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HMWS interviewing Adam Hannett. The new Head Distiller of Bruichladdich Distillery

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Dear Members of HMWS and Whiskyforum.gr.

We are more than happy to present you Mr. Adam Hannett, the new Head Distiller of Bruichladdich Distillery.

It is our honor and pleasure to have Adam answering all our questions, especially because he is the selected one to take over from the legendary Jim McEwan, so he is probably the best person to bridge the gap between old and new, between tradition and new age to come.

(P.S1. The following interview is covered by all proprietary terms and conditions of whiskyforum.gr and HMWS.

We feel needed to thank Bruichladdich for the warm welcome and the overall relationship and support we had. This is our first recorded interview, upon accepting their permission, and therefore Bruichladdich Distillery is granted with full authorization to use this interview for its own purposes).

(PS.2 -IM.comment: provided that this is our first recorded interview, we did our best to transfer recorded call to paper notes. Please accept my apologies for any possible mistakes existing due to external noise or line braking issues.)

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Dear Adam,

On behalf of HMWS and whiskyforum.gr, I really need to say how thankful we all are, for having you answering our questions, during the forthcoming call.

First, allow me to express my personal feelings and love for Laddie team and malt whisky. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to meet you when me we visited Islay but we do hope that we will manage to come again.

The following questions can be a good start to facilitate our call interview, but please feel free to add any comments, assumption or topics you would like to address.

Section 1: Bruichladdich and Adam Hannett specific questions.

I.M. Question 1: Allow me to start from the first question that comes into my mind and, to me, perhaps the most interesting. Taking over from the Legendary Jim McEwan. How does this feel to keep on, to follow on a Legend’s dream, a person that to our opinion has a significant contribution to Bruichladdich resurrection, to what Laddie is, looks and taste today?

 

A.H. Reply: Taking over from Jim McEwan. Initially to say it’s a very dawn thing prospect. Because Jim McEwan is a whisky legend, but Jim McEwan is a very good man, very clever man and when it comes to working with people he would always share as much of his knowledge as he could and I spend a long time, probably three to four years in Bruichladdich, working close with Jim McEwan, get to know how to blend, how to get the feel, how to put whisky together.

So, taking over from Jim is a big big thing, a big responsibility, a tricky thing to get whisky of the same quality, but as Jim would tell it is to get all these little things in line. You need to have good spirit, you need to have good casks, you need to have good people and all of that is unchanged since Jim has left.

So when I come to blend whisky , I know that people, are good people that are making whisky beside me, I know the quality of the spirit is fantastic, the quality of the casks, they are amazing, we really knew how to bring all these flavors together in the best possible way, and again, spending time with Jim and have examples on how to do that is a fantastic experience, and you could have gain a feeling on how to do that, so taking over from Jim to be able to produce the same whisky I feel very comfortable doing that, because he put all that knowledge into me.

There are also other styles.

You know Jim is a great communicator, a great talker, a great ambassador for Bruichladdich, for Islay and for Bowmore distillery before he came to Bruichladdich, and you know, that what Jim was one of his fantastic skills, that is where he is very good at, standing up in front of people and talk, getting them the passion for whisky and maybe over time that will be something I will spend more and more time on doing. But for the moment my job is at the Distillery, making whisky and that’s what I need to do and work for that, so, because he was such talented to do that as well, it is difficult to take over from him but as I say all the thing are there in place, so doing just this and doing the distillery just this and keep producing some very good quality whisky.

 

I.M. Question 2: Before moving to the next questions, please spend some time to tell us about Adam Hannett. How you started, your dreams, did you anyhow expect that you would become Head Distiller when you started at Bruichladdich?

A.H. Reply: You know, when I started working at Bruichladdich, I was just thinking about getting a job, that simple. I just wanted to get some work. Then Jim came in, Jim met me, and gave me the opportunity and I started working at the distillery shop, as a tour guide.

I couldn’t, I didn’t know a lot about whisky but, you know, when you grow up on Islay you take it for granted that there are distilleries all over the place, that it is an absolute part of life, you do not necessarily think much about it, it is not unusual.

