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Interview: Alan Winchester

As Master Distiller, Alan is the ultimate custodian of The Glenlivet.

It is his job to ensure the legacy of George Smith continues: that the whisky manufacturing process always results in the same supreme quality and that all new products reflect the spirit’s character and depth.

A tremendous responsibility, and one that he takes great pride in.

How do you become a Master Distiller?

“For me, it started as a summer job and one thing lead to another until it became my career. Other folk have done it with university degrees – there’s no set route. But the most important thing we’ll look for in a future Master Distiller is passion. Hats off to the young, craft distillers; they have a passion for making whisky, and that’s a great thing; to make your brand with a bit of passion.”

What are the biggest challenges you face right now?

“A Scotsman loves a challenge. My biggest challenge at The Glenlivet has always been the same, and that’s ensuring consistency of style. We also have to meet the needs and expectations of the customer. It’s important for us not to become complacent, and to ensure The Glenlivet stands the test of time in quality and in depth of range.”

What do you think will be the next big thing in the whisky industry?

“The Glenlivet has always had its fresh, fruity style, so we’re always trying to stay true to that, while keeping an eye on what the trends are. I’m not a great trend-spotter. You have to keep your mind open to all sorts of things: I would never have thought whisky with green tea, like the Chinese drink it, would be such a fantastic combination.”

There’s been an increasing focus on branding in whisky in recent years – specificially in bottle and box design. Has The Glenlivet embraced this?

“Yes. In recent years the 18 Year Old was taken out of its classic green bottle, which was a cornerstone of The Glenlivet, and put in a clear bottle. A big change. We also created the stunning hand-crafted bottle and cabinet for The Winchester Collection – Vintage 1964. Working with extremely skilled folk, I think we developed something truly beautiful; a fitting tribute to a wonderful whisky.”

How do you feel about the rise of Japanese whiskies?

“The biggest compliment we can get is that some of the equipment in Japan mimics the shape of The Glenlivet pot stills. The Japanese mimicked the Scotch whisky industry to a bigger degree than any of the other industries.”

What about the emergence of India as a market?

“India is a huge market for whisky, whether it’s their own or imported. India has a tradition of distilling there too, but a lot of the whiskies they’re drinking are still traditional Scotch whiskies of a style, this is good news for The Glenlivet. ” “The customers. If they’re still asking for it, still drinking it, and still enjoying it, that will be the influence. And hopefully we can meet their expectations.”