A dram with... Alan Winchester

A dram with... Alan Winchester

Our new series starts with Alan Winchester, who tells us his journey in whisky, and shares some of his favourites (books, drinks, illicit stills...)

Interview | 06 Feb 2024 | By Lucy Schofield

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Have you ever wanted to know how a whisky legend spends their perfect Sunday? Us too. That’s why we’re continuing the celebrations for Whisky Magazine’s 25th anniversary by getting to know members of the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame. 


In this new series exclusive to whiskymag.com, we’ll ask each of these giants of whisky 10 questions – and discover their career highlights, their favourite drinks and their dream holiday. 


In today’s edition, we’re having a dram with Alan Winchester. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2023, Alan’s career spans over five decades and has taken him from tour guide to master distiller and beyond.  


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?  

I joined the industry in 1975 as a summer guide showing visitors around Glenfarclas Distillery. 


Where did the journey of your career start and where has it taken you over the decades? What was your favourite stop along the way?  

At the end of that summer, my career choice of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy did not work out. I was then offered a full-time role at Glenfarclas Distillery where I remained until 1979. 


My next move was to The Glenlivet Distillers based at Glen Grant and Caperdonich Distilleries. Then I went to Glen Keith in 1985 in my first junior management role as a trainee brewer. In this role I worked at the Chivas Distilleries and feed plants and was involved in bottling water at The Glenlivet. I returned to Glenfarclas in 1991 as assistant distillery manager, leaving in 1993 as distillery manager.   


I then joined Pernod Ricard at Aberlour and through the years was in charge of production of whisky at their distilleries, which included the acquisition of the former Chivas Brothers and Allied Distillers distilleries. I retired from this role in 2018, but until 2022 I continued to represent The Glenlivet in the role of master distiller. 

Since 2022 I have been a distillery advisor and am involved in a number of projects, including the recommencing of distilling in the Cabrach this year.  

I have so many favourite stops along the way and have worked with such great people. I have been especially proud of the expansion of The Glenlivet, reopening distilleries that had closed and most of all being part of the team that expanded and reopened Glen Keith. 


What is the most exciting change you’ve witnessed in the whisky industry over the course of your career? 

I think each generation will see changes; that never changes. The introduction of computers, better control of the processes. In the early days I worked with people who saw the introduction of electricity and the end of hand-fired stills, so most of the hard manual work has been made easy, though rolling casks is still pretty hard work. Exciting changes have been the growth in malt whisky sales, and the expansion projects that I was involved in.  


Name a whisky distillery or brand that you feel is underrated. 

I normally answer this question as Longmorn, but I would add Glentauchers, Balmenach and Tormore. I believe we will see a lot of good things coming out of Tormore.  


Is there a whisky or brand you are particularly enjoying at the moment? 

I like the peated version of Monkey Shoulder. I have also been enjoying a Ledaig finished in a Rioja cask and James Eadie’s Trade Mark X Blended Scotch Whisky. 


When you’re not drinking whisky, what is your drink of choice? 

I enjoy a beer (Scapa Special is a favourite) and I like a red wine. 


Would you rather read a book or watch a film? For whichever option you choose (book or film), tell us one of your favourites. 

I read and collect books, mainly about the industry. Again, too many favourites. My first one was Michael Brander’s The Original Scotch, bought with my first pay. I used to hear colleagues say, “not another whisky book”, but I like a book that changes how I think about things, or challenges things.   


I thought Mike Billet’s Peat and Whisky has recently been a great addition, same as the old articles that were gathered together from over 100 years ago in both The Distilleries of Great Britain and Ireland and The Distillation of Whisky - I have admired Leon Kuebler’s passion and tenacity in taking this to print. Of course, I’m looking forward to Dave Broom’s updated Whisky Atlas. I also dip back into many others, like Sillet’s Illicit Scotch and Charlie MacLean’s and Gavin D Smith’s books. 


Describe your perfect Sunday. 

Joining my friends Colin, Matthew and Josie, “The Bothy Hunters”, looking for the remnants of illicit distilling and early legal distilling in the remote areas of Scotland. It’s a form of hill walking which involves walking up glens and burns. The incentive is a welcome dram when we identify an illicit site. 


Describe your dream holiday – where would you go and what would you do there? 

Volunteering with the National Trust for Scotland, in its joint venture with The Glenlivet Pioneering Spirit. This has not only been the excavation of the original The Glenlivet distillery at Upper Drumin, but in some of the stunning National Trust for Scotland properties they are still finding illicit stills. It’s always good fun. 


Name one item you never go travelling without. 

The only thing I take with me is my diary to record any vineyard, brewery or distillery I may visit. 

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