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An Interview with the Global Master of Malts, Iain McCallum

Photo Courtesy Morrison Bowmore

I would like to welcome Iain McCallum, the current Global Master of Malts for Morrison Bowmore Distillers to my website. I was granted an email interview with Mr. McCallum in early June, and after a bit of back and forth the interview was concluded in mid July.

Iain discusses his job as the Global Master of Malts for Morrison Bowmore Distillers (MBD) as well as the various styles (and brands) of whisky that Morrison Bowmore produces at the three MBD distilleries in Scotland, the Bowmore Distillery, the Auchentoshan Distillery and the Glen Garioch Distillery. The interview moves on to the McClelland Single Malt Whisky brand which is also produced by Morrison Bowmore, and then on to a questions about MBD’s practice of aging the Bowmore Islay whisky offsite.

I am surprised to learn that the The Scottish Whisky Act has very little to say regarding the use of oak casks which have previously contained other wines and spirits (and how much of this liquid may be left in these casks to influence the flavour profile of the resulting whisky). Finally, Mr. McCallum gives his recommendations for the enjoyment of each of the Morrison Bowmore Distillery offerings sharing opinions regarding his favourite Malts, and his favourite cocktails with me.  I am happy to learn that even the Master of Malts allows himself to enjoy a great cocktail!

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1)   You are the current Global Master of Malts for Morrison Bowmore Distillers (MBD). I’ll be honest here and say that from the outside looking in, I think you have a pretty cool job. How did you get involved in the Whisky Industry in general and with Morrison Bowmore in particular?

  • I started in the Industry in 1992 as a trainee laboratory technician at MBD. In later years I trained as a Distillery Manager at Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch. In 2000 I returned to Head Office to train as group Senior Blender. In April 2011 I joined the sales and Marketing team as Global Master of Malts, a global educational role for MBD.

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2)   Morison Bowmore Distillers owns three Scottish Distilleries (that I am aware of), the Bowmore Distillery in Islay, the Auchentoshan Distillery in the Lowlands, and the Glen Garioch Distillery in the Highlands. These three separate distilleries represent three very different styles of whisky. Could you describe for my readers these differences in style, and what that means in how (and when) each style of whisky should be approached for greatest enjoyment?

Glen Garioch

You are correct, MBD does in fact own three distilleries in different regions.  The regionality has traditionally been based on the access to raw materials. Peat was more ready available in the Highlands and Islands and it is for this reason that these malts are Smokey in character.

  • Bowmore is an Islay Malt, it has the influence of the sea, the might of the peat kiln drying and obviously the influence of wood. In my opinion this is best enjoyed neat or with a little water, with some freshly shucked oysters or other seafoods.
  • Auchentoshan from the Lowlands is a lighter style of Whisky as it is triple distilled. In fact it is the only distillery in Scotland that triple distils every drop. This lighter character makes it very accessible for newbie ‘Malt Drinkers’. I particularly enjoy Auchentoshan either straight as an aperitif or as a component in a refreshing cocktail.
  • Glen Garioch, a Distillery that is one of my favourites, is a bit of an undiscovered gem. Glen Garioch is sometimes referred to as a Whisky Drinkers Whisky. A big robust, powerful Highland Malt that is best enjoyed from a hip flask at the Rugby or on the Golf Course.

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3)   Morrison Bowmore also produces the McClelland’s Brand which features Single Malt Whiskies from each of Scotlands Whisky Producing Regions; Islay, the Highlands, Speyside and the Lowlands. You might be guessing where I am going with this, but I can do the math, Morrison Bowmore owns three distilleries in Scotland…. yet they produce four Regional Whiskies. Could you perhaps shed a little light on the mystery?

  • Again you are quite correct. The consumer should not assume that as we own three Distilleries that it is actually Bowmore in McClellands Islay, Auchentoshan in McClellands Lowland and Glen Garioch in McClellands Highland. These have on many occasions in the past not contained MBD Malts. The reason that these may not include MBD whiskies is that from time to time we may source alternative supplies from the Whisky Market that allows us to grow our single malt portfolio.

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4)   The Bowmore Brand is noted for its Islay character. I have read about the aging warehouses next to the ocean, but I also understand that not all of the Bowmore Whisky is aged at these facilities. How much of the Bowmore Whisky is aged off site, and how does this impact the character of the overall whisky.

  • Bowmore does not age all its casks for their entire maturation time on Islay, but all casks will spend some of their maturation time on the Island. Quite simply we do not have the warehouse capacity on the Island to fully mature all stocks. Remember, as an Island the land is largely agricultural and peat moss if we suddenly erected warehouses en mass, this would impact heavily on the area. In terms of the overall effect on character, it is the job of the blender to make sure that the brands and expressions are consistent in flavour.

