Interview with Juliette Buchan, Keeper of the Quaich and International Sales Manager Gordon & Macphail and Benromach

One of the most underrated whiskies right now is certainly Benromach. But hopefully this could change soon. In Munich, I had a chance to talk to wonderful Juliette Buchan, Keeper of the Quaich and International Sales Manager for Gordon & MacPhail and Benromach. If you have never heard about Benromach Distillery before, I'm sure you will soon. Juliette has set out to spread the word about this tiny, family-owned Speyside distillery. 


Keeper of the Quaich Juliette Buchan, of Benromach and Gordon & Macphail, at the Interwhisky in Frankfurt. pic: margaretemarie


Whisky Fairs are usually not the best place to conduct a lenghty interview, because they are always busy and noisy, and I always need a bit of luck to catch my interview partners. In Frankfurt, at the Interwhisky, there was too much work to do on Saturday, and on Sunday, Juliette had cought a flu and had to cancel our interview. But a few weeks later, in Munich, I was lucky, and Juliette and I were able to sneak away into one of those very old trams that are dotted around the venue. The full interview would be too long to post here in my blog, but it was such a wonderful chat, that I want to share at least some part of it with you:

MM: In the last couple of months, suddenly everybody seems to be talking about Benromach, whereas last year, nobody was talking about Benromach.

Juliette: That's true, we have seen a really big growth in Benromach all throughout the world. We recognize that, so we are now at double production. When we started at Benromach, we used to do 120,000 litres of alcohol per year. We were the smallest distillery at the time. We are no longer the smallest, but we are still not big. Now, we are at slightly under 400,000 litres of alcohol per year.

MM: What has changed?

Juliette: We employ more people. 10 years ago, it was just one distiller, and now it is three distillers.  We  work 5 days a week and we have three shifts per day. We are not at full capacity yet. We don't work at the weekends.

We also increased the number of washbacks that we have, we added 9 washbacks, and we built new dunnage warehouses. Our full capacity is 700,000 litres, so we could increase our production if necessary. But keep in mind, what we do today, will be on the market in 8, 9 or 10 years time. It's not a quick fix. We need to be careful not do increase too much.



Benrochmach Triple Distilled. pic: margaretemarie

MM: Due to the nature of your job, you are in very close contact with consumers and know what they like. How much can you influence what will be bottled at the distillery?

Juliette: Of course I try, but don't forget, that you can only work with what you have, and what you have laid down 10 years ago. It's very interesting to be able to influence what will go into the market. For example, we have a new triple distilled, and we were discussing what strength would work better. Again, it was a panel of people including myself who would try at 40%, 43%, 46% and 50%. And we decided that 50% just was the thing.

MM: Where do you see Benromach in 5 years time?

Juliette: I think Benromach will be recognized much better. It's starting now, but there are still many people who don't know Benromach, and our whisky is not widely available. We don't put advertising everywhere. It's more word-of-mouth right now. I think our final goal is to build a proper brand over the next years that people know.

MM: You don't work only for Benromach, but also for Gordon & Macphail. Are there differences in the kind of jobs you have to do?

Juliette: Yes, Gordon & Macphail are the owners of the distillery. Gordon & Macphail is an independent bottler. We buy new spirits - and we have been doing that for more than 120 years, because it's a very old company. We buy new spirits, which we fill in our own casks, and we mature and bottle the whisky.

So, with Gordon & Macphail, it's a lot of different distilleries. It's not our spirit, we buy it from other producers, like Glenlivet or Highland Park or some other very well-known names, but we mature it in our own casks. So, every bottle is kind of unique. Benromach is our own distillery, it's our own brand, we can do what we like and experiment, and develop. So, Benromach is closer to my heart.

Gordon & Macphail on the other hand is more complex. You deal with 120 different distilleries, and you have to know what the distilleries do. It's very fascinating when you get to taste very old whisky, because Gordon & Macphail has some very old casks. The whiskies of Gordon & Macphail really open your mind. You learn what each distillery has to offer, and what character each distillery has.

MM: Now, this romantic image pops into my mind where you go into the warehouse and you santer from cask to cask and take a sip here, and try another sample there..... how close does this match with reality?

Juliette:  I wish I could! We do that to some extend, but not myself, no. We do have a team that decide what should be bottled, and they get to try some exciting casks. But I don't complain, I get to travel a lot, and I can try the whiskys after they have been bottled.

MM: How many warehouses does Gordon and Macphail have?

We have just one warehouse in Elgin, which is our own, and we also keep some casks in different warehouses throughout Scotland.

MM: Has purchasing whisky become more difficult in recent years?

Juliette: Well, purchasing is not my job, but for Gordon and Macphail, the big difference is that we do not buy on the broker market! So, a cask of 1940 Glenlivet we bought in 1940. Back then, we took our own cask to the distillery and bought the New Make. Nobody else did that. So, we do have around 14,000 to 15,000 casks, which are maturing in Scotland. We are not worried. Some contracts have changed, and some taps have been turned off, but some other taps have been opened. We have lost some contracts, but we have gained new contracts, and we are laying down new casks for the future. We still have a fair amount of stock, and we still fill new casks for the years to come....

You can read my article about Juliette and Benromach in the next edition of the German Whisky Magazine "Whiskybotschafter".

Benromach Distillery

 

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