INTERVIEW: Scotch Icon Dr. Bill Lumsden on the Future of Whisky
Glenmorangie and Ardbeg are two of the most recognisable and respected Scotch whisky brands on the planet, consistently producing some of the finest drams at every price point. The man behind a great number of those, as well as all manner of innovation in the industry, is Dr Bill Lumsden, the extravagantly titled director of Distilling, Whisky Creation and Whisky Stocks for the two fabled distilleries.
In Australia to host a series of events surrounding Glenmorangie’s new ‘Delicious and Wonderful’ brand positioning, Bill found time to sit down and talk about all things from fashion to NFTs, to the state of the luxury market all within the backdrop of the whisky industry. I first met Bill at a Glenmorangie event at the Carnegie Club in New York. Amidst the purple smoke and generous pours of Signet, we managed to sanctify our appreciation for menswear; both grounded in classicism, mine more stoic, Bill’s with a penchant for flair. It’s a nice memory to begin again on.
MOM: Nice shirt Bill, Missoni?
BL: No, but I have one I’ve brought for the launch event tomorrow! It’s still my favourite brand.
MOM: Where does your style inspiration come from and how do you think fashion ties in with the whisky industry?
BL: Whisky isn’t just a drink on its own, it’s part of an overall lifestyle. I’ve taken inspiration from the late, great Nino Cerruti of the eponymous haute couture house ‘Cerruti’ who talked about his fashion as not being a clothing brand, but much more a holistic overarching lifestyle. People who appreciate fine single-malt scotch whisky also appreciate fashion, travel, cigars, watches, cars and luxury pursuits. They all go together hand in hand.
MOM: Given the increase in the value, interest, and subsequent uptick in the production of whisky, do you see any danger of the whisky loch of the 80’s repeating itself?
The ‘Whisky Loch’ was a period of excess production on the back of misplaced marketplace assumptions, creating a veritable ‘lake’ of whisky. 20 distilleries closed, production slowed by 35% and 20 years later there was still a mass of unloved and unused 3 year old whisky.
BL: I don’t see that happening. There are so many new markets opening that whisky has become a lot more democratized. The ever-growing middle class appearing in India, China starting to finally deliver on the promise that has been there for the last 10 years, and South America being a big whisky market, albeit primarily blended with shoots starting to appear for single malt, all point towards a promising future for Scotch Whisky and single malts in particular.
MOM: Is this increasing ‘democratization’ behind the decision to create X by Glenmorangie, as well as the ‘delicious and wonderful’ brand positioning?
BL: The brand team coined the ‘made for mixing’ moniker that X by Glenmorangie has, but I made it for drinking! Obviously, it makes more sense to be using that, a non-age product, for mixing than using Glenmorangie 18 or 25 year old. We are looking at ways of trying to attract a new audience, and this relates to the new brand positioning of Glenmorangie overall, as well as X by Glenmorangie. I like it on the rocks personally, but it lends itself to a nice whisky cocktail.
MOM: Ardbeg has a very interesting whisky up on Blockbar currently called Ardbeg Fon Fhoid, could you tell us a little about it and how it came about?
BL: I’m a simple biochemist so things like NFTs baffle me! I was asked if I had anything that may be an interesting product that may be great for Blockbar as opposed to normal channels and it just so happened, I had an experiment I didn’t know what to do with. On the back of the Gallieleo release (where a small amount of Ardbeg was launched into space) we decided to bury two 4-year-old refill bourbon barrels in a peat bog.
I fully expected to come back and find a pile of rotting wood but when we opened the surprisingly intact barrels up, the whisky still tasted like Ardbeg! The name ‘Fon Fhoid’ is Gaelic for ‘under the turf’ and the mossy, savoury warm whisky rings true to that.
MOM: The Australian industry is still in its infancy, but have you had the chance to try any and what are your thoughts?
BL: I haven’t tasted a lot but what I have tasted I’ve been really impressed with. Sullivan’s Cove and Lark are the two most recognisable, and I love what Lark has done with the mini bottles in their limited releases, I wish I’d thought of that! It’ll be great to see the industry here develop in the future.
For more information on Glenmorangie and Dr. Bill Lumsden’s incredible work behind the distiller’s door, visit the link below.