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HMWS Discussing with Mr. Gordon Dundas - Ian MacLeod Distillers International Brand Ambassador

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HMWS and whiskyforum.gr discussing with MR. Gordon Dundas

Dear Mr. Dundas,

On behalf of Hellenic Malt Whisky Society and Whiskyforum.gr, I would like to thank you for your kind interest to support our forum and contribute in our interview section.

It is both and honour and pleasure to have you in our interviews section and we will do our best to leverage on your knowledge.

For the first time in our forum we will introduce questions covering the technology environment and revolution and how this can support a traditional industry like Whisky.

Of course, we will not forget some traditional questions, still trying not to “revisit” topics already discussed. As always, we divide our interviews in 3 sections (Interviewee section, Whisky in general section and a third one which typical is an open one, now it is dedicated to technology).

Thank you for your time

 GORDON DUNDAS RELATED QUESTIONS

Dear Gordon, it was really a pleasure and honour meeting you in Nicosia, having the chance to discuss for Glengoyne, Tamdhu and malt whisky in general.

I.  Mallios: Some 2 years ago, we had the chance to interview Mr. Robbie Hughes and have one in-depth analysis of Glengoyne malt whisky. Funny thing is that back then we started with UK Referendum and Scottish vote for “better together” and now we are discussing for “Deal or No-deal Brexit” (or will it be another Referendum?). What will be the effect of the Brexit to the whisky industry according to your opinion?

Mr. G. Dundas reply:

As I write, we simply have no idea what is happening so all we can do is prepare for as many possible outcomes. I really cannot give any more insight as no one knows! The benefit of Scotch is it is global and the EU for most is a small percentage when you consider north America, Asia and emerging markets. That said I think a Deal would be preferred by most people in the industry.

 

 I. Mallios: One of the major topics behind “Better together” campaign was the European Union and the opportunities provided. Now with the Brexit approaching, what is your opinion, your sales view. Will we face a slowdown on sales until new treaties are signed? Will you search for new markets in the meanwhile?

Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

Scotch Whisky is a global product so we currently trade all over the world and of course some of our key markets are in Europe. We do not know the situation next week, far less a year. We will of course keep working with our distributors to ensure we can still supply our key markets in Europe.

 

 I. Mallios: With such a career and experience, questions are just easy to make, and it is difficult to avoid typical questions like this one. Beam Suntory and now Ian Macleod.  From Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Laphroaig, Bowmore, Auchentoshan, The Ardmore, Teachers, Glen Garioch, Kilbeggan, Yamazaki, Hibiki and Canadian Club to Glengoyne, Tamdhu, Smokehead, King Robert II, Isle of Skye, 'As We Get It', Chieftain's, Dun Bheagan, Macleod's, Sheep Dip, The Six Isles and many more. What are the main differences between the two Groups as far as it comes to the sales approach?

Mr. G. Dundas reply:

Well the main difference is size of course and distribution. This means at Ian MacLeod Distillers we work with multiple partners around the world which delivers for our style of family business. With Beam Suntory, the diverse nature and scope of the portfolio is their strongest asset which gives them so much scale and leverage, one of the reasons Beam was purchased by Suntory.

 

I. Mallios: Traveling back to 2003, the years on Paragraph Publishing and Whisky Magazine, Whisky Live. One could consider your role more educational and wider as you were targeting a broader audience and trying to “pass the message” and create educated whisky fans. How difficult was it to develop such a market?

Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

Whisky Magazine was a specialist title and was really targeting whisky drinkers, the industry and the using Whisky live as the strong educational and wider consumer experience. I think Whisky Live blazed a trail for the style of whisky shows and each market was different in how you approached. There was not a one fits all approach with Whisky Live which was the secret of how to develop, attract consumers and deliver a great experience. I am proud to have played a small part in the network of shows Whisky Live is now.

 

I. Mallios: Still on the previous question, and based on my personal experience about the way you do presentation, do you consider that although you changed the industry, you still educate people? Can you really combine a sales event with passing the knowledge about malt whisky (and in general whisky)?

Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

Of course sales are important but here at IMD, the education, training and authenticity are important as shown by how we produce our whisky. With our honest and transparent production and quality, I want to ensure trade, Press, bloggers and consumers understand what makes us at IMD different.