Barrels of Bowmore Whisky

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Bowmore Tempest

5)   It has become a new trend in whisky production, to “finish” the whisky in some sort of exotic oak barrel to add a unique flavour twist to the finished malt. I see ‘rum cask finished” whiskies, “Port Wine cask” finished whiskies, “borolo cask finished” whiskies et cetera. I am curious about the regulations governing the treatment of these exotic casks prior to refilling them with whisky. What are the regulations which govern the use of these casks and how they must be handled prior to reuse? Is there a strict requirement for them to be completely emptied and dry prior to refilling?

  • The only regulations in place for cask type are stipulated in the Scotch Whisky Act.  The act states that all casks must be Oak (Oak is a pure non resinous wood) and less than 700 litres in capacity. It is generally assumed under best practice, that these casks should hold no more than two litres of the previous content. This liquid is essential to stop casks drying out and therefore leaking or splitting.

6)   If you were stranded in the remote Canadian Arctic and happened upon just one bottle of whisky lying in the snow, which bottle of whisky would you like it to be? Would your answer change if you were stranded on a tropical Island and you found the whisky bottle in the warm sand rather than in the cold Canadian snow?

  • For me I have two particular favourites from our portfolio.  Bowmore Tempest, a 100% Bourbon cask matured Bowmore. The smokey character and the rich vanilla notes just work so well for my personal palate. If I was only permitted one more dram in my life then I would choose a Glen Garioch from the 70’s or 80’s, it really has to be tasted to be believed. Incredible stuff !!!

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7)   Do you have a favourite cocktail that you enjoy with a particular MBD Single Malt? Could you share it with us?

  • In terms of cocktails my favourite has to be something simple that I first tasted this year. A Bowmore punch created by Mr Dave Wondrich during a trip to Islay in January. Apparently punch is an age-old way of drinking whisky. When talking about classic cocktails, a nice Auchentoshan 3-wood ‘Old Fashioned’ is hard to beat. The different layers of flavour in the three wood take the old fashioned to a new level. Finally as a palate cleanser, aperitif, and refresher ‘the whisky sour’.

Bowmore Punch

The Punch Created by Dave Wondrich

Ingredients:

Three Lemons (retain the peels)
3/4 Cup Demerara Sugar
8 oz boiling water
750 ml bottle Bowmore 15 YO Darkest Whisky
1 1/2 cups Sandeman Fine Rich Madera
3 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curacao

Preparation and Serving

Squeeze the Juice from the three Lemons and set aside
Muddle the Peel from the three Lemons with 3/4 cup of Demerara Sugar
Allow the muddled mixture to sit for 4 to 6 hours
Add 1 cup of boiling water and stir to dissolve the sugar
Add 3/4 cup of the reserved fresh squeezed Lemon Juice
Add 1 750 ml bottle of Bowmore 15 Year Old Darkest
Add 1 1/2 cups Sandeman Fine Rich Madeira
Add 3 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curacao
Stir well and Refrigerate

When serving add 1/2 part water to 1 part refrigerated punch mixture
Serve in a Punch Bowl with a Large Block of Ice

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Three Wood Old Fashioned

Three Wood Old Fashioned

2 oz Auchentoshan Three Wood Whisky
1 tsp simple syrup
1 dash bitters
2 large ice cubes
1 twist orange peel

Add the first three ingredients to a rocks glass over the ice cubes
Rub the cut edge of the orange peel over the rim of the glass and twist it over the drink. (This will release the oil from the orange zest into the drink)
Drop the peel into the cocktail if desired.
Enjoy slowly and relish the flavours

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Whisky Sour

The Glen Garioch Whisky Sour

2 oz Glen Garioch 12 Year Old Whisky
1/2 Lemon freshly squeezed
2 tsp sugar syrup
ice

Add the ingredients with ice into a metal shaker
Shake until the side of the shaker frosts
Strain into a small rocks glass.
Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.
Enjoy as a palate cleanser, aperitif, and refresher

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8)    Is there anything new happening at Morison Bowmore Distillers which you can let my readers know about. Perhaps some new brands for us to watch for, or anything you would like to add?

  • At MBD we are always looking at the market for interesting opportunities. One that has really gained a lot of interest recently is our annual release of Individual Cask Bottlings of Glen Garioch. It is fun to work with buyers who get a chance to select the cask they want to bottle.

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I sincerely appreciate the time you have taken to answer my questions Iain. Thank you very much.

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