A dram with... Bill Lumsden

A dram with... Bill Lumsden

Dr Bill Lumsden is the star of this instalment in our 'A dram with' series. He shares how he entered the whisky industry, including the (almost) unbelievable first Scotch whisky he ever tried.

News | 28 May 2024 | By Lucy Schofield

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This week, we’re having a dram with Dr Bill Lumsden.


Bill has served as head of distilling and whisky creation for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg distilleries for more than 25 years, and is a creative leader in the industry. In 2019, he was inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame.


In our Q&A, Bill shares his journey into the world of whisky. He also gives a mention to his favourite football teams and reveals the first single malt Scotch he ever tasted.


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?

39 years and counting.


Where did the journey of your career start and where has it taken you over the decades? What was your favourite stop along the way?

My journey started when I was studying from my PhD at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. Three key things happened at this time. Firstly, I was studying aspects of fermentation science for my PhD therefore that started to open some potential doors into the brewing and distilling industries. 


The second key thing that happened was the legendary Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, of Heriot-Watt, introduced me to a number of key figures in the Scotch whisky industry and I remember being blown away by the level of equipment and technical expertise present in this industry. 


The third and possibly most important thing that happened to me during this time was that I tasted single malt Scotch whisky for the first time and while a number of people question whether I am being honest here, it genuinely was Glenmorangie 10 Years Old! That sealed the deal for me and made me determined to forge a career in the Scotch whisky industry.


What is the most exciting change you’ve witnessed in the whisky industry over the course of your career?

Ok I am going to be greedy here and give two answers. Firstly, the advent of many high-quality whiskies with no age statement on them, taking consumers’ perspectives away from the view that age is everything in Scotch whisky. Secondly, the rise of the use of many other different cask types, particularly for finishing the whisky, which has offered our customers and consumers a much wider range of taste profiles in an industry which was historically quite traditional and averse to changes.


Name a whisky distillery or brand that you feel is underrated.

If we are talking Scotland, then I believe Diageo’s Linkwood (where I was once a trainee distillery manager) is consistently excellent and if we are talking globally, I believe that Four Roses Bourbon (particularly their single barrel series) is hugely underrated.


Is there a whisky or brand you are particularly enjoying at the moment?

Obviously, I am continually enjoying Glenmorangie and Ardbeg but I am very much enjoying a non-aged Mortlach from Diageo (which was gifted to me by my son).


When you’re not drinking whisky, what is your drink of choice?

I have always been a fan of beer, particularly traditional British cask conditioned beer, but I would have to say that my other liquid passion in life is wine, and I do collect wine and have a modest wine cellar at home.


Would you rather read a book or watch a film? For whichever option you choose (book or film), tell us one of your favourites.

That would definitely be watch a film (most of the books I read tend to be technical textbooks), and my all-time favourite film is the epic Once Upon a Time in America, by Sergio Leone (all four and half hours of it).


Describe your perfect Sunday.

My perfect Sunday would start with reading the Sunday papers, in which I would be informed that both Glasgow Rangers and Greenock Morton both won that weekend (it occasionally happens). I would then either go for a short run (no longer marathon type distances!) or go for a brisk walk with members of my family. I would then spend some relaxed time cooking the Sunday dinner (without any interruptions) and then choose the perfect wine from my cellar to go with it, and maybe even an ideal whisky to sip afterwards.


Describe your dream holiday — where would you go and what would you do there?

As a seasoned traveller I have many places I really love to go on holiday, but probably my dream holiday would be to a country I have visited many times through work, but never actually yet been on holiday, and that country is Japan. Once I was there, I would take friends and family (assuming I persuaded anyone else to join me!), and introduce them to some of my many friends, favourite bars, favourite foods etc, that I have experienced over more than 20 years of travelling to Japan. Of course, given that this is my “dream” holiday, I would have learned to speak Japanese fluently before I go.


Name one item you never go travelling without.

Certainly, the one item I never go travelling without, either for business or pleasure, is my favourite pair of running/walking shoes, as I often spend hours walking miles and miles around my favourite city or country.

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