So I didn’t know a lot about whisky but after my first day at work I felt a lot about whisky, about Bruichladdich, the people and how whisky is made. It was an amazing experience and I just wanted to be part of it in any way I could. So I started working at the shop as a tour guide and then I went to the warehouses and the mashing and distillation and I was always willing to help anywhere else I was needed to go. I didn’t expect to become head distiller but the longer I was here the more I wanted to explore, to build my knowledge for whisky and for Bruichladdich and I think that that was it. Working a lot closer with Jim and eventually taking over some of his responsibilities, something I never,... I didn’t had the ambition to do, but the more I was involved with Bruichladdich the more I wanted to keep my involvement going, the long run, and bet on myself.

I.M. Question 3: You had the opportunity to be influenced and inspired from a legendary person. Should this be possible, please share with us which are, as per your opinion, the most important things that you would like to keep unchanged in Laddie.

A.H. Reply: Well I think the thing the Bruichladdich is very good at, why Bruichladdich is very good, is the tradition of the distillery, the fact that we make whisky by hand, that we passed this skill down from person to person and you know that’s a wonderful thing. I do not want to change any of that and nobody would change that, that’s a wonderful thing about the distillery.

You know we employ so many people as well and for me this is really great something! We employ so many people on Islay and I really do not want to change that and I think the company also wants to do that, more to employ people from Islay. To Islay is important of what we do for the location, where we mature our whisky, where the distillery barley comes from and all these things.. we want to stay the same.

So tradition of the Distillery would stay the same, employ people would stay the same, the quality of the whisky will always be the most important thing.

(I.M comment: Adam here also replies to following question 4)

As opposed to changing things, I am not sure that at the moment I would want to change anything. I’s just go for more of the same which is good. But you know, over time as I will be more experienced, I get more experience on this role, maybe things I would like to add or things would like to explore further that. You know, we know where most of our barley comes from and that is very very unusual, which farm and all the farmers who grows it.

I’d like to see that 100% of the barley we use we know exactly where it comes from, in which farms – you know –it grows, we know the region, we know each region around the market and in the ascent we do know exactly the farm, I think that this thing, knowing exactly which farm and more details, that’s what I would like to see.

 

(I.M.comment: So this is what Mark Reynier mentioned, terroir matters.)

Absolutely! I think we know that the terroir is huge, it effects everything about whisky, you know, the barley is key ingredient is so complex, so rich in flavor and how you distill that and how you mash and everything you do effects the flavor, the casks you use and their quality effects every aspect of the whisky and so, knowing as much information as you can is key.

I.M mentioned about difference of Berre Barley 2006 2008 and that terroir matters and the raw material matters.

Absolutely. You know making whisky is an extensive process and the way whisky is made is not changed. You know we have a lot more of modernization, a lot more of industrialization but if that’s taken away, personally I think that the challenge, what’s the interest in whisky and what we really should be looking at here in Bruichladdich is bere barley, organic barley, islay grown barley. It is the different years of harvest it’s the variety of barley. We are not trying to say that one is better than the other but let’s explore the differences, let’s see how the ingredients, if they are put to the front, they are the stars of the show.

It is not about the story we tell or it’s not about the money that makes it, it is about the ingredients. That’s the most important thing, that affects the flavor,.. that should be at the forefront, that’s what we shall talk about, the terroir, that’s why we talk about the barley, that’s why we talk about the casks, that’s the important things. That affects the flavor, that’s what whisky is all about.

 

I.M. Question 4: Likewise, please share with us the things that you consider that you would like to change and what you would like to be your contribution to Laddie?

A.H. Reply:

I.M. Question 5: What, to your opinion are the characteristics of a Head Distiller? What is actually needed to become a Head Distiller? What are the attributes needed to be among the ones that can actually say when a malt is ready to be bottled, when a malt conforms with Laddie taste and distilling standards?

 

A.H. Reply: It’s a good question. I think. It’s experience of the distillate. I’ve been working at the warehouses, it’s been since 2006 and once again the first thing I remember Jim saying is that you should taste it and you should smell…. and even though I was just rolling barrels or if I was emptying casks I was always kind of looking and feel how the different casks affect the flavor. How the ages affects the flavor and right from that stage I was building up the knowledge of the stocks and how are the characteristics of certain whisky at certain ages, and building up a picture of that, to me that’s key.

