Awards & Events

The Whisky Academy

The inaugural annual Whisky Magazine award for those individuals who have excelled in their contribution to the whisky industry
Is whisky about the product or the people that make it? The answer is, of course, both. The stuff in the bottle would not have the same allure were it not for those behind it. Of all the spirits only whisky has enough history, heritage, mythology and anecdote to have its own magazine. Vodka is distilled today and drunk tomorrow. It lacks the nuance of whisky. Also vodka is distilled in an enormous industrial operation far removed from the scale of a malt distillery.Of course, you can overemphasise the people bit. The industry must never forget it is only as good as the reputation of the product. Whisky Magazine champions the product. Our tastings are all about putting the product first. However, we like to strike a balance, as the intention is not to create a product catalogue.Hence the creation of the Whisky Academy or, in effect, the Whisky Magazine Awards. The Awards are about individuals. The only exception is the Reader’s Award, which is given to the best new release. And the winners are …Lifetime Achievement Award (selected by Whisky Magazine) Iain Henderson of Laphroaig and Turnbull Hutton formerly of UDVTurnbull Hutton
It’s easy to forget that, in these days of brand ambassadors and celebrity managers, there’s a hidden army of whisky-makers working behind the scenes to ensure you don’t only get your favourite bottle, but that when you crack the cap it tastes the way you expect it to. You probably won’t have heard of Turnbull Hutton, but he was one of that forgotten army. In fact he commanded it. By the time of his retirement earlier this year it’s fair to say that he was the most influential man in the Scotch whisky industry.Operations Director of Distillation and Spirit Supply UDV doesn’t sound hugely romantic, but Turnbull’s wasn’t just
responsible for the millions of casks being matured at UDV’s sites, he was ultimately in charge of the quality of the spirit being produced at the company’s 29 distilleries and to ensure that the flavour of that spirit remained consistent. He had to make sure the right whiskies were being blended. He had to plot how much whisky needed to be produced today to fill blends that would be made eight, 10, 20 years down the line. It was a role that involved logistical planning, warehousing, distilling, maturation, distribution and sales. Oh, and there were the cooperage, coppersmiths, research and quality control. He defined his role as being: “the guy in the middle having to look both ways,” (except he didn’t say guy). Put it this way: the buck stopped with him and, given he worked for the world’s biggest whisky company, you could say he controlled the industry itself.A part of the industry for more than 30 years, he started out as a bond clerk for DCL before managing the bonded
department at Leven. Then it was a move to production HQ under Ronnie Martin. In the 80s he established the commercial
division which covered a demanding combination of the inventory, warehousing and coopering before also becoming
Distilling Director in 1998.When the industry was in surplus in the 1980s it was Turnbull who managed the stock, kept plants open and men in work. When bean counters mooted the idea of closing down small, apparently uneconomical production units he resisted.
The fact that the mistakes of the past haven’t been repeated is down to him. “At a time of some uncertainty following the merger between Guinness and DCL, Turnbull was responsible for keeping the super-tanker of Scotch production on a steady course, balancing production against inventory and the sometimes
unrealistic forecasts of inexperienced marketeers,” says Dr Nick Morgan, UDV’s Marketing Director of Premium Malts.
