In the world of whisky, Dr Bill Lumsden, head of distilling & whisky creation at the Glenmorangie Company, is something of a legend. He is the innovator behind all the great Glenmorangie whiskies created in the last 15 years, leading him to be named ‘Industry Leader of the Year’ a record three times by the prestigious Whisky Advocate magazine. He was also primarily responsible for the Glenmorangie Company being awarded the industry’s coveted ‘Distiller of the Year’ title in 2012. Bill is credited with making whisky ‘finishes’ fashionable around the world, and more recently, for sending vials of Ardbeg Single Malt to age in space for three years, onboard the International Space Station — a first for a whisky.
Lumsden was in Delhi last month on a rare visit, to introduce Glenmorangie’s prestige range whiskies to its Indian fans. These included the 18 Years Old, the Signet and the 25 Years Old. He spoke to MW’s Carissa Hickling on the sidelines of the event.
With 30 years in the industry, what has really stood out?
There has been a huge period of rationalisation and consolidation, lots of small companies being swallowed up by the likes of Diageo or, like us, by LVMH [Louis Vuitton Moët-Hennessy]. So, that has been quite interesting. Yet, these things tend go through a kind of circle. Now we are starting to see again the emergence of a lot of start-ups and independent distilleries.
You are known for taking risks, including a failed experiment aging whisky in Brazilian cherry wood.
Brazilian cherry was one of those things that had to be tried — I had to explore using different wood types. If I’m remembered for nothing else, it will be for causing the SWA [Scotch Whisky Association] to change the regulations. So, now, Scotch whisky is restricted to just oak wood. It has been done for good reasons, however, it strikes me as a tad boring as there must be other wood types out there, other than Brazilian cherry, that could potentially give us a sympathetic range of flavours.
Any other experiments with unexpected results?
There have been one or two which have been unexpected in a good way — the Glenmorangie Elanta for example. The whisky was distilled the year before I joined the company, and I thought, in the fullness of time, this is going to be a very atypical Glenmorangie. So, I took the barrels and hid them in our oldest, dampest warehouse. The end result was quite spectacular, and it culminated in Jim Murray calling it the ‘World Whisky of the Year’ in 2014.
Jim Murray was recently in India for a tasting event, and warned Scotland to ‘wake up’. Your thoughts?
Jim is a great friend of mine and of our company, but his modus operandi is to say something controversial because, let’s face it, his goal is to sell more books.For him to start saying that Scotch whisky is losing its way just goes to show that he has lost touch with the Scottish industry, as there is more innovation going on in Scotland than anywhere else.
Glenmorangie is sold in 180 countries. In your travels, any trends in how single malt is consumed?
I’m seeing two trends that are almost opposed to each other. I’m seeing in more and more markets that people are now drinking in ways that best enables one to appreciate the characteristics of it. They are drinking it neat or with a splash of water. The opposite of that is I’m seeing the rise in single malts being used as a base for a cocktail. And I have to say that I’m very much in favour — in fact, I like whisky cocktails.
For Ardbeg’s 200th anniversary in May 2015, you have made a new whisky called Perpetuum. Tell us more.
In addition to looking back on the last 200 years, we are looking ahead to the next 200 years. We want the distillery to remain open and in production, in perpetuity. So, that is where the name has come from. In Perpetuum, I’ve put together a mélange of lots of different cask types, lots of different styles of Ardbeg that I’ve made over the years.