To be able to think of the casks we have and to be able to have a very good idea of what each cask will give us, and a good idea of what each age would give us and how that affects, but of course there are many many surprises, which is wonderful, but for me having all that knowledge and experience of our stock is a big success and being able to put that whisky together.

So when we fixed up with the crew the Laddie Eight, I knew that Bruichladdich Eight is a “pie deer” from the Bruichladdich spirit, because of the quality of the casks, because of the quality of the spirit, the kindness of the spirit, I know that Laddie Eight is good at that age.

So I didn’t have to look at all the whiskies in there, I know that I have to just think of that whisky and that it is very very good at that age. You know that’s not to say that we wouldn’t have a 10 years old whisky or a 15 years old whisky but I know that Eight is a particularly good 8 for the Bruichladdich whisky.

So I think that knowing the stocks and having an understanding of the whisky, a good nose, a good palate is very important and being able to distinguish that, as is it for me, working from the bottom up to the top, I think that’s also key. You understand how it’s made, you understand the influencing factors I think that’s the key in becoming a head distiller, you must understand everything.

 

I.M. Question 6: In one of our interviews, Mr. Mark Reynier mentioned how important the first ingredient, how important barley is to whisky. Moreover he mentions If stills influence the weight of spirit, then barley influences the flavour…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.” On the other hand, Mr. Robbie Hughes mentioned other key factors of making “the difference” are the way the distiller operates the distillery. I wish I could tell you that there is one silver bullet that would work for every distiller but there isn’t. That said, if you don’t use good quality casks to mature your whisky in then all of your earlier efforts could be in vain”.

Moreover, Golden Promise barley, Scotish Barley, Local Barley, Bere Barley , Port Ellen Maltings, Bairns Maltings, Islay Farms, Octomore Farm, Spring Water, peated barley, unpeated barley, port casks, sherry casks, new oak casks and so goes on. What is actually making the difference in malt whisky? What is the opinion of Adam about “what is the key attribute, influence of malt whisky taste, flavor and character”?

 

A.H. Reply: Well, yes, for influencing the character of the whisky the barley is for me one of the most important things. In our distillery we know how this works, we know how the distillery works, we know how to get at that stage from the barley, we make thing slowly. You know the speed of the distillation is very slow, the speed of the maturation is very slow, the fermentation is slow, the mashing also, everything is done carefully and with the barley in mind. And then, you know the casks, we have to have good casks as well to get to that flavor and the variety of the cask we like to explore, how does this affects the different tastes of the spirit we make.

So, quality is very very very important and Scottish barley is among the best, probably the best for distilling and has all the right characteristics to get a good flavor and treating this flavor through the fermentation, that absolutely the key.

The location, where we store the casks is very important as well to give us the influence to give us the character of Bruichladdich, that’s what we want, we want our whisky to represent Bruichladdich and Islay and the place, and to have this maturing on Islay, by the sea, give us that marine influence on the whisky, you know it tells you when you taste it where it comes from. So, there are a lot of little things like that, but where the whisky is matured is very very important influence and you know that’s the key.

 

I.M. Question 7: Following on the previous questions, we read your notes regarding “Octomore meets virgin oak” and we would like you to spend some time to discuss in more detail wood influence and especially the following: “Each time we went to it, we’d expect it to become tannic and bitter, but it just didn’t happen. The flavor got richer and richer and deeper and deeper, and the quality of the liquid was fantastic. But - we were aware that there could be a point where the oak takes over completely,…”

Is this an effect of fresh oak barrels or this can also happen with refill casks? And if yes, how can a whisky stay for 35-40 or even more years in a cask and still keeps its character without a “disturbing” influence from oak barrel?

 

A.H. Reply: I think from what you say that if it is to keep the whisky up to 30 or 40 years, how comes it doesn’t taste as just the cask.

