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Issue 126 - Whisky's Backroom Boys

Whisky Magazine Issue 126
March 2015


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Whisky's Backroom Boys

The testing results at Tatlock & Thomson

Pragmatists and romantics may argue as to whether making whisky is an art or a science, and – to be unscientific – the answer is probably a dash of the former and a dollop of the latter.

It is possible to make excellent whisky without even a rudimentary understanding of the science that underlies the various practical processes, of course, but the more that the chemical reactions taking place during whisky production and maturation are understood the more likely it is that high quality whisky can be produced consistently.

So it is that behind the glamorous world of high-end whisky marketing and the sensory delights of a distillery full of hot, hissing copper stills, ‘backroom' boys and girls carry out essential analysis and experimentation in laboratories all over the world.

One of the best-known, most engaging and highly experienced of these ‘backroom' figures in Scotland is Dr Harry Riffkin, proprietor of the historic company of Tatlock & Thomson, analytical chemists, established in Glasgow in 1891 by Robert Rattray Tatlock, the outstanding analytical chemist of his day.

Riffkin purchased Tatlock & Thomson in partnership with Dr Jim Swan in 1993, though Swan now acts as an independent consultant to the whisky industry, and is the go-to man for most start-up distillery ventures.

Harry Riffkin studied at Edinburgh's Heriot Watt University, before undertaking a PhD at Edinburgh University, subsequently being recruited by Pentlands Scotch Whisky Research Ltd (now...

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