A dram with... Ian Millar

A dram with... Ian Millar

The second instalment in our series features Ian Millar, formerly of William Grant & Sons and current master distiller at the new Lerwick Distillery in Shetland

Interview | 20 Feb 2024 | By Lucy Schofield

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We’re having a dram with Ian Millar, whose fifty-year career includes 22 years with William Grant & Sons and saw him inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame in 2017. He is currently master distiller at Lerwick Distillery in Shetland.  


In this edition of our Q&A series, Ian tells us about the (literal) epic highs of his career, his travels, and what he’s drinking at the moment. 


How long have you been working in the whisky industry? 

A wee bit beyond 50 years. I joined Blair Athol Distillery in 1971 when it was owned by Arthur Bell and Sons. Then, from 1974 to 1976, I worked briefly for Heineken in Holland before returning once again to Arthur Bell. 


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? 

I worked in the Cooperage and Warehousing team at Blair Athol Distillery, moved into process shift work, then progressed onto the role of production manager. 


I was briefly trainee manager at Aberfeldy Distillery, during which time I also worked at Benrinnes, Aultmore and Glenkinchie covering managers’ holidays and longterm sickness. Then I became distillery manager at Bladnoch from 1990 to 1991. I moved to Mortlach Distillery until 1996 then moved to manage Linkwood and Glen Elgin until 1998 when I was transferred to manage Blair Athol and Dalwhinnie Distilleries.  


After less than three months there, I jumped ship to William Grant & Sons to manage their three malt distilleries: Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. At the end of 2006 I moved into a global marketing role to manage a growing team of whisky ambassadors, so a lot of travelling and working closely with our marketing team in London.


I stepped back from this role around 2016 and joined our private client business, vintage cask sales. During the pandemic I retired completely but continued assisting the private client business and the new House of Hazelwood brand. 


Then, in 2022, I was approached by three very enthusiastic people from Shetland to help them build a distillery in Lerwick where we will produce the first ever single malt whisky on the island.


There have been plenty of memorable events, but dropping twenty-odd whisky lovers into the Grand Canyon by helicopter out of Las Vegas was certainly a highlight, topped off with a tasting of Glenfiddich 30, 40, and 50 Years Olds when we landed. Epic and nigh on impossible to beat. 


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

For me it’s been the evolution of technology over the last 50 years, from a very manually operated production to the current use of computer controls, much of which helps in the safe operation of the process area. 


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

I’m going to run with Glenfarclas; it’s still traditionally run and I’m pretty sure they still only use European oak casks. Never had a bad dram from this distillery. 


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

I have quite a lot of Glenfiddich and Balvenie bottlings at home. Currently drinking Balvenie Tun 1509. 


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

I love red wine with dinner, gin for Sunday afternoons, port on winter afternoons.  


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 quite a bit, books like Jack Reacher and the Game of Thrones series. My favourite film was Zulu — an old classic, and a cure for constipation. 


Describe your perfect Sunday. 

Sunday morning it’s a long dog walk round the perimeter of Pitlochry, lunch, another dog walk, then gin and tonic (port in the winter months), and I might watch football or rugby on TV. 


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

Wherever we go on holiday we get drawn to water: the beach, a river, a lake. We loved the harbour area in Sydney, Australia and the waterfront in Capetown, South Africa. 


My best trip was a safari in Kruger Park, South Africa for four days. Unforgettable. My dream holiday would be to take another safari in the Victoria Falls. 


Name one item you never go travelling without. 

My iPad. Great for books, films, and staying connected with home. 

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