I. Mallios: Searching (as I always do) the internet to find previous interviews etc, what surprises me is that there are not that many interviews in written (possibly I am wrong) and most of them are typical and using almost the same questions. So, as the only way for us to improve is your feedback, what would you suggest that is the best way to approach an interview and (if possible) to challenge a person with such an experience, like you? Moreover, did you ever faced a question so difficult to answer that you decided to avoid, and if so, what was the question?  

Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

Interviews are always different and I get interviewed a lot around the World. A diverse range of questions is always important and certainly seeing them first is a great help. Like everything, a successful interview is one which your readers want, covering relevant topics and information. Whether your audience is beginners, mixologist or connoisseurs, there can be differing views on whisky and its appeal so alignment is very important.

Been asked some very odd questions in the past and try to answer all but there has been one that I was stumped. I hear at Glengoyne you have copper pipes leading from the stills to the spirit safe, how many metres in length are these??

 

WHISKY IN GENERAL

I. Mallios: Transparency, SWA and protection of Scotch Malt Whisky, regulation and so goes on. Aficionados all over the globe are somehow accusing Japanese whisky for a lack of transparency, regulation and for selling world whiskies under the “Japan” branding. What is your opinion on the matter, and do you believe that the rumours for a Japan whisky regulation till 2020 will become true?

Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

I think arguably there may have been this lack of transparency amongst certain brands but I see this changing and the release recently of the Suntory Whisky AO blend is a game changer for the category.

 

 I. Mallios: On the other hand, we are talking about Scotch… but around 65% of barley used is not Scottish. We are talking for the effect of microclimate, the sea breeze, etc etc… but there are Island distilleries with no warehouses on island or most of the production maturing in mainland for many reasons. Is that “marketing above all” that drives the industry as a whole?

Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

For me transparency is better now in Single Malt than ever before. Brand marketing is essential to build equity and offer consistent messaging for a product. But it is not the be all and end all. We have seen whiskies produced solely from a marketing perspective which have not sold that well in the longer term. Ultimately in the long term the liquid in the bottle will define how a whisky will be received, along with the distillery reputation combined with marketing.

If you look at Tamdhu, we have been exceptionally transparent regarding the casks we use, in terms of sourcing our American and European Oak Oloroso seasoned casks in Spain and the process over 6 years before they come to Tamdhu under our Spain to Speyside campaign. I feel that is ground breaking in terms of sherry cask information as it is so fundamental to our whiskies and it was great to get an award for it from the Spirit Business in January. (see below)

https://youtu.be/fHYLQ2FBTG0

 

 I. Mallios: Back in 2016, with Mr. Hughes, the question was Roseisle and mass production or Gartbreck and small traditional distilleries. Back then, if I recall correct, we had 98 operating distilleries in Scotland now we have about 130 and still a lot under license or planned. Glenturret is sold to Lalique, Edrington operates a “new” Macallan but sells Cutty Sark. Bubble, booming market, stabilized, whatever…. What is your projection for the whisky market for the next 5 years or so?

Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

It is an interesting time and with so many new distilleries which is exciting not just in Scotland, but also globally. Single Malt is in a great place but as ever the industry has been hard to predict. I do see Single Malt continuing its current path globally with blends generally slowly decreasing but maybe premium blends bucking the overall blend trend. In 5 years I think we will not see same rate of new distilleries and we will see a stabilisation with some consolidation and possibly a small decrease in numbers.

 

 I. Mallios: Rosebank Distillery. We were all thrilled about the news for the revival of Rosebank distillery and (I will also include the link) watched your introduction to what to expect from Rosebank (triple distillation, worm tubs etc). Can you please elaborate more?

Mr. G. Dundas reply:

Well although it is over 25 years since the distillery closed, Rosebank lives on with many. We are thrilled to be bringing back and looking forward to celebrating the opening of the distillery in 2020. We will be using the same style of stills, with triple distillation and the famous worm tub condensers, a odd combination which I think made Rosebank standout. It was a wonderful Lowland dram but with the way things have changed such as barley, yeasts and casks then Rosebank will almost certainly not be identical in 2028 when our first single malt is released, but it will be very close. Exciting times!

