This Travelling Life: Connal Mackenzie

This Travelling Life: Connal Mackenzie

Ardnamurchan Distillery’s sales director Connal Mackenzie discusses the distillery’s green credentials and his views on international travel

Travel | 20 Jun 2022 | Issue 178 | By Joe Bates

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Joe Bates (JB): The focus of this issue is sustainability. On its website, Ardnamurchan bills itself as “Scotland’s greenest distillery” – how do you back up that claim? Connal Mackenzie (CM): It is a big claim and there are lots of distilleries now that have come on board after us that are claiming similar credentials. I genuinely believe that any new distillery now should have that at the forefront of their planning. It needs to be a responsibility rather than a marketing gimmick.

From the outset, our Ardnamurchan Distillery was designed to use local heat and power to enhance its environmental efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint… We were the first Scottish distillery to be 100 per cent reliant on a biomass steam boiler. We use 100 per cent locally harvested woodchip, taken from forestry two miles away – it’s our whole energy source. We’ve also installed a hydro [electric generator] on the river, which is where we get our cooling water from.

At Ardnamurchan you cannot grow barley. Well, you could, but it would take a long time. It’s basically a volcanic outcrop. We did want to source our barley from Scotland, though, and our managing director’s [Alex Bruce] family have been farming in Fife for around 500 years. We’ve got a partnership with the farmer that is there. We are trying to get 100 per cent of our barley from that spot.

JB: How strongly do you think whisky drinkers really care about green issues and what do you feel is the best way for distilleries to communicate what they’re doing on the sustainability front?
CM: We waited six years before we released our whiskies. We had a lot of time to tell our story and what we are trying to do. We used to attend a lot of events with our bottling arm, trying to catch their attention. I think that most people are very careful about what they consume – trying to support your local greengrocer, getting your milk delivered. Lockdown enforced this even further. This trend includes drinks as well. From small-scale craft producers to the big boys, there’s room for everyone to tell their stories. By doing things fairly and in an environmentally friendly way, that bodes well. People like that. They feel that are doing right.

We didn’t go overboard with our packaging. We did go for a carton but we went for what we think is the first 100 per cent already recycled card. Our bottles also have a QR code, which enables the blockchain technology. Basically, it’s a ledger that has been developed to be compliant with the HMRC. Everything we need to report back, we can now do digitally. We can tell you the mash temperatures, where the barley came from, who ran the still on a dreich Saturday morning. It’s that detailed. That’s the way we communicate with our whisky drinkers.

JB: In normal times, promoting a Scotch whisky means lots of travel, both domestic and international, which isn’t particularly great for the environment. What travel policy do you have as a company?
CM: We really do need to be out there in the world, there’s no doubt about it. Offsetting your carbon footprint – we’ve got to do that as much as we can. With regards to international travel, we just try and be sensible, we are not going to countries multiple times a year. As a small company, we can’t afford to. If we can take the greener option, we will.
From a UK perspective, we are all able to drive electric vehicles. We have two chargers at the distillery… when we are getting around the UK, it’s done 100 per cent through electric vehicles. That’s something we took a stand on very early.

JB: What are some of the most memorable whiskies that you’ve had the pleasure to enjoy while on your travels for work?
CM: I’ve managed to drink some ridiculous whiskies in my time. People are extremely generous. I tried an Adelphi Lochside 47 Years Old, which is a single grain. I’ve tried a 1953 Family Cask Glenfarclas. I was very privileged to try the 75 Years Old Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach, which was a fairly sensational whisky.

Barrels of Ardnamurchan

JB: Imagine that your flight is delayed and you are stuck in the airport for the foreseeable future. Out of anyone, dead or alive, who would you most like to share a dram with in the bar to while away the time?
CM: If it’s not a dram with a whisky-specific person, I would have to go with Billy Connolly – even though he wouldn’t be on a whisky anymore. I had the privilege of sharing a drink with him in Belfast many years ago. I would absolutely love the chance to rekindle that memory. Billy Connolly is an absolute gem of a bloke.

JB: If you had 24 hours and plenty of cash to spare, what city in the world would you most like to explore?
CM: Because I’ve never been and I am dying to go – it’s one of my markets – I am desperate to go to Tokyo and explore the local whisky bars. I also love walking around New York City. It’s pretty hard to beat.

JB: What places and countries are you most looking forward to visiting when travel becomes easier?
CM: Part of my job is going out to the wider markets. We’ve just partnered up with a brand new importer in America, so I am really looking forward to getting out there and spreading the world about Ardnamurchan in San Francisco. I am also itching to get back to Canada, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand. They are always great trips.

JB: Brand loyalty aside, what are some of your top whiskies and whisky cocktails? 
CM: For whisky cocktails, I stay classic to be fair. I like a Rob Roy. As for whiskies, I can’t see past a certain distillery in Campbeltown. I love what they are doing at Springbank, always have, always will. You can also never go wrong with a Clynelish or Talisker.

JB: You’ve been shipwrecked on a desert island. What bottle of whisky would you like to find washed up on the shore?
CM: I would like to see a Single Cask 1996 Clynelish show up – or perhaps, in a more likely scenario, a Springbank 12 Years Old Cask Strength or a Talisker 18 Years Old.
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