Well, a lot of the cask that we use in whisky industry are re-fill casks so they are, to be honest, 99.9% of cask used have always had something before in, very very little are fresh oak or virgin oak cask used, mainly because for the spirit we’ve been using refill casks, so putting that Octomore in virgin oak, we did really know what would happened, we thought we may bottle a very very young whisky because the cask would influence flavor very quickly.

So the most whiskies are maturing in casks are second filled casks former have bourbon or sherry or porto, so some of this oakness comes from that casks already. If you keep using the casks of course you get more and more flavor so it takes whisky to take longer, the more times the casks has been used it takes the whisky longer to draw flavor from the wood.

So it the whisky is 30 or 40 years old without been too influenced from the oak barrel, it is because the oak barrel is a refill cask, it might be a third or fourth refill cask and it takes all of that time to be able to draw flavor out, whisky didn’t get less that long if the cask is good because it would take that long for the cask to influence the flavor.

So, yes what we did the Octomore virgin oak, we didn’t really know what was going to happen but we wanted to find out, because I think that looking back now and knowing more, I found that the quality in the oak and the way the coop has burned the cask and how they can determine, how the oak will behave, do rather the spirit to be too “tanical” or bitter, or too much, too strong for the whisky, The way the casks as re treated and burned really influence the flavor , so the casks we used for that were French oak and in medium toast and it worked very very well with the spirit, the quality of the wood worked with the spirit rather that over pound it and I kind of think that this is something we learn more and more about it as we are using more and more virgin oak casks.

You know we have lots and lots of experiments where we use French oak, or American oak or European oak where we have different levels of toasting, we have different sizes of casks and we have a lot of differences where we watch the spirit and how it develops and so there are a lot of interesting things in the future a lot of experiments to come.

 

I.M. Question 8: Laddie 8. Is this the new 10? If not, when shall we expect the new 10 to come and after all, what will be the new flagship of Laddie?

A.H. Reply: Laddie 8 is for travel retailers as you mentioned. It is not the new 10 y.o.. The 10 y.o. will come back, it might be a little here and there, it may not be around forever. You know they go and they come back again, we just have to wait when the 10 y.o. is what we need, we will release it. I think that’s interesting, we might do the same with Port Charlotte, maybe a 10 y.o. Octomore….

But the Laddie Eight is whisky of its own, and as I mentioned before, in Bruichladdich and the right kind of mix of cask we have a very good spirit at Eight years old and I think.. you know, there’s a lot of talk about NAS whiskies.

We release also NAS whiskies and we are proud of them , we do not think age, really, the older is the better. There’s a true reflection, you know, at different ages the spirit and the casks represents different flavors and they are all different. They are not necessarily better than the other.

So we think Eight is a good age to release the whisky, and it is not to replace 10 y.o. and we may have 5 or 10 y.o. in the future.

 

I.M. Question 1: Bruichladdich Crew 17 Valinch, Kate Hannett 48,2%. Needless to say that the first thing that we loved in Kate (she was our private tour guide) was her smile! Her passion and love for Laddie and the warm way she talks about the people there and the “Laddie way”. If I recall correct, other members of Hannett family were among Laddie Crew. Is this a family business, after all?

(I.M. comment. This question is obvious a misunderstanding from my side as Adam and Kate Hannett are not relatives. Provided that I did receive a reply from Adam, I feel that I have to leave this question and not erase it).

A.H. Reply: Kate left the distillery, she doesn’t work here now……

Eventually I was the first member of my family to work at a distillery. My father and grandfather were both from Manchester in England and so, there’s no many distilleries down there..My father and I moved here some 40 years ago, before I was born and I was born up here, so I was the first to work at a distillery.

 

Section 2: Generic Whisky Questions.

I.M. Question 1: What is your opinion regarding the “transparency debate” and the campaign by Compass Box that is aimed at allowing Scotch whisky companies to reveal more about what is in their bottles.

A.H. Reply: It’s very interesting. I mean the transparency debate, we always wanted to say in the Classic and in Port Charlotte, Scottish Barley, to release the information on what goes in there, because, you know the Classic is a NAS whisky, we’re getting some kind of hard to do the same process with someone else, releasing a young whisky, releasing to make money, do it quickly to do the volume of the spirit.

