“Stills are unique, like people, and you need two stills to make a unique spirit, just as you need two people to make a baby.”
So sayeth Dennis Malcolm, Master Distiller of Glen Grant and lover of quirky metaphors.
Dennis recently celebrated his 50th year with the distillery. BarLifeUK sat down with him for a cup of tea and a chat about the mind-boggling span of his career, and, of course, about the whisky.
We learned quite a lot about a life devoted to distillation, most of which is unprintable. Thankfully, there were a few pearls of wisdom that won’t get anyone arrested.
1. You don’t have to be born and raised in a distillery, but it helps. Dennis was born spitting distance from the distillery. He started working in the cooperage at age 15, and fell in love with the craft. “You can create something, and see the finished creation, and be proud of it.”
That pride in workmanship led Dennis to move up quickly within the company, and the lessons learned informed his approach to distilling. “you had to be perfect at making the cask, to make sure that it held… you had to be perfect first time, and strive for perfection all the time… The only thing that matters is consistency quality, and the key to getting consistent quality is people.”
2. Age is something, but it isn’t everything. “It’s just like a marriage. The first year is fantastic, and then you get older and older, and sometimes it gets better and better, but then you can peak and plateau… And just like when you’ve been married too long and your wife starts to dominate you, like the wood can overwhelm the whisky. You’ve got to be careful.”
(This might be the best relationship advice that BLUK has ever received.)
3. Cocktails are good for innovation. “you have to experiment as much as you possibly can. [Cocktail bartenders] have a huge library of flavours to call on… I’d like to see someone use mint, and bring out cooler flavours in the whisky.”
Dennis also commented on the skills required to combine flavours and produce a balanced beverage, drawing on his own experience with one of his recent expressions. “The 170th anniversary expression combines whiskies from every type of cask used in the industry. And it was extremely hard. the oldest was 1976 and the youngest was 2002… It was an extremely difficult task and I’ll not do it again!… These bartenders do a great job. It’s not easy.”
4. Adding a bit of Italian flare to a Scottish heritage brand is a good thing. “Distilleries want to be expressive,” and Glen Grant was caught in stasis for over thirty years until joining Gruppo Campari.
5. And speaking of new expressions… Glen Grant Five Decades, produced to celebrate Dennis Malcolm’s anniversary, is a labour of love, containing vintage whiskies spanning the master distiller’s career, with each decade represented. Five Decades is dangerously drinkable, with the characteristics of the young and the old whiskies balancing against each other.
Glen Grant Five Decades launches this month. Contact your local Gruppo Campari rep for more details.