Inside Dalwhinnie

Last month I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the Brand Home Manager, Ewan Mackintosh, from Dalwhinnie Distillery. Here he shares his thoughts upon whisky production, his favourite whiskies and offers some insight into what it’s like working at Scotland’s coldest distillery.
Ewan, tell us a little about your role here?
So, I’m the Brand Home Manager here at the Dalwhinnie distillery and I’ve been here for 8 years now. I look after all the visitors that come to the distillery, so around 50,000 people a year. Visitors will come for tours of the distillery and for tastings and I make sure all that goes smoothly.
I’m also the on-call duty manager every 1 week in 5 for the whole site here at Dalwhinnie and our sister distillery at Blair Athol.
What’s the most enjoyable part of working at the Dalwhinnie distillery?
Loads of reasons, great people. There’re loads of great folk to work with. The first day at work Maureen Stronach, who is now retired, was showing me round and she is the third generation to work at the distillery. She was born in what is now the Diageo office and she still lives in one of the distillery cottages. Amazing because her grandparents, parents, brother and her son, Stephen, all worked or work at the distillery. Again, that same first day she was showing me around the distillery and one of the still men shouts down the stairs “It’s bad luck to cross on the stairs, my mother said it’s bad luck to cross on the stairs, come away up before.” So, we went up the stairs into the control room and Maureen says, “That was my brother, Hamish.” You know there is just a nice family feel to the distillery, lots of heritage and family connections which makes it a lovely place to work.
How did you get into the whisky industry?
Well I worked in Islay for a year and then Oban. I did a stint at Lagavulin and Caol ila and then an opportunity opened here, so I took it. Interestingly, people always say that it must have been very remote on Islay but in many ways, it is more remote at Dalwhinnie. You know on Islay it’s only a 20-minute flight from Glasgow so you’re quite close to civilisation but at Dalwhinnie if the weather is bad, heavy snow fall or anything, you’re cut off and it can feel pretty isolated.
My first job was in France and I was approached by a company called Maison du Whisky and they were looking for a sales rep to go round the Scottish, Irish and English bars in Paris to sell whisky to them. I remember being on the outskirts of Paris in a borough called Malakoff and going to a warehouse where we selected 12 bottles of whisky to use as sample bottlings. These bottles were then tied over the bars of my bicycle and I cycled round the bars selling them whisky. A great job for a 21 year old I’d recommend it.
What would you say is the most special thing about Dalwhinnie as a distillery?
Definitely the location. It’s the coldest and highest distillery in Scotland and it’s also the coldest village in Britain. This means that the water from the hills is always icy cold which is what makes our distillation process so unique. What we’re looking for is what we call a “short copper conversation” where the spirit is condensed.
What is your favourite single malt whisky just now?
Favourite just now is the exclusive distillery edition that you can only get on site. It’s a triple cask matured Dalwhinnie which is just lovely. First, you’re tasting the 15 year and then there’s so many layers of sherry and American oak.
What characteristics do you look for in a whisky?
Interesting one, it’ll depend on a number of things. As a rule of thumb, I prefer lighter whiskies during the day, delicate flavours just after work and then a heavily peated or sherried malt after dinner in the evening. That being said, I am quite partial to a JB and ice. Tall glass, on the beach sipping a long whisky, nice one. I guess for me the characteristics depend very much on the occasion.
Who is your most favourite, famous whisky drinker?
I was fortunate enough to meet Dave Broom and he was on a whisky course that I was on for a week. It was great getting to hear him speak about whisky.
Are there any competitors’ whiskies that can be compared to a Dalwhinnie single malt? Any that you feel are in the same vein and have similar body?
No, absolutely not. Nothing even comes close.
What’s your ideal setting for drinking a dram?
Lots of different settings make whisky drinking more enjoyable whether it be halfway up a Munro with the wind blowing and knee deep in snow, a warm dram then is great, or just being by a fireside. I think the key is that you’re amongst friends; that’s essential.
If you could create a whisky, where would you start it and what would the finished product be like?
So I’d start with malted barley from the Black Isle and then use the Tininich mash tun with Lagavulin washbacks. Definitely the still house in Caol Ila, there’s a really wonderful view and I would have to mature it in Dalwhinnie because you lose less to the angels. Oh and water from Dalwhinnie as well.
Sometimes I like the layering and complexity that different casks add to the spirit, but I think I’d really like to let the distillery characteristic shine through, I’m not sure what it would be, but I’d love to try it, so I’d just put the spirit in a refill American oak cask.
One whisky that is on your bucket list to try?
Royal Lochnagar have recently launched a distillery exclusive bottling and Claire Fraser the distillery manager there recommends it. Haven’t tried it yet as it was only released a few weeks ago but it will hopefully be very rewarding.
Do you have any highly recommended single malts that are under the £100 mark?
At the moment we’ve got Distillers Edition Dalwhinnie here which is a great buy at around the £60 figure so that would be my go to recommended malt.
Finally, what is your favourite food accompaniment to whisky?
Chocolate, definitely chocolate. I do like whisky and cheese too, but the best pairing is chocolate.

One thought on “Inside Dalwhinnie

  1. What a great article. It made me reach for a large dram of Dalwhinnie as I read it. And what a fascinating character that Ewan Mackintosh is. Keep up the good work Jacob.

    Liked by 1 person

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