The Pursuit of Excellence - The Dalmore
We're intrigued - and who better than The Dalmore's very own Master Blender Richard Paterson and Whisky Maker Gregg Glass to tell us more? We sit down with the duo to discuss all things Decades, cask curation and Richard's incredible 50 years at The Dalmore.
Richard, you're celebrating your 55th year in the industry and 50 years at The Dalmore. Incredible! How did you come to work in the whisky industry?
RICHARD: My passion for whisky really comes from dad. My father had a whisky company, and he would take me into the maturation warehouse. I remember the silence, the darkness, and the silhouette of the casks - but most importantly I remember the smell. Damp whisky, maderised wines. You never forget it. The legacy my dad left behind was that love and passion for whisky. "Every cask will tell a story," he would say - and it's true.
Gregg, how did you get involved in whisky?
GREGG: I started my career in whisky 22 years ago, but the recent years have been solely dedicated to whisky making. I always had a passion for whisky and growing up on the Black Isle, I was surrounded by Highland distilleries. My first job was working at a local whisky distillery as a tour guide and during this time, it really solidified that this was the industry I wanted to work in. I initially planned to go down the distillery management path, but when I went to work for another whisky firm, I was diverted into whisky making and blending. I started working side-by-side with Richard in 2016 and the rest is history!
What does it take to become a master blender?
RICHARD: When it comes to being a master blender, dedication is what you need. Passion, commitment and relentless drive to make sure your product remains at the top.
What makes The Dalmore different?
GREGG: The Dalmore is different in what is offers through its royal heritage, expertly composed spirit, exceptional cask curation and the dedication to crafting a masterpiece. Richard's pursuit and search for perfection really embodies those principles.
RICHARD: The bell-shaped bottle which we brought in all those years ago in 1997 allows our whisky to stand out. Whether it's a gift or it's up in the gantry, that iconic Dalmore stag always shines.
It's all well having the packaging, but as Gregg says, you must have the quality of the whisky. When you go along to The Dalmore warehouses and draw whisky from the casks, you'll discover its rich mahogany colour, with lovely cherry notes. Mother Nature has taken its course and nurtured our whisky, but it's also all about getting the right cask.
Richard, you are one of the great pioneers of wine and sherry cask maturation. Why does The Dalmore spirit lend itself so well to these types of casks?
RICHARD: The beauty of The Dalmore is that the size and shape of the stills give it so much body and character, and the spirit has to be aged in casks that also have body and character. Lighter wines like fino sherry or sauvignon blanc would add something to the spirit - but not as much as a heavy port, a Madeira or Marsala sherry.
Talk us through the cask selection process. Do you know what you are looking for before you find it?
RICHARD: Yes, I always have an idea of what I'm looking for. The DNA of The Dalmore is chocolate orange with a little bit of spice, so I'm always thinking of what else I can bring to it. Is it morello cherry and damson plum, with an added creaminess? In that case, I need port casks. But what kind of port: tawny or vintage? That's what's in my mind the whole time.
Gregg, what aspects of whisky making excite you most?
GREGG: For me, it's experimenting with modern and traditional techniques to create interesting flavour combinations. Collaboration in whisky making is also key - initiatives like the Scottish Oak Programme that we have built enables us to explore new planes of flavour, working in close collaboration with many across the industry.
RICHARD: I've been working with Gregg for five years now and it's wonderful to work so closely with someone who is as passionate about the future of the whisky industry as he is. As well as learning the traditions and craftsmanship we have developed over time, Gregg is always looking to innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible.
Gregg, Richard must be a fantastic mentor?
GREGG: Absolutely. Richard has been a huge inspiration to me right from the start of my whisky career. About 16 years ago I remember seeing him from afar sampling casks at The Dalmore - little did I know that I would be sampling casks in the very same warehouses with him all these years later!
Richard's impact on The Dalmore and the wider whisky industry cannot be understated. His reputation as a whisky maker is unrivalled and he is synonymous with The Dalmore. His impact on The Dalmore, the distillery and its whiskies will continue to be felt for generations to come and I feel honoured that he has chosen me to follow in his footsteps.
The latest release from The Dalmore is nothing short of spectacular. Tell us about The Dalmore Decades.
RICHARD: The Dalmore Decades is a true tribute to craftsmanship forged over the years, and having joined the team in 1970, it is also a wonderful way to reminisce over many highlights in my career.
The whiskies are all different, cherrypicked for their nuances and styles, and everything from strength to colour has been derived from the cask. It's a formidable collection that will give somebody the most warming memories of a lifetime.
It's a collection to be savoured, holding the whisky long in the mouth. Enjoy great after-dinner coffees and chocolate with it; make it really special. But most importantly, share it with the people you love.
The industry is getting more and more experimental. Where do you both see it going?
RICHARD: The whisky consumer is becoming far more curious, and with older whiskies not as available as they once were, we're seeing a new style of whisky coming in and a real sense of innovation.
GREGG: I agree - I think we're going to see an exploration of flavour using different mediums. For me, I think it is still important to take inspiration from traditional whisky making techniques but look at the resources available today that we can utilise to explore new flavours.
What's next for The Dalmore?
RICHARD: At the present moment we have hundreds of experiments going on. We've laid down so many different types of casks - from wine and tequilas to Calvados and Cognac. These are bubbling away underneath the surface and will be released only when they are ready. I always like to say we haven't made our greatest Dalmore yet - there's always room for improvement.
Richard, talk to us about some of your most unforgettable Dalmore whiskies over the past 50 years.
RICHARD: One of my favourites has to be The Dalmore King Alexander III. It's different because of the six finishes we use: port, Madeira, Marsala, cabernet sauvignon, small-batch bourbon and Matusalem oloroso sherry. I was inspired by my first years working at Whyte & Mackay when blended whiskies were - and still are - the driving force of the Sootch whisky industry. I wanted to try blending the individual component parts of The Dalmore, with each finish coming together in a loving way.
From there, we went on to create The Dalmore Quintessence with its different wine finishes, followed by The Dalmore 15 Year Old with its three different sherry finishes. All these finishes bring that extra level of luxury for which The Dalmore is renowned.
Last year you were rewarded an OBE - that must be up there as one of your proudest moments?
RICHARD: I cannot describe how proud I was to be awarded that, although I'm still waiting on Her Majesty to tell me when I can receive it! But it's not just for me; it's for all the people I work beside. When I think back over my career, I think about all the wonderful people I have worked with, who have such similar dedication and commitment.
People often ask me what's the greatest reward I get more than anything? It's when I see somebody picking up a glass of The Dalmore and their look of genuine love when they taste it. The eyes will tell you everything, particularly if it's their first time trying whisky. They taste it and say: "Now I know what you mean."
The original feature is from the Autumn 2021 edition of Whiskeria, delivered to the door of W Club subscribers and also free with any Whisky Shop purchase in store or online. Click here to read the full Autumn 2021 issue of Whiskeria online for free.