"I have been in the industry for 24 years, starting off as a barman in the Craigellachie Hotel and working my way through Royal Mile Whiskies and The SMWS whilst at University. Following that, I had eight years at both Duncan Taylor and then Wm Cadenhead Ltd in senior management roles handling sales and cask selection and purchases. In 2019 along with my wife Kate we set up our own Independent Bottling Company - Campbeltown Whisky Company Ltd bottling under the Watt Whisky label."
Can you remember your first dram?
"To be honest, no! Most people have an epiphany dram - that changed their lives and got them into whisky, but I didn’t. Growing up at a Macallan distillery, we were always surrounded by whisky so I am sure I had sneaked a wee taste when very wee! The first time I remember drinking whisky though was when I found a bottle of Famous Grouse in my bedroom (my older brother had hidden it there and forgot about it) and me and my mate sat on the roof of one of the Macallan warehouses and struggled our way down the bottle until we thought we had drunk enough to add water to the bottle - my tasting procedure has improved dramatically since then!"
What attracted you to the industry?
"I had never really thought about whisky even though I could see three distilleries from my house, it was when I got a job at the Craigellachie Hotel that I got into whisky. I thought I was going for a job as a pot wash, but luckily they offered me a chance to work behind the famous Quaich Bar - which at the time had over 800 single malts in the bar. This opened my eyes not just to whisky as a drink but to the fact that you could actually get a job promoting and selling it!"
Can you share some memorable moments of your career or with whisky?
"Too many to mention really, obviously bottling our first cask under our own label was a big thing for us. I must have selected hundreds if not thousands of casks before but to do that first one under our own label was special."
"Other memorable moments - getting together with my wife Kate in Japan whilst we were both in out for Whisky Live Tokyo obviously has to be up there. In general, a lot of my personal highlights have been meeting, working and travelling and working with some amazing people in the industry; be it Duncan Elphick who gave me my start at the Craigellachie Hotel, touring Japan with the likes of Richard Paterson, Billy Walker, Frank McHardy etc etc, to the many importers, shop keepers, and bar staff that I have shared a dram or two with over the years - just too many great moments to pick one."
"One whisky moment that does stick with me though is the time I was passing Caperdonich distillery just after it had been knocked down. I had a bottle of 1972 Caperdonich with me and, along with four Danes, me and one of my best mates Roy Mathers climbed up onto the rubble of the former distillery and had ourselves a healthy dram. It was a bittersweet moment."
What advice would you give to someone who is new to whisky?
"Find a good bar! Buying bottles of whisky on a whim is an expensive hobby and can lead to great disappointments. Find a good bar and try as many different styles as you can, find what you like and explore it further. If you have a local whisky club join that. Listen to people's advice - but know your own mind, the only thing you need to know to be an expert in whisky is whether you like it or not. And that is purely personal - don’t let anyone tell you what you like or not!"
How much should someone spend on a bottle of whisky?
"As much as you feel comfortable spending, whisky after all is a luxury product, luxury prices start at different price points for different people.
If you could only drink one whisky for the rest of your life which one would it be?
It is very difficult to pick one but, on reflection, it would probably have to be a 1972 Caperdonich distilled in November - there was something magical about those casks."
Who do you consider to be a whisky icon?
"One of the best things about the whisky industry is that it is full of some of the greatest people on the planet. There are many icons of the industry and I have been fortunate to spend time with many of them over the years. My first ever whisky event I was part of was a question and answer session with Michael Jackson - I was so out of my comfort zone. I learned a lot from Michael as did probably a whole generation of whisky and beer drinkers from his books.
Again, there is what I call the old guard of the whisky industry that are true icons; Frank McHardy, Richard Paterson, Iain Millar to name but a few. Looking outside of Scotland you can’t look past Bill Lark and Ichiro Akuto.
Then there is a group that I am happy to be able to call friends - although they may disagree, David Stirk, Euan Mitchell, Stuart Buchannan, Georgie Crawford, Stuart Robertson and, of course, my wife and business partner Kate! Big shout out to Billy Abbott and Oliver Chilton - they are my go-to guys if I have any questions on booze; if they don’t know then no one will!"
What is your favourite whisky bar in the UK and globally?
"Picking two in the UK - The Highlander Inn, Craigellachie, the pub where I learned to drink, my first ever local and one of the most welcoming bars in the world. I also highly recommend my new local establishment, the Ardsheil Hotel in Campbeltown - a must-visit when in the town.
Looking outside the UK - I have probably been in more whisky bars around the world more often than in the UK if I am honest. There are so many to choose from but one that just pips it for me is the Mash Tun in Tokyo, it has become a tradition that on my last night in Tokyo we drink in the Mash Tun with the legend that is Toru Suzuki. This bar has an amazing selection of whiskies but when I am drinking in the Mast Tun with the regulars I truly feel at home."
Desert Island dram?
"Again, too many to choose from but probably Samaroli Bouquet Bowmore."
What do you enjoy drinking when you aren’t having a whisky?
"I love rum, obviously, we also bottle rum! Kintyre Gin made locally in Carradale is never far from my glass and I am a huge fan of Belgian beers - particularly Geuze Boon, as anyone who follows me on social media will certainly already know."
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