A dram with... Billy Walker

A dram with... Billy Walker

Having a dram with us this week is Billy Walker, master blender at GlenAllachie

Interview | 19 Mar 2024 | By Lucy Schofield

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It’s time for another window into the life and times of a whisky icon. This week, we’re having a dram with Billy Walker.

 

Inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame in 2021, Billy has been a leader in the whisky world for years. Formerly having owned Benriach, GlenDronach, and Glenglassaugh, Billy acquired GlenAllachie in 2017, which he helms as master blender.

 

In our Q&A, Billy tells us about the changes he's seen over his half-century in the industry, the whiskies on his radar at the moment, and his favourite book.

 

How long have you been working in the whisky industry?

50 years.

 

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?

When I graduated from Glasgow University in chemistry, I worked initially in pharmaceutical research with Organon Laboratories. But, having grown up in the whisky town of Dumbarton, it was inevitable that I would join the industry. I was very lucky to join Hiram Walker & Sons, where I works for five years.

 

After that I spent six years at Inverhouse Distillers as their master blender, and the next journey was to become master blender at Burn Stewart, a role I held for 20 years.

 

I was then lucky to be given the opportunity to purchase Benriach (in 2004), GlenDronach (in 2008), and Glenglassaugh (in 2013). This journey was interrupted by the sale to Brown-Forman in 2016, but recommenced in 2017, when I was given the opportunity to acquire the GlenAllachie Distillery.

Billy Walker in the GlenAllachie stillhouse

All of these were wonderful, challenging opportunities, and in the period 2004 to present the emergence of single malt Scotch whisky has just been amazing. I feel so lucky to have been part of it and to make a small contribution to the success.

 

To visit and see how markets have participated and evolved is such an amazing experience; places like China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kazakhstan, Eastern European countries.

 

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

I guess the most exciting change has been how the single malt category has grown to be such an important part of the industry, and how it is being showcased to the world.

 

At operational level, I am very excited about the approach to cask management, and the attention that blenders are giving to this very important aspect of the industry.

 

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

Very difficult question, but I have always had a soft spot for Ben Nevis.

 

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

There is a moment for every whisky, but right now GlenAllachie 15 Years Old and Meikle Tòir The Chinquapin One are right in the centre of my radar.

 

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

The drink I turn to as a reserve is a full-bodied red wine.

 

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

I’d rather read a book, and a particular favourite is The Covenant by James A. Michener.

 

Describe your perfect Sunday.

Sunday is exercise day, affectionately known as “The Torture Chamber”.

 

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

Not great on holidays, but both Vancouver and Cape Town could persuade me.

 

Name one item you never go travelling without.

My phone.

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