Why we’re doing it is because that’s what Classic is about, that’s the right balance of flavor, you know we’re mixing and matching a lot of different things and you can see what went into it. To create a certain style of whisky, that was important, to have a certain style and a certain flavor.

And I think that with NAS whiskies, there is…. the consumer, he seems to be in a bit of lack of trust. You know, if you’re getting a good whisky, what would happened to 10 y.o., what happened to 15 y.o..

But it’s easy to say that Classic is a different style of whisky. We do state the age of whisky in most of our whiskies. The reason that we’re getting NAS to the classic is because that we make changes all the time, you know every batch we do, has different packaging all the time, so it wasn’t feasible to do that (I.M. comment: I understand that this refers to state the age).

With the transparency we wanted to say to people, this whisky we are proud of it, this is what it goes in it, if you want to know you can buy a bottle; you can look and you can see what goes in there because we have nothing to hide.

We at Bruichladdich we try to make good whisky and we try to help people to know what’s in it, much like you wanted to know the ingredients of a meal in a restaurant, you would be able to ask and be told. The same we do here with the Classic.

There is an issue with scotch whisky companies, and sell whiskies to for blend and what goes into these blends but that’s OK, that’s… they dictate their own interest, they do their own thing, but in an instance we wanted to be able to say what goes in our own whisky. We do not think that there is anything wrong with that.

So, the transparency debate I think is good, is good for the consumer, it’s good for us because we are able to tell to people what’s in there and that is what we want to do. We understand that no everyone wants to do that and that we want to do that for all of our whiskies…. that’s what we want to do. So I think it is a good thing, the transparency debate, I think it got a lot of people to be interested… and I think there’s no reason why not to tell to people what goes in the Classic.

 

I.M. Question 2: Massive production. When we visited Laddie in 2014, the new warehouses were under construction. Now we also have the Octomore site warehouses. Will overproduction influence quality? How will you cope with this issue and what are your plans for managing both quality and demand on quantity?

 

A.H. Reply: I think again, I can imagine that the quality in what we do is the most important thing, and although we have increased production, since Remy Cointreau bought the distillery we were always growing, every year since 2001 we were always increasing our production.

But I think the thing here is that we know what our limits are and we will never push to make a lot of whisky if this is compromising the quality of our spirit. So at the moment we are making about 1.3 million of liters of alcohol per year and we estimate that with the distillery running as quick as we possibly could we could make, maybe 2.5 liters per year at the distillery, so you can see that we are still operating well ,well under, because that means that we are able to keep on the quality of what we do and this is the most important thing. If we try to increase the quantity in contrast with the quality that we could not do because you know the quality is always the most important thing in everything we do. And again we are not trying to sell as much whisky as we can, to sell to the whole world, we are not trying to compete with big big producers, we are trying to make the best whisky we can and we know that there will be people out there that would never get to taste Bruichladdich, we will still be a relatively small product, but that’s OK as long as we do the best of our ability, because that’s the most important for us, as long as we produce the best whisky we can produce. That’s all we want to do.

So, yes, quantity is not the most important thing for us.

 

I.M. Question 3: Regarding whisky distilleries, which are your favorite whisky distilleries? Moreover, how would you describe a distillery that you think / consider a great distillery?

I.M. Question 4: New distilleries in Scotland. Would that be Gartbreck (in general something traditional and rather small) or we are heading to new Roseisle distilleries to cover whisky demand?

(IM. comment: questions 3 and 4 are answered as one question, as following)

 

A.H. Reply: I think, well, it is interesting what is happening with the new distilleries in Scotland. I think what mostly, what we will have for the next years will be small distilleries, you know as it happens just now with a lot of kind of a single estate, kind of a farm or a home-run, I think we will see a lot of people doing that because it means less of investment and it is an interesting story to tell.

How these companies will survive in the future.. I don’t know, competing with bigger distilleries and whether they will be ok. You know time will tell.