Irascible, bluff, a master of the dark humour of central Scotland, he didn’t suffer fools gladly and had a production man’s healthy cynicism as to the schemes of marketeers. “I’m always having to deal with people parachuting into this industry with smart ideas,” he said to me once. “They assume they’re dealing with a bunch of numpties who have never had a good idea in their puff for the last hundred years.” One meeting with Turnbull and they’d soon be put right.“There are few people who I’ve met in the Scotch whisky business with such a holistic view of the industry as Turnbull Hutton,” adds Morgan. “Famed for his forthright approach to business matters his occasionally brusque exterior sometimes obscured the depth of knowledge he possessed, and the deeply held passion he had for producing the best malt and grain whiskies and the best blended Scotches.” Ultimately his career was about balancing the need for efficiency with a deep belief in quality and consistency. If it cost more to maintain distillery character in flagship distilleries so be it. He was fiercely proud of how the firm had kept individuality of its plants, of its brands and woe betide anyone who offered the suggestion that the bigger the firm is, the less it is interested in quality.He’s now retired, a director of Raith Rovers and has started a new career as a writer. ‘Well,” he said to me. “It’s about time someone told the truth.” Dave BroomIain Henderson
A Fifer, Iain Henderson came to the world of whisky after years spent on the high seas as a Chief Engineer in the Merchant Navy – a fact which is a continual source of teasing from his managerial colleagues on Islay. It was marriage which made him decide a landlubber’s life was for him and, applying for an engineer’s job with Highland Distillers in 1968, he found himself at Bunnahabhain.From there it was rapid rise through the industry and, under his new employers Seagram, he worked on the first mash at Braes of Glenlivet and eventually had a spell at all of Seagram’s plants crowning his time on Speyside as Manager of Glenlivet. Anyone who has met Iain knows how he relishes a challenge and how he approaches life in a clear-sighted and independent fashion. In many ways he is the classic old-school distillery manager, a man who rules in his own plant, who is given a budget, a spec and allowed to get on with it.This ability to rise to a challenge and motivate a workforce was demonstrated at his next appointment as manager at the run-down, Bell’s-owned Bladnoch. It is a time he recalls with immense fondness and deserved pride. He turned a shambolic plant into a smart, efficient modern distillery complete with a visitor centre built by him and the dedicated workers in their free time.He was then head-hunted to take over from Colin Ross at Laphroaig, his second high-profile posting. The decision took him all of two minutes. He has been there over 10 years, an amazingly long time in today’s industry but who else could run this legendary plant? Iain has become Laphroaig and once again, running counter to modern whisky industry practises he has retained a larger than normal workforce, kept the floor maltings running, insisted the tours are free – often taking them himself. “An Iain Henderson tour is the greatest you’ll ever get in this industry” says Jim McEwan – no slouch at the job himself.In many ways he has bridged the old with the new, not only running his distillery and being actively involved in every aspect of its operation, but taking on the public role as “Mr Laphroaig”. Most old-style managers were happy to remain in the shadows. He has taken to the world of PR and marketing without batting an eye – as ever with his own strong views on how best to build the brand. The Friends of Laphroaig grew out of his ‘Letter from Islay’ which he started writing, because he thought it would be a good idea. At the time there was every chance that Laphroaig was going to be dropped as a front line malt. By sticking to his beliefs, Iain saved it, then built it into the international cult it is today. His is an independent spirit that is in danger of being lost in the industry.A warm-hearted man of strong principles who loves the cut and thrust of debate he is a fearsome lobbyist for Islay and for whisky. Laphroaig will be poorer without him, the industry even more so. Dave BroomDistiller of the year
Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich Mr McEwan was still at Bowmore when he became the first ‘living whisky hero’ to be featured on the cover of Whisky Magazine. Since then this tireless individual has become a key member of the consortium that has resurrected Bruichladdich. He won this category by an overwhelming majority. According to Charlie MacLean, Editor-at-Large: “Everywhere you go in the world they say ‘Do you know James McEwan?’ He is not only a wonderful ambassador for Scotch whisky, he should be given a medal by the Scottish Parliament for representing Scotland abroad.” Regular contributor Martine Nouet feels similarly: “Not only being the best ambassador whisky (and Scotland) has ever had, Jim McEwan has proved the highest distilling skills, especially in giving birth to the new Bruichladdich spirit. I think Jim McEwan is the best mentor for a young worker starting in the industry because he has the knowledge of a skilled worker, the inspiration of a visionary and the generosity and care of a father. This is why he has achieved a real sense of spirit with his team at Bruichladdich, looking into the future and caring for the village community.” But it’s not just writers he has charmed and won over. Many retailers were quick to sing his praises. Jonathan Goldstein of Park Avenue Liquors said that “Jim naturally came