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Hellenic Malt Whisky Society, interviewing Mr. Mark Reynier, Founder and CEO of Waterford Distillery

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Dear Members of HMWS and Whiskyforum.gr.
We are more than happy to present you Mr. Mark Reynier, Founder and CEO of the new to come Waterford Distillery. It is our honor and pleasure to have mr. Reynier answering all our questions, especially now that time is so limited and he has so much to do in order to bring in life a new distillery, the first in 174 years in Waterford.
(P.S. The following interview is covered by all proprietary terms and conditions of whiskyforum.gr and HMWS).


1. Mallios: Dear Mr.Reynier, kalimera (which is good morning in Greek). First of all, let me thank you for this interview and the time allocated to reply to our questions. Please allow me to start with a Scottish-Nation related question. Referendum, independence and whisky industry. Will “No”play a significant role for the whisky industry and in what manner?

Mark Reynier: No. 90% of scotch whisky is exported, so the headline number - £4.5bn turnover - is not generated in Scotland, and nor is the excise or vat. Nor is the corporation tax, as most larger whisky company structures and ownership are such that the profits are booked overseas leaving very little - if anything - to be taxed in UK, let alone Scotland. The reality is that the UK generates about £800m in taxes from the excise and vat on the 10% consumed within the UK. Assuming half of that is consumed in Scotland, an independent Scotland, at the same rates, would get only about £400m. And of the 8,000 jobs, only a fraction, say 3,000. There would be minimal benefit to an independent Scotland from whisky consequently it does not feature in arguments on independence by the SNP.

2. Mallios: Let’s move on now to your new initiative. Taking this from HeraldScotland: “Former Bruichladdich boss Mark Reynier buys Irish brewing site”. Morever, Mark Reynier, who led the £6 million acquisition of Bruichladdich from Whyte & Mackay in 2000, has assembled the same team to acquire a Guinness brewery from Diageo in Waterford, Ireland.”
Dear Mr Reynier, please give as a small introduction / briefing in this new initiative that you are running and, what is important for us, what shall we expect Waterford Malt to feel and taste like?

Mark Reynier: Ireland is the best barley growing region in Europe. Barley is the most important ingredient from which all single malts' complexity is derived. Diageo's state of the art brewery, built in 2004 for €40m, has all the very best kit needed to run a great, future-proofed distillery. Remember, Bruichladdich was equally innovative in 1881 with two world-first inventions. And Ireland has been a whiskey monopoly for almost four decades resulting in a lack of development, authority, style or reputation. Simply put - there are 105 distilleries of consequence in Scotland and only four in Ireland.

3. Mallios: Based on your Laddie experience, you were finishing some of Laddie malt whisky in wine casks. Will you also do the same process under Waterford initiative?

Mark Reynier: No need to 'finish' - we haven't even started. Yes we will use the premium quality of French and European-grown American Oak for the complexity, variety and quality.

4. Mallios: I couldn’t help to avoid searching around, “googling”about your new initiative and what triggers me is that article mentioning that: “Waterford Distillery, the site will produce a range of innovative Irish whiskeys designed to “add some meat to the bones of the category”. Can you please elaborate a little and provide us the meaning of this?

Mark Reynier: The category's production values and styles are confusing. In a monopoly there is scant need to define officially what Irish whiskey actually is. Is it triple distillation? Is it "pot still" (a deceitfully named category if ever there was one)? Mixed mashes? Column still? Blended? Single malt? What is it? I intend to provide some 'definition', shall we say, some authority.

5. Mallios: I had the opportunity and honor to contact you while working on Bruichladdich (though you have already left Laddie when we visited it). What we found on Laddie site is that: “The much loved and photographed copper pot still …..has gone.”….It has gone for the best of all reasons – because it is to be brought back to life again. ……before being transferred to Waterford in Ireland where it will provide Mark Reynier with an interim solution for his new still house.”Also “There will of course be a touch of sadness at the departure of what became an iconic symbol of the renaissance of Bruichladdich, but it is going to a good home ...”
The question is obvious. Is this a sign of good luck using this “iconic symbol”? A sign of missing Laddie? Is there also going to be a deep relationship with former Laddie colleagues and of course distillery?

