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Issue 126 - Working the Spirit

Whisky Magazine Issue 126
March 2015


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Working the Spirit

The importance of the mashman

I have to confess. When recently I asked Gordon Mackay, one of Glenmorangie's five mashmen, what he thought of the fact that he and his colleagues were collectively known as the Men of Tain, I was hoping to discover that perhaps, privately, he thought the distillery's marketing department had long been in the business of consuming special mushrooms. Far from it, “I'm just Gordy Mackay from Tain. If someone wants to think of me as one of the famous men of Tain, then bring it on, I say.”

As well as showing me up for what I am, as suspicious and arrogant, and in equal measure, what continues to strike me about Mackay's reply is the fact that it gives us a glimpse of what the late Primo Levi might have called the meaning of freedom; that is, the opportunity to do a work worth doing. If you haven't read it, Levi's wonderful The Wrench expunges through a series of short stories the life philosophy of one Libertine Faussone, itinerant rigger and true believer in the existential value of ‘being good at your job and therefore taking pleasure in doing it.'

Primo Levi would have liked Gordon Mackay. An ex-school janitor and retained fireman, the husband of a headteacher, a father, and nine years at Glenmorangie, three as a mashman, Mackay co-operates the beer making end of a production line capable of producing 6 million litres of new make spirit. Raised and accessed by means of a set of steel stairs, it is the brightly lit open-plan home to mash and fermentation processes, an...

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