to mind for this award.” The reason? “With Jim, it was more than ability or even popularity. He seems to ooze with a passion and talent for the industry that has enabled him to produce whisky that hits the market running on all levels. Jim has already proven himself – look at his track record. He is one of the industry’s unofficial ambassadors and deserves to be recognized.” Adrian Murray of The Wee Dram referred to Jim’s “determination to bring jobs to the area in the form of a proposed bottling plant and whisky academy underline his devotion to his home and his people”. These sentiments were echoed wholeheartedly by, among others, Keir Sword of Royal Mile Whiskies. Praise was also unstinting from Richard Joynson of Loch Fyne Whiskies: “Jim lives malt whisky, he is the genuine article (not coloured, undiluted and non-filtered). If any one person deserves a gong for services either to Islay or to Scotch whisky it is Jim McEwan. (A couple of years ago, I suggested Kenny MacKay, Managing Director of Morrison Bowmore, put him up for an MBE – then JM jumped ship, I think Ken probably dropped it). Jim is known as the ‘Lord of the Isles’ amongst his whisky colleagues on Islay. This is respect, not cynicism. With 39 years in the shadow of the kiln, Jim is a time-served ambassador – energetic, passionate about his life and generous with his time.” His tireless work has not gone unnoticed by the independent bottlers either: Robin Tucek of Blackadder was fulsome in his admiration: “Jim has always been singular in his devotion to malt whisky, fiercely promoting what he believes in while at the same time always encouraging what others are trying to achieve. And when you look at the exceptional quality of the casks filled at Bowmore during Jim’s years there just think what rare and outhwatering treats we will have in store when the new fillings at Bruichladdich come of age.” Perhaps as important as the praise heaped on Jim by whisky lovers, journalists, retailers and independent bottlers is the esteem in which he is held by his peers.A fitting summary for why this tough category was won so convincingly by Jim McEwan is provided by the Master Distiller of The Glenlivet, Jim Cryle: “I have known Jim for over 30 years. He has a lifetime’s experience in, and a great passion for, all aspects of Scotch whisky production. He knows what it takes to produce a consistent high-quality malt whisky. He has been – and still is – a dedicated ambassador for Scotch whisky in general and Islay in particular and he is to be applauded for realising his dream of bringing Bruichladdich back to life.”Blender of the year
Richard Paterson of KyndalOnly our second industry cover model, Richard’s pedigree in blending is matched only by his talent. Since that time Richard’s company become the focus of Scotland’s biggest ever management buyout. As with Jim McEwan, the word that crops up most when talking about Richard is ‘passion’. It is this passion that resulted in him winning this category at a canter. Andrew Symington of Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Company explains why: “As a Master Blender, I think Richard stands out in a class of his own. He has a marvellous personality that shines through to his blends. Listening to one of his recent seminars you soon realise that his knowledge of the industry is second to none, as well as him being a very entertaining speaker.” The personality to which Andrew refers is old school, in a positive sense. His immaculate appearance is a key part of his persona. Whisky writer John Lamond feels that “Richard is one of the gentlemen of the industry, a pleasure to listen to, whether as an acolyte or to enjoy a drink with. His occasionally off-the-wall way of looking at things can be entertaining, as well as enlightening and his commitment to education is a shining example to the rest of the industry.” According to Sally Bulloch of The Athenaeum Hotel Richard “has such a passion for his work, when he talks of whisky and the blending process, he enraptures his audience. I have worked with Richard over many years, no matter what the event, it is a delight to work with such a dedicated professional”. Without question, Richard has the highest public profile of any blender. “Everyone in the industry always talks about single malts. Richard is as passionate about blends as he is about malts I have certainly learnt a lot about blends from him. For example, he takes a lot of care in making sure that an old blend is perfectly married in-cask before it is ready for bottling, such as with the new Whyte & Mackay 30-year-old,” said Sukhinder Singh of The Whisky Exchange. Finally, a fitting tribute from Keir Sword of Royal Mile Whiskies: “Anyone who has seen Richard’s whisky show will always remember it. He is an entertainer as well as a craftsman, an innovator and an all-round good bloke.” Independent bottler of the year
