Back in 2016 we popped into Bladnoch Distillery to catch up with Master Distiller and Blender Ian MacMillan as he settled into his new role.
OW: Ian, can you describe role of a master blender?
I.MacM: The Master Blender has overall responsible for the creation of all variants and expressions of the company’s Single Malt and Blended Whiskies range and to ensure quality and consistency in every batch.
OW: What qualities do you need?
I.MacM: Sense of smell, taste, and experience. A Master Blender requires an acute organoleptic ability and an understanding of how all the different malt and grain whiskies mature over the years in a wide range of casks. This acute type of skill cannot be taught, a person is either born with these abilities or not. Despite all our years of experience and ability we cannot teach anyone how to taste or smell. The development of our knowledge takes many years working in the industry.
OW: Can you describe the actual process of making whisky and what local ingredients go into Bladnoch’s finished product?
I.MacM: Bladnoch Distillery was founded in 1817 and has always been a traditionally operated distillery (with no automation). When we resume production following the complete refurbishment of the distillery, we will retain our traditional values with manual operation. The water used in the production has always been the River Bladnoch where a lade is run from the watercourse, way above the upper reaches of the tidal waters. The malted Barley we will use will all be grown in Scotland.
OW: What is the process when dealing with the aging stock and creating new whisky?
I.MacM:Although the distillery has not produced any whisky since 2009, we are fortunate that we acquired thousands of casks of Bladnoch Single malts, some dating back to the 1980s. I am carrying out a qualitative assessment of every cask and you can expect a number of limited edition releases over the next few years. The Bladnoch Single malt also contributes to our premium blended whisky Pure Scot. When we resume production, the whisky will be available for use after three years.
OW: You have worked for Burn Stewart since 1991, what tempted you to join the Bladnoch project?
I.MacM: It is true that I spent over 24 very challenging but happy years with Burn Stewart as Head of Distilleries and Master Blender, however the company was acquired by the South African company Distell in 2013 and introduced a change to the management structure, which resulted in not only me but many other people leaving the business. When I was first approached regarding the opportunity to revive Bladnoch, I was very interested. I had known the previous owner Raymond Armstrong for many years and in fact gave him some advice and assistance when he first resumed production in 2000. This is something I have done twice before with Burn Stewart at Deanston and Tobermory.
It was so refreshing to meet David Prior, the new owner of Bladnoch, whose passion and commitment to Bladnoch convinced me that I should take up this challenge to revive this lovely old idyllic distillery as the “Queen of the Lowlands”.
OW: How have you found the local area?
I.MacM: I have found it really beautiful. A real unspoilt area and unknown to many just waiting to be discovered. The local people are very friendly and helpful. I have been truly heartened how interested and supportive everyone is for the revival of Bladnoch and for the future. The highlights for me have been the friendly pubs and restaurants that I have visited in the whole area.
Picture: Stephen Jolly Photography