Snippets, paragraphs, and chapters about all the people in this article appear in one or more of the following books, all from my whisky library.
The Whisky Men
© 2005, Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh
About 276 pages
Goodness Nose – The Passionate Revelations of a Scotch Whisky Master Blender
Richard Paterson and Gavin D. Smith
© 2008, The Angels’ Share, Neil Wilson Publishing, Glasgow
About 206 pages
Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2013
© 2013, Dram Good Books, Ltd, London
About 384 pages
Cutty Sark – the Making of a Whisky Brand
© 2011, Edrington Distillers Ltd., Berlinn Press, Edinburgh
About 220 pages
Whisky – The Water of Life – Uisge Beatha
© 2000, Firefly Books Ltd., London
About 222 pages
The lead-up to, and the aftermath of two world wars basically put a halt to the expansion of the whisky industry, with the notable exception of illicit activity of some distilleries during American Prohibition in the 1920s and ‘30s. With the end of grain rationing in the 1950s, growth in Scotch whisky distillation resumed.
Before 1900, the pillars of the whisky industry established the foundations for the infant, but burgeoning, business. The efficient pagoda-topped kiln rooms and other architectural contributions of Charles Doig in the 1800s were continued in the mid-20th Century by William Delmé-Evans. In the 1950s, Delmé-Evans established himself in the forefront of Scotland’s whisky revival with his designs utilizing energy efficiency. He designed three distilleries, Tullibardine in the Highlands, Jura, on the Island of Jura, and Glenallachie on Speyside.
Carrying on the tradition of women in leadership roles at distilleries, established by Elizabeth and Helen Cumming of Cardhu, in the 1880s, Bessie Williamson became “Laphroaig’s First Lady”. Hired as a secretary in 1932, Williamson eventually assumed the duties of owner Ian Hunter, as his health deteriorated. She traveled extensively, serving as the Scotch Whisky Association’s International Ambassador, and inherited the distillery upon Hunter’s death. She was owner and manager of Laphroaig from the mid-1950s to her retirement in 1972.
Contemporary pillars of the whisky industry can be found in two broad categories, people who make it, and people who write about it and promote it. Perhaps the most well-known bridge between these categories is Whyte & Mackay’s Richard Paterson, Master Blender of The Dalmore. Recently, Paterson was high-profile in recreating the Shackleton Whisky Replica, based a cache of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt, found in the Antarctic, 100 years after being stowed away in a hut by explorer Ernest Shackleton. Paterson is author of Goodness Nose, an account of his and his family’s three-generation involvement with whisky.
At the distilleries, the position of Master Blender is at the top of the hierarchy with two of today’s pillars being Rachel Barrie (Morrison-Bowmore) and David Stewart (The Balvenie).
In The Whisky Men, Gavin Smith profiles leaders in the industry, most working in the distilleries, including Dennis McBain, retired after more than 50 years as coppersmith for William Grant & Sons’ Glenfiddich and Balvenie brands, and Master Blender Jimmy Lang. Of Lang’s prowess, Samuel Bronfman (founder of Seagram’s) once declared “Distilling is a science and blending is an art”. Lang is known for his mastery in creating Chivas Regal blended whisky.
Cutty Sark – The Making of a Whisky Brand is the collaborative effort of ten of whisky’s most influential writers. Many of these writers contribute to Whisky Magazine and enjoy a wide and enthusiastic fan base; many are members of the prestigious Keepers of the Quaich, an invitation-only society recognizing individuals’ excellence in promoting the heritage and quality of Scotch whisky. The ten contributors:
- Helen Arthur, world’s leading female whisky writer, best known for her 1997 The Single Malt Whisky Companion, an international best seller, translated into 23 languages
- Dave Broom, frequent contributor to Whisky Magazine and author of several books, including The World Atlas of Whisky
- Ian Buxton, frequent contributor to Whisky Magazine, and author of several books, including 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die
- Charles MacLean, author of a dozen books, and founding editor of Whisky Magazine
- Marcin Miller, co-founder, first editor and publisher of Whisky Magazine
- Martine Nouet, known in France as “La Reine de l’Alambic” (Queen of the Still), she publishes extensively on whisky and food pairings and judges at the annual International Wine and Spirit Competition in London
- F. Paul Pacult, founded his Quarterly Independent Guide to Distilled Spirits, Beers and Wines, now in its 21st year. He is the author of several books about whisky
- Gary Regan, author of The Joy of Mixology and The Bartender’s Gin Compendium writes for many publications, including The Whisky Advocate and The San Francisco Chronicle
- Neil Ridley, a regular contributor to Whisky Magazine and Imbibe, is co-editor of a whisky website
- Gavin Smith, author of more than 20 books, including Wort, Worms and Washbacks, The Secret Still, The Whisky Men, and Discovering Scotland’s Distilleries.
Jim Murray is a popular writer, known best for his Whisky Bible, an annual compendium of the latest in whisky news. In the 2013 edition, Murray dedicates the volume to “that consummate professional of the blending lab, my old and dear friend, David Stewart, to mark his 50th anniversary with William Grant” and to Angela D’Orazio, “who, in a short time, has put Scandinavian whisky (Mackmyra) on the map.”
No list of esteemed influencers in the whisky industry would be complete without including Michael Jackson. As authors Dominic Roskrow, Gavin Smith and William Meyers write in their updating of Jackson’s 6th Edition of the Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, “He built bridges within the industry, linking whisky makers and whisky devotees around the world. He gave us access to the world’s great distilleries and the people who create great whisky within them. For that we owe him a huge debt of gratitude.” Jackson died in 2007.
Two quotes seem fitting with which to end this article. The first, from the song “A World of Whisky”, by Scottish whisky bard Robin Laing, from his CD, One For the Road, © 2007 Greentrax Recordings, Edinburgh:
A little or a lot
And here’s to the guys who sell it to ‘em
What a difficult job they’ve got
Here’s to the whisky blenders
May their noses be insured
But the guys who make it – you can take it –
The keys to heaven are yours
and this, by Michael Jackson, in his World Guide to Whisky: “In its nobility, its profundity, its bigness, its complexity, whisky of either spelling is a pleasure meant for men and women who enjoy drink, and probably food. It is not suitable for people who are afraid of their own shadow.”