We speak to our Distillery Manager, Gary Haggart about how he got started, his day to day job, whisky and how he is hoping for a Landrover Discovery as a bonus when he wins a gold medal for bottled single malt scotch whisky from Lindores Abbey Distillery!
When did you decide you wanted to work in the whisky industry?
In July 1991, when United Distillers ( Now Diageo ) offered me an apprenticeship as a Production Electrician at John Dewar & Sons Bottling Hall in Inveralmond Perth. Another part of my job there was to test the alarm systems every day on the original paintings of Edwin Landseer’s “Monarch of the Glen” and Robert Gibbs “ The Thin Red Line”, both spectacular paintings!
Tell us about how you got to where you are today with Lindores Abbey Distillery.
After starting in 1991 with United Distillers in Perth, in the summer of 1993 I moved down to Leven in Fife, and from 1993 to 2010 I had various roles there from site Project Leader to Backshift Hall Team Leader. I then had an opportunity to go up into Speyside to run Cragganmore Distillery at Ballindalloch and I was there until Sept 2011. I worked at the distillery through one of the hardest winters they had ever seen. I have a photo of my car’s dashboard in Grantown-On-Spey showing -20c at 7am! My first project was to lease a large tractor with snow plough and salt spreader to keep the road to the distillery open, nothing will stop a distillery quicker than not being able to get materials in or out!
Unfortunately it never quite worked out in Speyside and I ended up then moving into the oil and gas industry where I got to see a fair bit of the world, my second home for a while was Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam! However, I was told when I left Cragganmore that I would be back in malt distilling at some point by a very good friend Peter Campbell and I dismissed it, but a few years later I found myself with an itch for malt distilling that just would not go away!
In December 2016, I noticed Helen McKenzie Smith was looking for an admin person on Facebook. I sent her a message saying that I could not do this role but told her about my past career, and sent over my CV. A few weeks passed and then I was asked along for a chat with herself and Drew, that chat lasted 4+hrs and I knew then where I wanted to be, the rest as they say “is history!” and I have been the Distillery Manager ever since.
What has been your career highlight?
To be honest the spirits industry has given me a fair few! I have represented United Distillers / Scotland in the World Corporate Golf Challenge, held at La Manga in Spain and covered by Sky Sports. I have met Lewis Hamilton when he was driving with McLaren and sponsored by Johnnie Walker. My initials are on the Cragganmore Distillers Edition Bottle for 2011 ( which is a phenomenal dram!).
But the winner so far has to be making the first cut of spirit with Drew on the 13th December 2017 at Lindores. That for me was history being made right there and then, that will never be repeated!
The next highlight will hopefully be when we bottle our first release. Lastly I filled a sherry butt on my birthday and it’s tucked away in the corner of the warehouse. When it reaches 15yo it will be the same age as my favourite dram – that will be the pinnacle highlight and hopefully I can then sit back, savour and look back on a job well done!
What has been the most important thing that you have learned during your time in the industry?
How small the industry is and how somebody always knows somebody you know. Also the real passion shown by everyone in the industry. I get upset when I hear people bashing some of the big players, including a previous employer and the things they do, because I have worked with many people from the distillery operator to the packaging operator and they are always so passionate about what they do and what their product is, they are great ambassadors!
Why is Lindores so special for Scotch whisky production?
It’s the birthplace, it’s the spiritual home of Scotch whisky. We have a physical reference point now, so if you want to learn the history of scotch whisky, come to Lindores, immerse yourself and start at point a. of the journey.
What’s a normal day like for you working at Lindores?
It always starts with a good cup of coffee, Tim our Apothecary is by far the best coffee maker. We have a quick team chat , set out our day and get on with it. I always like to be around when we do the cut of the spirit and make sure its “in character”. Next it’s normally over to the wash backs to look at the clarity of the wort and then the addition of the yeast followed by the OG of the filled washback. After that its normally paperwork and compliance, as Distillery Manager it’s important to me that I keep everyone safe whilst they are at Lindores. The afternoon will normally see me in the warehouse, making sure everything is maturing away nicely and no leakers! On the way out have a look at the draff from that day’s mash and make sure we are not losing to much in the way of sugars. There are always a few meeting’s flung into the day as well and lastly I always try and get across the road to the main office to see by big pal “Ludo”, the black Labrador, we have bonded since day one and he loves getting his ears rubbed!
As a distiller, how much do you engage with and educate the consumer about what you do and what importance do you place on this?
I try to interact as much as possible with the consumer, and actually make sure that all Cask Ownership enquiries come directly to me. Once a customer can link the product to the place, the people, and the history, you see them “buying in” and taking a great interest. For me it’s important for them to have that connection, the more ground work we do with Aqua Vitae the easier the journey becomes when the Whisky is ready, as the consumer will already know who we are!
What do you love the most about being distillery manager of Lindores?
Working with the amazing team we have here, and being the first distillery manager in over 524 years!
Tell us a bit about what you get up to outside of whisky and distilling?
To be honest, you never, ever switch off from being a distillery manager, you are always wondering what’s going on. However, I love my golf and I love my motorsport. If there is a chequered flag involved I will watch it. I’m a huge fan of Moto GP rider Valentino Rossi VR|46 “The Doctor”. I also enjoy reading, especially anything to do with the second world war and lastly my garage is a bit of a bomb site at the moment but I would like to get it cleared out, buy an older Porsche Boxster that is needing some TLC and work on it and get it ready for hopefully a good summer again!
What is your favourite drink?
For me it has always Glenfarclas 15yo single malt whisky, closely followed by Cragganmore Distillers Edition. Although I have to say, some of the Aqua Vitae cocktails have been amazing and rarely will I say no to a mojito! Our brand ambassador Andrew Lennie once made me a “dark matter” mojito and it was superb!
How do you like to drink Aqua Vitae?
I like it with a good quality ginger beer , some lime and plenty of ice!
What do you think the future holds for the whisky industry?
The industry is doing amazingly well and I think it’s important we keep pushing the boundaries. There are always the environmental challenges of course but nothing will beat a great spirit, from a great distillery in a exceptional cask that is well matured and at its peak, sometimes you just have to keep it traditional!
Is there anything new you’re still keen to work on and achieve?
I am absolutely loving the opportunity to keep within our maturation policy for our spirit, but also to go off piste slightly. The secret here is to try and second guess what everyone else is up to and have some whisky maturing away that you know is just going to work and have people talking when its released, but hope that nobody else is doing it at that time!
What do I want to achieve? I have told Drew I want to deliver Lindores an industry recognised award or gold medal for our bottled single malt scotch whisky. Myself and the team want to make the best in Scotland. A tall order, we know, and we have joined a game with big players but you have to set goals high. You have to dream and you have to be passionate about your product but we know that we have the spirit, we have the casks, and a driven team so I am quietly confident. My bonus for that achievement will be a new Land Rover Discovery – I wish!! *
- UPDATE – Gary would like to clarify that he wants a brand new Land Rover Discovery. He is nae wanting some old 20 year old rust heap…