Edward Odim, the new Managing Director of independent bottler Murray McDavid explained on meeting him that, "I've always loved boats. Or should I say, I've always loved wooden boats. As a young man I owned one - a gaff rig - on the east coast, down in Norfolk. I worked on the engine and rubbed down the wood and used to spend my weekends doing that. As I'm sure you could guess, people who like boats do a lot of 'boat dreaming.' A few years ago I was looking online at all of these boats for sale and I suddenly saw this beautiful old wooden one. It was from the 1950s, an ex-pilot boat, it'd had a working life... and it was in a pretty basic condition." So began Edward's tale of how we came to be on that very same vessel, now lovingly restored and renamed, of course, 'Murray McDavid', sailing proudly down the Clyde on what must have been one of the hottest April days Glasgow has ever seen - undoubtedly a good omen for the boat's maiden voyage.
Berthed in the heart of Glasgow, alongside the city's famous tall ship and Riverside Museum, Murray McDavid's floating outpost has become a hub for whisky tastings and other events. I could immediately tell that simply taking any boat and naming it after the independent bottler wouldn't have been enough for Edward. No, it had to have a history, a character and genuine quality - even if those facets had been hidden behind a little rust. It was soon clear that rescuing something special, something abandoned and out of its own time, and giving it a new lease of life was very important to him.
But perhaps we should backtrack a little. Many of you will remember Murray McDavid, their venerable single cask offerings and, perhaps, the company's cheeky Gaelic strap line 'Clachan a choin', which translates roughly as 'the dog's bollocks.'
Founded by Mark Reynier, Simon Coughlin, and Gordon Wright (of Bruichladdich fame), the company was named after Reynier's grandparents, Harriet Murray and Jock McDavid. After twelve years of operating alongside Bruichladdich, the independent bottler was not included in the sale to Rémy Cointreau, as it was, by that point, a bit of a side project to the distillery. The outlook wasn't looking good until, thankfully, in 2013 Murray McDavid was purchased by the independent whisky broker Aceo.
Founded by Odim in the early 2000s, Aceo quickly became one of the industry's most respected suppliers of cask whisky and soon developed strong relationships with many well-known independent bottlers, including Murray McDavid. "In fact, when we reviewed the inventory that came with the brand, we found a number of casks that we'd previously sold to Reynier and his team!" chuckled Edward, clearly amused about how it had turned out.
After the sale went through, there was much work to be done and for two years the brand underwent a thorough redevelopment. Naturally, the new connection with Aceo meant that access to an extensive stock of aged and high quality whisky was available from the outset. However, more than just great liquid would be needed if bottles bearing the name Murray McDavid were to return to the shelves of bars and shops across the globe. Two more things were needed - a new crew and a new home.
The team was completed following the recruitment of David Simpson - previously of The Macallan and, more recently, Glenmorangie - who was appointed as Head of Whisky Creation, and Dean Jode, a veteran of the on-trade, who became International Brand Ambassador. For two years, David, Dean and the Murray McDavid team worked tirelessly to rebuild the independent bottler, re-establish its international connections and expand its range of whiskies, which now encompasses single malt, single grain and blends.
As for a new home, that came in the form of Coleburn, one of Speyside's closed distilleries that sadly hadn't survived the crash of the 1980s. After securing the property, the Murray McDavid team set about thoroughly reconditioning the site's dilapidated dunnage warehouse and filling store, which became home for their casks and new offices respectively.
In its formative years, Murray McDavid made its name by using a process that Reynier et al called 'ACEing' (additional cask evolution), a method that involved the careful matching of spirit, for varying periods of time and at different stages of maturation, with a variety of unusual and characterful casks that were often sourced from the wine industry.
Keen to respect this legacy, the new team are utilising their industry connections to procure exceptional wood from Bourbon, wine, sherry, rum and port producers; all of this is put to good use in the Coleburn warehouse, which, due to its size and layout, allows for easy access and close monitoring of each cask. "For us, the 'art of maturation' is matching the right spirit to the best wood," says Dean Jode, "but it's also a case of recognising and monitoring how long it can stay in that cask." For the Murray McDavid team, the priority is to highlight the best features of the spirit, while avoiding the chance of overwhelming it or masking its character.
That being said, David and his team aren't afraid to go a little off-piste and have pursued some interesting projects, such as the 6 Years Old 'Peatside'. A youthful and heavily-peated blended malt, Peatside's components have been matured in first fill Pedro Ximenez and first fill port wood - at a ratio of about 60:40. The result is a remarkably mature whisky, worthy of slow sipping, which often surprises customers at blind tastings when its age is disclosed. What's more, according to Dean, "A little splash into a G&T is phenomenal!"
This is, of course, just the beginning for the newly restored Murray McDavid brand. "I've got some crazy ideas for future releases," said David, shortly before we stepped back onto dry land. "Well, at least I think they are…" he added with a modest shrug. I'm certainly intrigued, and I think fans of Murray McDavid will be too. The bottler always had a reputation for doing things a little differently and, by the look of it, the new team is staying true to that spirit, as Murray McDavid sets sail once more into the world of whisky.
The New Murray McDavid Range
A prestigious collection of the bottler's rarest single malt whiskies.
Example: Tomintoul 1967, 48 Years Old aged in a first fill Bourbon barrel.
The heart of the range, offering mature single malts that showcase the bottler's 'art of maturation', often by way of remarkable finishes.
Example: Glen Scotia 1991, 24 Years Old aged in a Bourbon barrel, finished in a Vosne-Romanée wine cask.
Specially selected single malts, with no distillery name given, for the curious whisky enthusiast to puzzle over.
Example: Eòrna Lòin 1997, 17 Years Old aged in a Bourbon barrel, finished in a first fill Bourbon barrel.
A selection of aged grain whiskies take centre stage.
Example: Loch Lomond 1996, 18 Years Old aged in a Bourbon barrel, finished in a Bourbon barrel.
Blended malts at their best, some well-known names are brought together to create new styles and flavours.
Example: Peatside 2009, 6 Years Old aged in a Bourbon barrel, finished in first fill port and PX.
A showcase of blended Scotch, crafted to prove that when the best grains and malts are brought together, this category really can shine.
Example: Bodach Aislig 1980, 35 Years Old aged in a Bourbon barrel, finished in a sherry cask. Includes spirit from Glenrothes, Glengoyne, Bunnahabhain, Tamdhu, Port Dundas, Cameronbridge and North British.