With this year's FNB Whisky Live Festival round the corner in Durban (1 - 2 November at the ICC, Durban) and in Jo'burg (7 - 9 November at the Sandton Convention Centre) from 18H00 - 22H00 daily, there are loads of experiential stands to entertain everyone, from the novice to the connoisseur.
One of them is the Glen Grant Distillation Zone, where visitors to the show can sign up for a first come, first serve mini tasting with Glen Grant Master Distiller, Dennis Malcolm. He's also running more in-depth workshops in Durban and Jo'burg entitled “Glen Grant - 170 Years of Tradition and Innovation” - a few tickets are still available for these master classes on www.whiskylivefestival.co.za.
We spoke to Dennis Malcolm about the ins and outs of being a Master Distiller…
1.What inspired you to pursue a career in whisky, and become a Master Distiller?
Whisky has always been a very important part of my life, literally from day one! My connection with the industry first started on the day I was born on the grounds of the Glen Grant distillery, and my first job was an apprentice cooper there at the age of 15. Over the years, I developed a real passion for single malts and wanted to become involved in the release of new flavours that would be enjoyed the world over.
2. Do you think the whisky industry is one which you are born in to, or one that anyone can pursue a career in?
Anyone can pursue a career in this industry. In general, I think anyone who strives to become the best that he or she can be in their chosen career must not only like their job, but love it and hold a great deal of passion for the industry they are in.
3. What do you think makes a great Master Distiller?
As a Master Distiller, you oversee the production process and ensure all materials and procedures are of the utmost quality. I believe a great Master Distiller is someone who has a huge passion for the whisky industry, a thirst and dedication to learn the craft and true enthusiasm to develop the highest quality malts. It is only people with genuine passion and pride in what they do, who will help secure the future of the Scotch whisky industry.
4. Why do you think the whisky industry is such a male dominated industry?
When I started working in the industry 50 years ago, the job was much more hands on. With that in mind, women were mostly employed in the clerical side of the business.
5. You started your career working as an apprentice cooper. How important is the cask in the making of superior single malt?
The cask is one of the most important elements in the whisky making process, as 60% of a whisky's flavour and characteristics are drawn from the wooden casks that it spends years maturing in. The unique flavour and colour of Glen Grant is a result of being carefully stored in oak casks over time, creating clear, fresh, natural whisky.
6. What have been the key highlights in your 50 years in the industry?
It was a highlight and an honour to return to Glen Grant in 2005 to continue to build on the passion and innovation that the founders, the Grant brothers, brought to whisky making over 170 years ago - an anniversary the distillery celebrated last year with a the launch of a limited edition expression. I was brought into the world on the distillery grounds and home really is where the heart is, so I was delighted to return. I am very proud of the quality single malts that we continue to create, and the awards our whiskies continue to receive.
7. What makes a great single malt whisky in your opinion?
Quite simply: Scotland. A superior single malt is the result of the land on which the whisky is produced and takes its ingredients from. A combination of highland spring water, yeast and malted barley, all from Scottish fields, and matured in an oak cask are the unique elements that create a seductively smooth taste, rich, fruity tones and a golden hue. Glen Grant is a perfect example of this.
8. How important do you think the environment is in the production of single malt whisky?
This is an extremely vital element, and at Glen Grant both the environment and the purity of the landscape is very important to us. We have implemented a recycling process and we monitor level of water discharges to ensure that we are as sustainable as possible and compliant with all government legislation. For the weekly production of Glen Grant we collect approximately 2 million litres of water from our private spring for the process, and approximately 18 million litres from the river Spey for cooling purposes. We take steps to ensure we recycle as much water as possible from the distilling process and we strictly control the cooling water usage from the river to ensure this remains at a sustainable level and to protect the natural ecosystem. Glen Grant is a member and supporter of the Scottish Whisky Association who launched in 2009 an environmental strategy program for the Scotch whisky industry aiming to reduce waste and energy consumption and promote sustainable practices.
9. Finally, what advice would you offer to young people considering a career in whisky?
This industry has stood the test of time for hundreds of years and I strongly believe that it is people that make world class single malts, and not machines. It is a fascinating industry full of passionate individuals who are only too willing to pass on their knowledge and experiences to the next generation, to ensure that the secrets and magic of making Scotland's iconic drink continue.
The FNB Whisky Live Festival 2012
Thursday, 1st November to Friday, 2nd November 2012
Durban International Convention Centre
18h00 - 22h00 Daily
Wednesday, 7th November to Friday, 9th November 2012
Sandton Convention Centre