Andrew Symington of Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Company‘Rising star’ was how Tom Bruce-Gardyne described the world’s second largest independent bottler in Issue 10. The keys to Andrew’s success would appear to be a combination of industriousness and innate talent.“The casks which Signatory manages to secure are the envy of independent bottlers. And it is all down to Andrew Symington’s phenomenal hard work and good judgement,” stated Charlie MacLean unequivocally. Martine Nouet is also a fan, stating clearly: “I have always been impressed by Andrew Symington’s professionalism. A workaholic, Andrew likes to check everything personally. He has great judgement and has succeeded in bottling single malts from rare and now defunct distilleries. This is very precious for single malt aficionados. Signatory Vintage Malt Whisky Company prefers malt lovers to collectors and is always aware of the price for value. I like this philosophy. The display of bottles is always simple but elegant and very informative, that is what the consumers want. Andrew has been an innovator in his time (giving bottling date, number of the cask and the bottle, information on type of casks, not chillfiltering, etc). He has led the way to a better merchandizing, far from fashion, gimmicks and ostentation.“Conscientiousness, consistency, respect of the customer; three good reasons for me to elect Andrew Symington as the best independent bottler.”Many of those who selected Andrew top, in a more-closely fought category than Distiller and Blender, are specialist retailers. They, along with the consumer, are in the best position to judge this category as they are in the front line. “We voted for Andrew Symington because his Signatory range of whiskies are well-presented, well bottled, well chosen and represent very good value for money. It is our opinion that not only are Andrew’s products excellent, but the corporate image of the company and the support given to customers is of a very high standard.” Adrian Murray, The Wee Dram. Martine’s theme of consistency is echoed by Sukhinder Singh of The Whisky Exchange: “There is always not so good whisky to be found from independent bottlers, but Signatory has the best track record for bottling ‘good whisky’. And when you find a star it turns out to be something that everyone talks about for years to come.” With Andrew, as with all our winners, the aspect of individuality and personality is key in helping to get beyond the product in the bottle: “I expect that the reasons most people would vote for any supplier are on the grounds of the breadth, quality and value of their product range. Signatory are strong on all these measures, but what gives Signatory their edge is Andrew himself. This is one of pleasures of working in this industry, that it can still be the individual that makes the difference. Fundamentally with Andrew there is a genuine sense of cooperation. He just seems to listen and to understand what we need. You then know that if he can give what you need he will and if he won’t it’s because he can’t. It is an efficient and co-operative way to do business.” Charles Byrne, World of Whiskies. Keir Sword sounded almost nostalgic but Andrew certainly made his mark on him: “I worked with Andrew one Christmas in my pre-Royal Mile Whiskies days. The experience was most enjoyable as well as being a big learning curve. Andrew is very focused and extremely hard working and this is very much the reason for Signatory’s success.” The final eulogy to Andrew goes to Richard Joynson of Loch Fyne Whiskies: “Hard working, quality driven – evidenced by his cask-to-shelf control of production. I have absolute confidence in Signatory’s products; a reliable, high-quality, well-thought-out and innovative range of desirable malts. Everyone in the industry respects Signatory; Andrew has steered his company through the choppy waters of independent bottling with tact and sensitivity. Long may he prosper.”Retailer of the year
Richard Joynson of Loch Fyne WhiskiesAh yes. Mr Joynson. A much-respected maverick in the world of whisky. Again, his individuality and personality make him stand out in a crowd. Anyone who attended the re-opening of Bruichladdich and had the good fortune of catching a Joynson distillery tour will never forget his tales of hamsters and parachutes …“I think it is great to encounter someone like Richard when touring Scotland. His shop is an Ali Baba’s cave for whisky lovers. Richard has great knowledge of the whisky industry and is keen on teaching people. His newsletter and website are rich sources of information, as is his website. On top of that, Richard has a good sense of humour and can make people share his passion and emotion. He is open to discussion and an excellent promoter for good whisky. Like Andrew Symington, he has a good sense of price and value.” Martine Nouet, Whisky Magazine contributor.The sharing element highlighted by Martine was echoed by other voters: “Richard’s interest in every aspect of whisky has helped his business in every way. He is a pioneer in the UK, and has succeeded where many have closed shop. I myself have learned a lot from him.” Sukhinder Singh, The Whisky Exchange. As with many ‘mavericks’, Richard’s pioneering spirit was often referred to, as by UDV’s Dr Jim Beveridge: “Richard has taken whisky retailing to another dimension, in a way, before the e-commerce revolution really started. His approach has demonstrated the power of informing consumers about quality and commitment of the people behind the category.” It’s that personality thing again: “What a guy, you can’t keep the good man down or quiet! While offering a marvellous selection of whiskies at great prices, Richard is also very passionate about his drams and is a font of knowledge regarding almost every distillery. I love his no-holds-barred comments and witty anecdotes. Cross him at your peril.” Andrew Symington, Vintage Scotch Whisky Company.And although the voters were drawn from the industry, it is a recurrent theme that all the individual winners have a special relationship with their customers, the whisky lovers: “Richard Joynson is an exemplar to all independent retailers. A nice shop with great music and an outstanding range of malt whiskies, an excellent mail order business with a straightforward,
reliable website, a real sense of customer care, a genuine passion about the whisky he sells, and bucketfuls of attitude. From a consumer perspective, what more could you want?” Dr Nick Morgan, Marketing Director, Premium Malts, UDV.