Mark Reynier: It is a straightforward time-saving solution. There is currently a three year delay in getting hand-beaten Scotch whisky stills. I want to get going, so this way with the renovation of the existing Inverleven stills we will be producing spirit in January 2016. They were never going to be used at Bruichladdich. The alternative is to get foreign-made stills, but lacking the requisite experience to me that would not be acceptable. A complete new set of stills will be ready for installation in 2021 or there about.
I have moved on from Bruichladdich now - in every sense. It was exceptionally hard to let go; I wasn't ready, I hadn't finished. I had invested substantially - both emotionally, financially and socially. It will always be very, very special to me, much more than many people can possibly ever realise, including colleagues.

6. Mallios: Now that we talked about the future, how easy is it to go back to 2000 and make a comparison of what was the Laddie dream then and how it compares or differentiates from Waterford today?

Mark Reynier: I have learned a great deal. I made some mistakes back then that I will not repeat with Waterford. That experience has been incalculable. This time I can start from scratch the way we mean to carry on. There are no pre-conceived ideas, customs, or attitudes. It is a blank canvass and I know both what and how to paint. I am very impressed with the calibre of the team I am putting together, the enthusiasm, knowledge, experience and commitment. It's a cracking atmosphere as we start the conversion/adaption process.

7. Mallios: You started at 1980 (at least the publicly available information) as a cellar manager at J. B Reynier Wines & Spirits. That is some 35 years in the industry. Should this be possible, please share with us which are the most important things that changed since 1980?

Mark Reynier: I left school and went straight in to my father's wine importation business. It was a difficult time, the wine trade was changing and London bottling was disappearing. We bottled, stacked, labeled and distributed Bordeaux and burgundy wines - a great job for fit young men. But it was the end of an era.
When the firm was bought by the West Country brewer Eldridge Pope, I had my first experiences of single malt whisky, the brewery produced their own blended whisky and I helped out with the vatting.
I started my own fine wine retail business after a period of running a retail shop and bar, which we expanded. It was there that I first started stocking Bruichladdich as "the wine drinkers' dram" when no one really drank single malt.
The UK wine trade has greatly changed consolidation and polarisation. At one end, winemaking has become too formulaic: Global Wine - same varieties, machinery, techniques, results. While at the other end of the scale, Investment Wine, is just a brutal commodity to be traded, rarely seen, appreciated, let alone drunk. Robert Parker has a lot to answer for.
I regret not leaving the trade earlier than I did.

8. Mallios: Likewise, please share with us the things that you consider unchanged in the whisky industry?

Mark Reynier: Still dominated by multi-national companies excelling in conformity and standardisation; marketing rather than production led; spinning not informing; cannibalising sooner than organically growing; quick rule-changing over steady, realistic growth; copying not innovating; compromising integrity for the quick buck.
There's still an awful over-reliance on sugary imagery, marketing-speak nonsense and romantic twaddle.

9. Mallios: Talking about things that changed or not, we see all the time surveys and articles about Bere Barley, Scotish Barley, Local Barley, Spring Water, peated barley, unpeated barley, oloroso casks, PX Casks and so goes on. What is actually making the difference in malt whisky?

Mark Reynier: That's a good one. It's not “what is making the difference", it is what can make a difference. Clearly the raw ingredient, barley, has been massively under-estimated, in my view. After all it is where all the flavour compounds originate from. It is why, technically, single malt Scotch whisky is the most complex spirit in the world. I think we have proven the point. If stills influence the weight of spirit, then barley influences the flavour. Of course malting, peat or unpeated is a very obvious differentiation.
Fermentation variances also influence flavours, but less is known about this - yeast, temperatures and length of time.
Casks do too: the oak provenance, cooperage, variety; the cask's previous usage. One pundit says casks influence 40% of the whisky's flavour. This is lazy, this is poppycock. You do not fundamentally change the spirit's intrinsic flavours with wood, but you can mask it, like make-up. The addition of casks' lignin, vanillin and tannins - mainly present in fresher, newer oak - can add to those flavours. The clumsy use of wood, and other short-cuts, is one of the industry's most shameful practices. Casks can accentuate a spirit's attributes if very carefully managed. They rarely are.
Warehousing too, equally important, while temperature and humidity have lesser flavour impact, location has a greater one, such as the marine influences of coastal maturation. Then of course there is the “bête noire”of caramel and chill-filtering which have a dramatic effect on everything that has gone before.

