorkshire on a diet of ‘proper’ beer and rugby league – the blood and sweat version of the game once played by colliery workers and as tough a game as there was before the marketing people got hold of it –
Michael is what we would describe as from the ‘old school.’ He discovered whisky at 18, and has championed it ever since. His work in the area was ground-breaking and given how many distillery gates were closed to him back then, he must often smile to himself now when he sees how mainstream drinks writing has gone. Not that you’d ever catch him doing it; he’s far too nice and modest for that.
He is an inspiration for anyone who has heard him speak and he has achieved almost iconic status. You can joke about the name, but watch him at one of his ‘gigs’ signing books and surrounded by fans, and he really is the nearest thing whisky will ever have to its own pop star.
For all that though, he’s still the one at the front on any distillery tour he goes on, notebook in hand, bombarding the poor guide with questions. I once asked him why he still bothered, given that he must have been round the place 10 times beforehand known all the answers.
“Oh no,” he said, “there is always something new to learn.”
He is a true inspiration, a great writer, a charming and affable man and a wonderful ambassador for both the worlds of beer and whisky.
Or as Dave Broom puts it: “He’s the guv’nor.”