Dr Bill

25 September, 2015

On flavoured ‘whiskies’, he is more strident: “This is potentially the thin end of the wedge. Glenmorangie will not be doing it any time soon. I think it smacks of desperation. If they are making a truly delicious product, fine, but none of the ones I have tasted are a step up on the base spirit.”

On the subject of the use of caramel, Lumsden is even more emphatic: “A little caramel for consistency is one thing – I do not use any caramel in any of the Ardbeg expressions. I use a little with Glenmorangie because some markets want such consistency.”

Without naming names Lumsden waves a bottle of water, indicating the overuse of caramel in some immature spirits. The fact is overuse of caramel to imply ageing and therefore premium quality, imparts a characteristic burnt sugar taste which is easily picked up, certainly by professionals.

In Lumsden’s opinion: “You add things to make a drink taste better. In a lot of cases the opposite is the case.” Moving on to less contentious topics, when you ask some senior figures what their favourite tipple is, they’ll immediately chose their own brand and would rather have their fingernails pulled out than mention a rival. Not the good doctor. Asked what his favourite drinks are, Lumsden reels off a list of rival whiskies: Mortlach, Highland Park, Springbank, Balvenie, Lagavulin and Dalmore.

He then goes on to say he has “rediscovered gin and tonic”, Beefeater being a favourite. But, being a bit of a gourmand, Lumsden can think of nothing better than fine wine with great food. He cites white Burgundy, Condrieu, Bordeaux, Super-Tuscans such as Sassicaia and Wendouree from Australia’s Clare Valley.

Lumsden is married with two grown-up children, Daniel (23) and Alexandra (19). Daniel got a 2:1 in brewing and distillation at Heriot-Watt and is about to start work at Diageo as a trainee site operations manager at Cardhu. “Diageo still has one of the best training programmes in the industry,” states Lumsden. “Daniel is already home brewing,” he says, approvingly.

As he approaches the twilight of his career, Dr Bill is trying to reduce his travelling. He used to do three-week tours but is trying to cut it down to two. He now insists on some ‘down time’ after long haul, so distributors be warned – don’t try to squeeze in a quick tasting after he has landed before dinner.

As with so many other travelled brand ambassadors, Lumsden likes Japan. “I love the orderliness, the cleanliness, their manners, the respect. It is such a fascinating place, and the attention to detail…” So, Dr Bill Lumsden is a worthy recipient of the ISC Master Blender/Distiller of the year award. A pioneer, an innovator with quality an absolute given. More of a lord of the wood or oak than a time lord. Will son Daniel be a chip off the old block? Only a lot of barrel ageing will tell.    

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