People

Perpetual Motion

Gavin D Smith talks to the new broom at the Edrington Group.
By Gavin D. Smith
There is something different about The Glenrothes 1998 Vintage, released in June for the Far East market. We are not talking about the liquid itself here, which always varies significantly from vintage to vintage, but about the label. Gone is master blender John Ramsay’s facsimile signature after the printed legend ‘Approved by:’ and in its place is the signature of one Gordon Motion.Given that the press release relating to this bottling quotes Motion as declaring “It’s said that pictures speak a thousand words and this is like Carmen Miranda’s hat in a bottle,” it seems as though things might be changing dramatically at The Glenrothes.During a highly distinguished 43-year career which drew to a close recently, John Ramsay was unquestionably one of the quiet and undemonstrative men of Scotch whisky blending, and it is almost impossible to imagine him likening one of his whiskies to headgear of any kind.So is his successor as master blender for The Glenrothes’ owners The Edrington Group going to be a mould-breaking new broom? Apparently not, is the answer, as Gordon Motion assures us that “I’ve not got anything radical in mind for the whiskies. I’ll use more technology than John did for information gathering, as I have a computer sciences background, but otherwise, nothing much will change.“For me, writing tasting notes is one of the hardest parts of the job, and you are likely to pick up on who has written them. Every blender develops a style and uses certain words.” Gordon Motion underwent an apprenticeship that was lengthy, even by Scotch whisky standards, before succeeding John Ramsay to the coveted role, and Ramsay says that “Gordon worked with me for 10 years, so I think his approach would be in the same mould, but with a more modern outlook.” Motion was born near Edinburgh, but his was not one of those families with a dynastic stake in the Scotch whisky business.“Not at all,” says Motion, “actually, one of my grandfathers was in the Rechabites – a strict temperance organisation!” At university he studied computing, with no thoughts to a career in the drinks business, but then, as he explains “In my third year I went on holiday with some friends and we visited a few distilleries. That was when I decided that I wanted to work in the whisky industry.“I was already studying at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, and I knew they did a brewing and distilling degree, so I completed my honours degree in computing and then studied for a post-graduate diploma in Brewing & Distilling.” After qualifying, it was the ‘brewing’ aspect of his degree that was initially called upon, as Motion took on various beer-related rolls before spending one and a half years at Paul’s Glen Esk Maltings near Montrose. “I was getting a step closer each time to the home of the distilling industry,” he notes.Then, in February 1998, he took the final step into a career with Scotch whisky, being appointed assistant to John Ramsay.Edrington’s portfolio of blends and malts includes major brands such as The Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark, The Macallan and Highland Park, and Gordon Motion declares that “I’m keenly aware of the responsibility of now being the custodian of such iconic brands.” Speaking warmly of his predecessor, Motion says that “John is a man of huge integrity; who would never put out a whisky he wasn’t happy with. One of the many valuable things I’ve learnt from him is to sometimes say ‘no’ to the marketing men!We’ve had to produce more new whiskies in the last 10 years than were ever produced in the previous 90 years, and this is a constant challenge for blenders.” His new role as master blender leaves Gordon Motion with little spare time, though he says that “I used to shoot smallbore rifle for Scotland and I have 13 international caps but it has had to take a back seat due to lack of time with the new job.” Ultimately, whisky blending is a creative business, and Motion says that “I get the most satisfaction from seeing people enjoy a new whisky I’ve created.“However, I’m only one person in a huge number involved in the process from still men, warehousing, packaging development, bottling and many others involved in making sure that everything is as good as it can be when someone buys a bottle.” He declares that “Just working in this business is great.“It’s a really friendly world and I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my career in the Scotch whisky industry.” GORDON’S FAVOURITE DRAM “My favourite dram varies,depending on what mood I’m in. If I want a refreshing drink I’ll opt for The Famous Grouse,either straight or with ginger beer and lime over ice. Highland Park is always a favourite if I want a treat.”