10. Mallios: Visiting your LinkedIn profile we can see 6 times the word “Founder”. Is this an internal need for continuously creating something new? What is the driver behind that keeps you moving into new and challenging initiatives?

Mark Reynier: I've never really thought about that. I suppose if one has a belief, an ideal and one feels strongly enough, then one tries to do something about it to satisfy that urge. Courage of one's conviction. Make it happen rather than "if only I had done that..."

11. Mallios: I found that “The Waterford Brewery, previously owned by Diageo, will be converted into a malt and grain whiskey distillery with an initial annual capacity of 3 million litres. ….although Reynier has plans to eventually double the capacity in time”.
Massive production, Roseisle distillery, new markets. How are all these things connected? Do you consider that there will be a threat for traditional “smaller”whisky distilleries? Are we living a “whisky boom”and if yes, are you considering that a crisis could also follow, especially now that some of these new projects are “frozen or delayed”?

Mark Reynier: That is incorrect. 1m olas from January 2016 to be tripled to 3m olas in 2021/2. Unusually, we will not sell anything to anyone until we are ready to launch the brand.
The increased capacities of single malt distilleries is to deal with future blended whisky sales in the Far East, Asia and the U.S., and to take pressure off single malt whisky brand stocks. If sales slow, stocks will age. If there is a severe economic crisis in years to come, some of those stocks may get traded; on the other hand they may not.

12. Mallios: Following the previous question, I also think about Kilchoman, Gartbreck, Port Charlotte (that is one of HMWS’s dreams), Abhainn Dearg on Isle of Lewis and now Waterford (although Waterford will be a rather big Distillery). Will it be there a place for newcomers in the future?

Mark Reynier: Of course. Micro or farm distilleries are flavour of the month. They will add much needed authenticity, character and credibility. Not to mention intellectual curiosity. I do wonder though, how they will get to market, and indeed, whether the independent distribution mechanisms, as they currently stand, will be able to cope. How will they differentiate themselves? I believe they will find it a lot more difficult than today.

13. Mallios: Allow me to go back to Islay and your previous work on Laddie. Port Charlotte. You may be surprised, but about 4050 klm away from Islay, some whisky lovers in Greece are Port Charlotte fans. Now that you will be using ex-Laddie stills, shall we expect a new “Port Charlotte”this time coming from Ireland?

Mark Reynier: No. They are Inverleven stills - not Laddie.

14. Mallios: Regarding distilleries, a typical question. Which are your favorite whisky distilleries? Moreover, how would you describe a distillery that you think / consider a great distillery?

Mark Reynier: I've always enjoyed Highland Park, Brora, Brackla, Bunnahabhain, Lochside - in their natural states. The original Middletons... But obviously Bruichladdich is very close to my soul: the Islay Barley Series, Bere, Organic in particular.
While distilleries have individual styles of spirit, over time the equipment changes, as does the operation of the distillery - usually economically-influenced for greater efficacy - speed, time, costs etc. Ownership changes over decades bringing new operations. Also, bulk stock pressures rise and fall necessitating stylistic changes. Bottling principles may alter. I suppose a distillery that can ride all these vagaries and still impress is truly great.

15. Mallios: Going one level down, please share with us (should this be possible) your top 5 overall malts on your tasting list. Similarly, how would you describe a great whisky?

Mark Reynier: It's a dangerous question, so much of the time place, event, company, mood play an important a part. The one that really tickled me pink was the Bruichladdich 125 bottling which some people ‘got’yet for others it was OTT.

16. Mallios: To change subject. Are you fond of any other spirits? Wine? Beer? Rum? Do you fancy something else rather than whisky every now and then?

Mark Reynier: I drink more Burgundy than whisky. I like a good ale from time to time like Black Isle's Organic ales. Having said that, the way I take a dram has changed from digestive to aperitif.

17. Mallios: Suppose you were in an isolated village, somewhere far north, desperately seeking a dram. The local minimarket store offers just the following standard blends (Johnnie Walker, Bell’s, Cutty Sark, Famous Grouse, J&B, Ballantine’s, Teacher’s, Whyte&Mackay, Grant’s, Dewar’s, Haig, White Horse and Jameson). What would you pick?

Mark Reynier: Blended whisky just doesn’t do it for me. I want the complexity and profoundness of a naturally-bottled single malt. I would walk to the nearest pub - however far that was, whatever the weather was doing, even the next village. I don't think I would have the courage to knock on a stranger's door... Others would, certainly on Islay, Hebridean hospitality being what it is.