 

 I. Mallios: in a recent article I read that although malt whisky market is still around 5% or the overall whisky market, more than 90% or the buzzwords and discussions are about malt whisky. Moving one step further, we see new countries entering or expanding the malt whisky market (Italy, Israel, USA, etc).  What is not clear in my mind is whether this buzzword is coming after the market expansion or whether the industry is taking advantage (not to mention is using) of the “word of mouth” to prepare markets for penetration, expansion. What is your opinion?

Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

Malt whisky is now around 11 – 12% of scotch whisky volume and by value in the region of 25%. Malt is for many where the excitement is and for traditional blended markets, we see malt consumption rising fastest as the trend still shows a move from blended to malt. Lets not forget however the importance of blends and the fact that in no way is a premium blend inferior in any way to a malt. As single malt producer entering a market, we want to add to the repertoire of drinkers and enhance their whisky experience and with our limited budgets I want people to taste Tamdhu or Glengoyne, I am not trying to convert drinkers to single malt or indeed whisky. We are lucky that Glengoyne’s “world of mouth” and reputation and increasingly Tamdhu’s is enabling us to expand our reach for these brands but we need to be always mindful of the stocks etc we have. 

I. Mallios: Talking about Glengoyne. The impression I had during the preparation of the first interview was that Glengoyne is moving one step beyond a typical tour and marketing campaign, you do really have no problem on disclosing facts of your craftsmanship. Two years later, Mr. Hughes, John Glass and You will host the “Behind the Scenes at Glengoyne Distillery” tour for 36 lucky participants (wish I could make it). Tell us about this event and what is the scope of such events.  

Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

The Glengoyne “Behind the Scenes” event was a huge success and gave the opportunity for the family members to see what makes us so different. The day was split with groups spending time with Robbie Hughes in the distillery learning about our production, John Glass in the Warehouses learning about blending and maturation and Stuart Hendry and myself learning aromas in the blending room. The day was finished with a paired lunch and the introduction of the Legacy Series Chapter 1 release celebrating Cochrane Cartwright, the man who slowed down our distillation. A huge success we will be repeating it next year! 

 

I. Mallios: Could not avoid this one. If you had to pick 1 message only, 1 key “ingredient” / attribute than makes Glengoyne different, what would that be?

Mr. G. Dundas reply:

I think what makes us different is time, and what I mean by that is predominantly the way we produce our spirit. Glengoyne could produce 1.2m LPA/year but currently around 950,000 LPA due to the time of our fermentation and primarily distillation and that is what makes the whisky so good!  

 

Blockchain, counter fighting fraud and supporting transparency

I. Mallios: Dear Gordon, during your visit in Cyprus and the event in Nicosia, you mentioned to my question that we will see a lot on the blockchain technology and in general technology and whisky. 

Highland Ardnamurchan Distillery is using the arc-net platform to counter fight smuggling of alcohol and fraudulent activities, fake bottlings. According to Arc-net and Ardnamurchan / Adelphi “By using the blockchain, whisky connoisseurs can follow each bottle’s unique story from the distillery to the supplier network to the customer through the scanning of a unique QR code. Alex Bruce, managing director of Adelphi, which owns and operates the Ardnamurchan Distillery, said that the platform is integral to capturing and sharing production, process and product data to their customers”. 

What is your opinion on the subject?  

 Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

If I am honest, I do not know much about Blockchain but may go and get a masterclass in it from my good friend Alex. Anything that increases the provenance and helps to fight fraud in Whisky is a great thing! I think we may see a move from the SWA here to improve this area along with more increased focus on sustainability

 

 I. Mallios: Moreover, during my personal research on whisky and blockchain, I ended with a European Commission paper on “Blockchain Technology and Market transparency” (30-31 May, 2018, Brussels) discussing for the advantages and the implications of blockchain in Food Chain, including whisky. Slide 12 mentions “allows full traceability of all sources of all inputs used in all stages in the chain”. Do we really need or want to know all this information? Will blockchain become a friend or a foe?  

 Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

See above

 

 I. Mallios: We could dedicate all this interview to discuss findings of this EU workshop. This is not my scope, so doing some cherry picking I would like to make one more question. Smart Contracts and information availability that will change a lot of things. Pricing models will become more transparent, more flexible, we will also have reduced transaction costs etc. Will that be a huge differentiator for large groups that can afford the cost of the technology and have a large portfolio? (I assume it will be easier for DIAGEO to afford the cost and link in a platform all its operating distilleries in comparison with a family owned business or a small distillery). What is your opinion.

 Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

Yes, I think this will benefit the larger companies with dedicated departments to deliver this.

 

 I. Mallios: Kilchoman on the other side https://kilchomandistillery.com/distillery-news/machir-bay-and-sanaig-nfc-enabled-labels/ uses a “look alike”, similar approach with the NFC enabled labels. According to the distillery, “Whisky enthusiasts have an almost unquenchable thirst for information, so we wanted to find a captivating and simple way of connecting our bottles with all that info”.

Is information and transparency the new “weapon” into whisky marketing function? Kilchoman will be able to disclose to whisky enthusiasts that all the production, sources, bottling etc is based on Islay, though Caol Ila (for example) will need to disclose that warehouses are not sufficient for the production, whisky is maturing in mainland Scotland etc.  Will information eventually make a difference? Moreover, will that much information put in danger the NAS trend?

 Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

The whisky market is very transparent and if you compare it with other industries then letting member of the public wander around your factory effectively is not done. So in many ways, Whisky is doing the right thing but it can always be improved and transparency for the right reasons (fraud, provenance) is at the heart of that. All I would say, is if all the information is available all of the time, then the magic of whisky and the mystery which some people love will be lost and the stories that we hear from the past will only be that, we will not create new ones. Sometimes too much information is bad thing.

 

I. Mallios: Are there any plans for Ian Macleod to enter the blockchain market and technology evolution. Is there something mature that you can disclose? Will you follow a similar approach?  

 Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

Not in the immediate future!

 

I. Mallios: We see CaskCoin, Whisky Token, Monogram and other. Do you feel, think that the whisky industry is mature enough to understand how “bitcoin” “Ethereum” etc cryptocurrencies are working? Can we actually base whisky founding on such a volatile market with huge price fluctuation, when on the other hand we need to plan today for the next 10, 15, 20 years?

 Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

I am not sure the industry is quite ready for this currently.

 

 I. Mallios: Last question and I think that is more an idea to discuss instead of a question. Do you think that using blockchain and all this available information will allow you to create a new market, an online market place, for a custom made and ordered whisky? To put it simple, how would you like, see, examine the possibility to have a stock of casks available to your customers in order for them to bottle their own whisky? e.g. a platform that I will have access to information on age, current flavours of maturing whisky, facts about blending results etc, so that I can review and decide to bottle my own blend etc (of course with limitations).

 Mr. G. Dundas reply: 

I think the above is all very well but we are forgetting Whisky is a taste thing, and when you taste a whisky you like, most of the other aspects do not matter as we are enjoying and relaxing. We are not ordering a TV, or a specific technical item here. Whisky is not like that and the differences across casks / warehouses and other variables still gives us as producers and blenders the scope to make the best whisky. I feel understanding is the main point here and as producers, I feel we understand how to make whisky more than the average consumer.

It would also not be the best use of stocks but I think there is an experiment that could be done in this.

 

On behalf of Hellenic Malt Whisky Society, thank you for this different interview and hopefully we will have the chance to see you in a future HMWS event in Greece.

Ioannis Mallios

HMWS Admin

 

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Brief, comprehensive and inclusive, Mr. Dundas contributed to our forum and I really thank him for this provided that his time (at least this period) is extremely limited. Hopefully we will soon see him and mostly we will have the unique chance to have him introducing HMWS to Rosebank Distillery.

Till next time, thank you very much Gordon.

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Συγχαρητήρια @mallios για την εξαιρετική δουλειά! Thank you Mr. Dundas! 

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Συγχαρητήρια για άλλη μια φορά..(θα τρέχουμε και δεν θα ξέρουμε τι να πρωτομελετήσουμε μετά το Πάσχα). Congrats @mallios , thank you Mr. Dundas.

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For one more time excellent job @mallios.

 Thank you for all the useful and interesting information about our favorite drink Mr.Dundas 

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Excellent job mr. @mallios. Thank you very much mr. Dundas for this exclusive interview !!!

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Many congratulations and many thanks ?

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