I first met Hamish Martin five years ago on a remote trout loch in south Ayrshire. I tell a lie: actually I met him the night before in the lodge. He arrived late for dinner with a friend after having driven an impossible distance in impossible time – it later transpired that he had made full use of his Land Rover’s off-road capabilities (as I say, this was a very remote place). We sat up all night, the three of us. I was pretending, as usual, that I had the recovery co-efficient of a 20 year old (Hamish was 27 at the time), drinking huge amounts of The Inverarity and as a result spent much of the next day resting on the banks and small islands of the loch.A year before this, Hamish had established Inverarity Vaults Limited – and herein lies the tale. Ronnie Martin, Hamish’s father, was formerly a main board director of the Distillers Company, and later with its successor United Distillers, and had
responsibility for production. Following his retirement in 1990 he was awarded an OBE for his commitment to the quality of Scotch whisky and appointed Professor of Distilling at Heriot Watt University. In other words, he is a most experienced and distinguished member of the whisky trade.Having completed a degree in Engineering at Strathclyde University, Hamish went to Sandhurst and was commissioned in the 2/9 Commando Regiment. He is, or was, a very keen rugby player and played for the Scottish Schoolboys XV: alas he tore his knee ligaments badly during a game at Sandhurst resulting in his having to leave the service on the grounds of invalidity. Casting around for a new career, he turned to the wine trade. He had worked in various distilleries while he was a student and was accepted on to Oddbins’ management trainee course and to do a wine diploma. “It was a great course. The first night I was there we did a tasting of Australian reds. I couldn’t find any words to describe them, and felt completely out of my depth. Within two weeks I was joining in with the best of them,” Hamish explains. By the time he left Oddbins a year later, he was under-manager at their Wimbledon branch. He went on to gain further experience with a London wine merchant, but by that time his future plans were already formed.He always intended to return to Scotland and his father longed to create his own blended whisky – this resulted in the creation of Inverarity Vaults in 1994. The name was not just chosen for its mellifluous quality but because it was also Hamish’s grandmother’s maiden name (it also happens to be the name of a small village near Forfar). The plan was to establish a traditional family wine merchant with its own blended whisky and a range of malts. The first wine they were granted the agency for was the distinguished Champagne Ruinart, the oldest champagne house in the world, and this has since been joined by such lofty names as Paul Jaboulet, Hugel and Château Lascombes. The company now supplies a clutch of the top hotels and restaurants in the UK with both wine and whisky and has seven full-time employees including Sales Director Tarquin de Burgh (29) who served his apprenticeship in the wine trade with Justerini & Brooks (and is also the cousin of the more famous Chris) and Clare Martin (32), who is responsible for PR. In 1998 the company moved from Edinburgh to Biggar in Lanarkshire and then into purpose built office and warehouse space at Symington, near Biggar earlier this year.It is very rare for own-label whiskies to be unique blends: most are simply bought off the peg from blending houses and given a personalised label. Indeed, Inverarity now provides such an own-label service to around 150 well known establishments and institutions, including the
Scottish Parliament, the cruise liner Hebridean Princess, Cliveden and Edinburgh’s New Club. Their experience and connections allow Inverarity to lay down fillings and select casks of mature whisky. Ronnie and Hamish’s ambition was to create a premium blend. “We were looking for something which displayed a full spectrum of flavour, but which was fresh and had traditional bite,” says Hamish, “to achieve this you have to select your malts carefully and use some younger fillings: we blend seventeen malts, the youngest at six years and the oldest at twelve, and these comprise 40% of the blend. Aultmore is the top dressing.” The Inverarity blend won a Silver Award at the International Wine & Spirit Competition 1998.Ronnie Martin has a special fondness for Aultmore because, perhaps, early in his career he was involved in extending the distillery. He maintains that, from the right cask, it is as good a malt as you can find.The Inverarity 10-Years-Old Single Malt is Aultmore, the Inverarity Ancestral 14-Years-Old (which won a gold at the IWSC in 1999) is Balmenach from ex-sherry casks and the third member of the range, Inverarity Islay, is a vatting of five Islay malts aged between 10 and 12 years, created by Hamish Martin. It won a silver at the IWSC this year. Not a bad record so far! If they keep up this standard, Inverarity Vaults will be around for a long time to come.