18. Mallios: Finally, whisky prices today. Are they justified? Let alone the “Manager’s Choice”series from Diageo which is the perfect example, we also see large price fluctuation between similar expressions from different distilleries/companies. Take for instance the Glenfarclas 40y.o. and the just released Old Pulteney 40y.o. …I’m thinking that we have reached a point where collectors rule and a lot of companies set prices however they like, not taking into account the actual production cost.

Mark Reynier: Yes. It’s a function of stock/price. If one has only a few bottles and it is unlikely to be repeated again for several years, what do you do? Sell it at £20 a bottle? Of course not. It would be snapped up and resold by speculators before you could say boo to a goose, causing all sorts of upset to supporters, distributors etc. Instead it becomes a horribly delicate balance between rarity and value: collectable value; brand value; speculation value and true value.
Coincidentally, this is a good point to finish on. In the spring of 1986 I won from Jack Milroy a bottle of whisky that was worth an unbelievable £1000, by sheer luck: a 50 year old Balvenie. After I had collected it, Jack offered me some cask-strength samples to taste by way of celebration, my first ever whisky experience. And that’s when I discovered Bruichladdich.
The rest of the story you know…

Dear mr. Reynier. Thank you very much for responding to our questions. We wish you the best on Waterford initiative.
On behalfof HMWS and whisyforum.gr, we hope to see you in Greece and have the opportunity to have you among us in a whisky tasting event.
As a kind request we would like you to consider an HMWS / Whiskyforum signed bottle once in production.

All the Best,

Ioannis Mallios
HMWS Founding Member.

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Διαυγης,επαρκεστατη,συμπαγης και κατατοπιστικη συνεντευξη απο ενα 'ιερο τερας' του χωρου,με χιλιαδες βαρελια στην περπατησια του και εκατομμυρια drams κληρονομια.Εξαιρετικη επιτυχια να μαθαινουμε πρωτο χερι ψηλαφιζοντας στα εγκατα της κεφαλης του τις σκεψεις του για το προσωπικο του μελλον,τις επιδιωξεις του,τις αποψεις του για την βιομηχανια του αποσταγματος,ακομα και την θεση του για το προσφατο δημοψηφισμα.

Ουσιαστικες ερωτησεις,ξεκαθαρες και ζουμερες απαντησεις.Συγχαρητηρια για το πονημα και ...αναμενουμε τις επομενες!!!

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Προσπαθώ να βαδίσω στο δρόμο που χάραξε / άνοιξε ο πρόεδρος! Κυνηγάω κάτι μεγάλο.... αλλά ήδη νομίζω ότι έχουμε 3 μεγάλες επιτυχίες.

(τώρα στα αγγλικά γιατί το διαβάζει και ο ίδιος).

I do believe though that mr. Reynier gives us a lot of food for thought and some of his replies also provide answers to other whiskyforum topics, such as caramel and chillfiltration. As he mentions: "Then of course there is the “bête noire”of caramel and chill-filtering which have a dramatic effect on everything that has gone before."

Based on his opinion there is no "innocent" ingredient as caramel.

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Επί της ουσίας, εμένα το πρωτο πράγμα που μου μένει από τις απαντήσεις του Mark, είναι η σημασία που δίνει στην α' ύλη, το κριθάρι αυτό καθεαυτό, ένας πραγματικά υποτιμημένος παράγοντας σε σχέση με τα υπόλοιπα που προσδίδουν τα τελικά χαρακτηριστικά σε ένα single malt.

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Έλα και εσύ στην παρέα του Bere Barley!

Συνεχίζοντας την επισήμανση του Celtic να πω ότι βάζει και κάθετα το όριο στο caramel και στο chill-filtration παίρνοντας θέση και επισημαίνοντας "caramel and chill-filtering which have a dramatic effect on everything that has gone before" ότι και τα δύο έχουν μεγάλη επίπτωση σε όλη την προηγούμενη διαδικασία.

Θυμάμαι στο Lagavulin που μας εξηγούσαν ότι η καραμέλα είναι φυσική, άοσμη και πως έχουν διαπιστώσει ότι δεν έχει καμία επίπτωση σε γεύση κλπ κλπ.

Αν ήταν να ποντάρω, θα πόνταρα στον Mark.

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