By Douglas Cruickshank

The Chivas Life

In the first of a series of guest columns,we ask Chivas Brothers' Douglas Cruickshank about everyday life at the distillery. Last year Douglas celebrated 40 years in theScotch industry by being appointed operations director for Chivas Brothers responsible for all Scottish operations from distillation through to bottling for the world's no.2 Scotch whisky company. He lives opposite Glenallachie Distillery,near Aberlour in Speyside.
The Scotch industry is doing well at the moment. For the second year running we are set to chalk up an all time high in terms of bottles shipped from Scotland. That's a good thing. We are opening distilleries not closing them, launching new products and recruiting new people.In fact I am currently reviewing a list of candidates to be the first in a new distillers' training scheme. During a recent upgrade of Glentauchers Distillery, I made the choice to keep the operation manual. The distillery will act as our own training ground for new distillers so they know every aspect of the distillery operation intimately. When they move on to a more automated operation, they will know the reality behind the computer screen. At the end of each day they are responsible for the quality of the spirit they have produced, so I need to arm them with all the knowledge they need, and what better way than to learn the way I did.Unfortunately Imperial Distillery, where I started in 1967, is no longer running, but it was a happy circumstance when it came under my control a few years ago. Keep buying whisky and it might be the perfect excuse to reopen it. The Scotch industry is like that, you often bump into the same people and places.Since taking on all of Chivas Brothers operations, I spend more than half my time in the south of Scotland, close to our bottling operations as well as our spirit quality and blending teams.Spirit quality has always been a key area for me, but bottling is equally as important. It's the first thing a consumer sees, it's our promise of what is to follow in the glass. If it's a bottle of Aberlour, it will even have my name on. However, everyone knows my philosophy, whatever part of the business. Whether it's glass, paper and glue, or malt, water and yeast, the same applies: get the basics right, and keep quality at the forefront.Whilst in the south, I also run through all new spirit samples on a regular basis. I have a great team who work on this, the distilling teams at our own distilleries, the spirit quality teams assessing our spirit and the spirit we buy in from other distilleries for blending. In fact, hundreds of years of experience among the team go into these decisions, a sign that a job in the Scotch whisky industry really is a calling and often a lifelong job.Despite this I like to keep my eye in, or rather my nose, and to check that quality is maintained.You can't turn back the clock on a maturing Scotch so you have to get it right at the very beginning of the maturation process. And that means two things - good spirit, and good wood.For me, these two go hand in hand.A lot is talked about the second of these, but the first is sometimes forgotten. The new make spirit fresh from the still already contains all the distillery character. It is this that will develop in the cask, but is has to be right to start with and up to the standards we expect from our own distilleries and those of our neighboring distilleries.Wood is the other half of the equation. One of my priorities is to ensure we maintain a consistent and high quality supply of casks to fill, something I take personal responsibility for. I have just confirmed annual trips to the US and Spain to see my suppliers and secure our casks for another year. Some of them are people I have been working with for more than 25 years. They know the standards I expect and the supply I need so it is a good arrangement.Back in Speyside I catch up with the distilling teams and the malt distilleries themselves. We have some mighty reputations to maintain, with legends such as The Glenlivet, and more recent heroes such as Longmorn and Aberlour. Speyside is a busy place at the moment, but a happy one I think. As long as everyone keeps enjoying, and buying, what we produce, we can't complain.