Hedonism Meets… Alan Winchester
We sat down with Alan Winchester, Master Distiller, The Glenlivet to hear about his impressive career in the Scottish Whisky industry and to delve into the secrets behind some of the distillery’s most renowned whiskies; from ‘The Cellar Collection’ to ‘Spectra’ and the award-winning ‘Founder’s Reserve’.
Can you tell us a little about the history of the Glenlivet distillery, starting with when George Smith was first granted his licence to distil in 1824?
The Glenlivet was founded by the visionary George Smith in 1824. The Glenlivet became the first licensed distillery in the Livet valley, making The Glenlivet the original Speyside single malt Scotch whisky from the Livet valley. In 1884, John Gordon Smith (George Smith’s son) took legal action to call his whisky “The Glenlivet”, protecting its name from competitors looking to use the name ‘Glenlivet’ for themselves and to capitalise on our notoriety. The Glenlivet continued to pioneer the category in the 1900s, becoming the first original single malt Scotch whisky exported to the US in the 1930s.
Can you tell us a bit about your long-standing career in the whisky industry (over 45 years) and how you first started out?
My professional whisky journey began in 1975, as a distillery guide at the Glenfarclas distillery first and working in various departments afterwards. Four years later, in 1979, I joined The Glenlivet Distillers to work in the cooperage and warehouse department of Glen Grant and its sister plant, the lost Caperdonich distillery. In 1985, I moved to Glen Keith and Strathisla Distilleries as a trainee brewer, and then spells of production and bottling at Longmorn and Benriach, The Glenlivet, Allt a Bhainne, Braes of Glenlivet and Livet Feed Products, including bottling The Glenlivet water. In 1991, I was named Assistant Distillery Manager at Glenfarclas distillery, and afterwards I was promoted to Distillery Manager. Two years later, I joined Aberlour Distillery where I was responsible for the Edradour and Glenallachie distilleries, where I remained for the next 9 years.
In 2002, I was named Chivas Brothers Distilling Manager, and represented the company on various industry bodies, including; President at the Management Committee of Malt Distillers Association of Scotland, on behalf of Chivas Brothers, Chairman of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling Scottish Section and Director of Combination of Rothes Distillers. In 2009, I had the great privilege of being named The Glenlivet Master Distiller.
Finally, although in 2018 I retired from my Chivas Brothers Distilling Manager role, I still enjoy my continued relationship with whisky through my ambassadorial role as The Glenlivet Master Distiller and promoting Scotch whisky throughout the world.
“The role of a Master Distiller is to ensure the legacy of the liquid and its founder continues.”
What does the role of Master Distiller encompass?
The role of a Master Distiller is to ensure the legacy of the liquid and its founder continues. For me, that is to be the ultimate guarantor of The Glenlivet now and for the future, ensuring that the whisky manufacturing process always results in the same quality and that all new products reflect the spirit’s character and depth.
In 2018 you were awarded the International Spirits Challenge Lifetime Achievement Award, what did this award mean for you?
Being the Master Distiller of The Glenlivet is a privilege that I have held since 2009. Currently the role has seen me step back from production and distilling duties to focus on representing Chivas Brothers in an ambassadorial capacity, promoting The Glenlivet around the world.
Being a part of the team that has overseen two expansions of The Glenlivet distillery and the reopening of Glen Keith were very proud moments. The construction of Dalmunach distillery, which is one of the most energy efficient in Scotland, was also a hugely significant achievement during my time with Chivas Brothers. Of course, holding the role of Master Distiller of The Glenlivet, and representing this famous classic brand around the world is a privilege!
“The longer maturation of these unique expressions gives an additional layer of depth and complexity to the whisky’s character and flavour…”
The ability of The Glenlivet to age makes it hugely popular with collectors. Which bottles in Glenlivet’s portfolio do you think would be particularly exciting to collect?
From The Glenlivet’s many supreme whiskies, I would mention now The Glenlivet Cellar Collection – a rare, distillery exclusive, which includes some of the oldest and most limited expressions of the iconic original Speyside single malt, with the youngest bottle aged for a minimum of 30 years. The full Collection comprises a 30 year old, a 33 year old, a 38 year old and a 40 year old that bring to life the full knowledge and expertise of the Speyside distillery’s past. They are bottled at cask strength and non-chill filtered. The longer maturation of these unique expressions gives an additional layer of depth and complexity to the whisky’s character and flavour, whilst maintaining the signature style of The Glenlivet: smooth, balanced and fruity.
The Cellar Collection will appeal to whisky collectors as they are some of the oldest that have ever been bottled and released by The Glenlivet, Scapa and Aberlour, marking their exclusivity as something unlike anything we have ever released before.
“At the heart of The Glenlivet style is its classic fruitiness…”
At Hedonism, we stock an exciting range of Glenlivet, from early Gordon & MacPhail bottlings, to bottles from the ‘Cellar Collection’, to ‘Spectra’ and the ‘Founder’s Reserve’. Can you tell us a little about some of these releases?
The Glenlivet Spectra is a limited-edition trio of Scotch whiskies that challenges drinkers to fully embrace the whisky tasting experience. The three mysterious single malts are released without complete tasting notes, age or cask information, and are designed to encourage Scotch lovers to slow down and harness the power of the senses to explore a wide spectrum of flavours without any preconceptions based on whisky labels. For example, the latest limited edition features a gamified digital experience, which takes whisky tasters on an immersive and sensorial journey of discovery as they seek to uncover the elusive tasting notes of each expression.
The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve was created as the ultimate tribute to founder George Smith’s original vision to craft the definitive, smooth single malt whisky. At the heart of The Glenlivet style is its classic fruitiness, the result of the unique, wide lantern-shaped stills that were designed by Smith himself. For The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, this fruitiness is brilliantly complemented with a creaminess and sweetness from the addition of First Fill American oak casks, resulting in a malt of exceptional smoothness; the very quality for which George Smith’s The Glenlivet was widely admired and appreciated in his day.
Which whisky would you recommend for a customer looking to try Glenlivet for the first time, and how would you recommend serving it?
The Glenlivet 12 Year Old is a good starter for those looking to embark in a whisky journey. Our classic Single Malt is matured using American and European Oak casks imparting notes of vanilla and giving the whisky its distinctive smooth style and embodying the signature style of The Glenlivet. The Glenlivet 12 Year Old is the biggest reference in The Glenlivet portfolio globally and we know it is an expression which consumers love. As with each of our single malts, it is down to individual preference as to how to taste the whisky. We would generally recommend that our whiskies be enjoyed neat, with either a splash of water or an ice cube added to taste, however it can also lend itself to longer drinks if and when preferred.
Are there any exciting plans or projects on the horizon at Glenlivet?
Very much hot off the press The Glenlivet has just announced the release of three fine and iconic whiskies in the new Distillery Reserve Collection. The 10, 14 and 22 Year Old single cask editions showcase the finest Scotch craftsmanship mastered over decades.