A simple summary comes from renowned Dutch retailer Rob Stevens of Whisky de Koning: “I think he deserves it because of his very enthusiastic way of showing his whisky professionalism.”Visitor centre manager of the year
Jackie Thompson of ArdbegThe Old Kiln Café was the focus of Martine Nouet’s food piece in Issue 21. In essence, no Jackie Thompson, no Ardbeg visitor centre. Jackie’s role, together with husband Stuart, the Distillery Manager, in Ardbeg’s renaissance is well-documented: “Jackie has turned around a despondent and depressing pile into a welcoming and comfortable haven. Her enthusiasm for the product and its home is infectious, pulling in even the most hard-bitten and die-hard of Speyside fans to leave them departing singing the virtues of Ardbeg. She is the perfect hostess for the southern Islay ladies who lunch, giving them a home from home, where they never have to do the washing-up,” opined whisky writer John Lamond. Martine’s praise is lavish: “She is a ray of sunshine in the reception centre. Vibrant, with a great sense of organisation, Jackie has succeeded in making Ardbeg reception centre a haven of fun and enjoyment for visitors. In a very simple, lively, natural and easy-going manner, though I am sure things are not as easy to run as it seems, but this is evidence of her skills. She is always smiling and cheerful and she knows how to make people feel cared for. I like all the small details: a welcoming dram (Lord of the Isles at Christmas), inviting the old workers to tell their stories to the visitors at the Whisky Festival, tasteful decoration and the general friendly atmosphere. She does not mind giving a hand with the restaurant when needed. An iron hand in a velvet glove!”Caroline Dewar of Distillery Destinations had this to add: “We work with distilleries all over Scotland and all are excellent. However, I wanted to flag the achievements of Jackie and her team in such a short time in setting up and maintaining such a superb visitor facility. She and the team are a delight to work with – always helpful and well-organised.” Andrew Symington, who never has a bad word to say about anyone, stated: “Great to see Ardbeg back on the map after years of neglect. I know that both Jackie and her husband Stuart have made an enormous effort to spread the word about Ardbeg and Islay, and that they run a wonderful visitor centre in a special part of the world.”Dr Setter of German-based whisky retailer SCOMA says: “I have visited a lot of whisky shopping and visitor centers, and I found the Ardbeg visitor centre a good mix of restaurant and shop. Sometimes I’ve turned up shortly after closing, yet Jackie has been friendly and accommodating.“She got my vote for always being kind, helpful and friendly and for the shop’s interesting presentation.” Innovator of the year
John Glaser of Compass BoxJohn Glaser left Johnnie Walker to set up his own company and is releasing small batch vatted and blended whiskies. In a very short time he has made an impact on the whisky world spreading his passion for grain whiskies. This category was not as clear-cut as any of the others presumably because ‘innovator’ is deliberately vague. Four runners-up to the top spot were only one point behind John. According to Keir Sword of Royal Mile Whiskies: “Hedonism is the one of the most exciting additions to the whisky market in recent years, and I am hugely impressed by John’s conviction to grain whisky. His bottlings show real foresight and we should all take notice and drink lots of them.” It is the excitement that John has engendered that led to him winning the award.“I have the greatest respect for the work John Glaser has done since leaving UDV. Innovation? Almost impossible in Scotch. Paradoxically John has built his success on traditional values rooted in a single truth about product excellence – what he’s done that’s new is challenge orthodoxies about grain whiskies with his initial products, and break the rules of packaging. That’s quite an achievement”. Dr Nick Morgan.Readers award
Ardbeg 1977 and Compass Box
HedonismArdbeg 1977, 46%: Editor’s Choice in Issue 18 and one of our highest-scoring whiskies ever, it came as little surprise that this distinctive expression of a truly great whisky should be a favourite with the discerning readers of Whisky Magazine.
Compass Box Hedonism: Slightly more surprising this one, in that it didn’t set Michael Jackson and Jim Murray into paroxysms of delight. However, readers of Whisky Magazine were delighted John Glaser was showing the sort of imagination in launching this product that also made him Innovator of the Year.