You know there will always be big companies producing a lot of whisky and there will always be demand for Roseisle distilleries producing huge whisky amount, I think, a little bit about, probably in the years to come and I hope it is not done in a way that we are producing too much of whisky and we end up suffering and having to close all these distilleries again as it happened in the past, I think it has to be done with balance and that’s the most important thing.

And making a great whisky, what makes a great distillery, I think is the people. So if you got people who care about what they do, and that distillery got people with passion on what they do, that distillery is going to be a good one.

 

I.M. Question 5: According to your opinion is NAS the new standard?

(I.M comment: this question is almost answered in previous sections. Still, we do have Adam’s reply following).

A.H. Reply: You know NAS is kind of a standard for now, I think this is fine, NAS whisky is not a problem, is not a bad think if the quality is good and again if for people the quality of the whisky is the most important thing, then the age of the whisky shouldn’t matter, as long as we tell with integrity what’s in, I think it should matter.

 

I.M. Question 6: Japan vs other countries’ whisky. What is the story behind Japan’s success, awards and expensive bottlings?

A.H. Reply: To be honest I haven’t actually taste a lot of Japanese whiskies, but I am aware of the success and the wins and awards of the Japanese whiskies, but then again is the quality. If the whisky is not good, then it won’t be successful, it won’t be winning an award.

Jim kind of talked about it kind of a lot and he always said that what the Japanese did is some kind of copy what Scotland did. They liked Scotch whisky and they wanted to copy it. I think that what happened in the last few years is that they went away from that, trying to copy what other people were doing and explore what they are good at themselves and making the best of their own ingredients, this is probably what their success is for. And again it is experience, getting more experience all the time and trying to improve and willing to improve and look at other thing, that will always help to succeed

I.M. Question 7: Marketing vs Whisky. Bottling names, “interesting” stories behind each bottling, “nice” ways to say that this is a “limited” bottling of a “special” character etc etc. Do we live an era that advertising and marketing is taking over simple, traditional whisky tails? Do marketers have a say on when and why a malt will be bottled and priced?

A.H. Reply: Well, for us, we don’t do marketing. What happens is that we create the whisky and then we tell the story of the whisky. We do not make up stories about and you know.. The whisky is the most important thing you know, for Islay Barley.. it’s called Islay Barley, the Bere Barley is called Bere Barley, the Organic is called Organic, these are the things that are important about whisky and for the people. We are not actually doing any marketing we are just telling what are the ingredients we are using, where the barley comes from or, you know, who grew it.

I think those are interesting thing to tell and these are not stories, this is the truth and that’s what is interesting about whisky, so we do not need to rely on making up a story and taking attention away from whisky, we need attention on the whisky because whisky is the most important thing and we believe that and stand by it, so the marketing for us… we do not do marketing.

Whisky is the most important thing and marketing happens after it, you know when we produce the spirit we tell the story and they tell the story of the whisky, that’s the way it should be.

Section 3: Free topic.

This is the first time that we introduce to an interview such a topic and it will also be a good start to test whether and how this could also be an interesting part of our interviews. So, I leave it open to you and please discuss about a topic that you consider “hot”, educational, different or needs to be mentioned according to your opinion, regarding malt whisky.

A.H. Reply: Well… I do not know what to start with really , I think, you know what I would say to anyone kind of drinking whisky is to keep the story, to keep looking on what everyone is doing and keep on drinking scotch whisky.

Scotch whisky is a huge- huge area with so many differences; so many amazing distilleries out there, so many people doing amazing things. I think it is a wonderful time to be able to explore whisky to deal with what these people are doing. As we talked about new distilleries are coming and a lot of exciting things, so yes, just keep on enjoying whisky. That’s the main thing, as long as enjoy it, that’s the main thing.

Dear Adam,

On behalf of HMWS and whiskyforum.gr we would like to thank you for your time and effort allocated to reply to all our questions and we hope to see you in Greece and have the opportunity to have you among us in a whisky tasting event.

Sincerely Yours,

Ioannis Mallios.

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Bravo Mallios, πολλές υπερωρίες δουλεύεις τελευταία...χαχαχα. Προσδοκώ φάση χαλαρότητας για να τη διαβάσω.

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