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21 Nov 2017 By

Exclusive: Stuart Harvey is the Master Blender at Inver House Distillers That Won Icons of Whisky, Whisky Distiller of the Year 2017. We Spoke to Him When He Visited Singapore.

Inver House Distillers has five whiskies in its portfolio: Old Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Speyburn and Balmenach. We spoke to its Master Blender Stuart Harvey when he visited Singapore to train the La Maison du Whisky team on his spirits, as the house will be launching something new during Whisky Live 2017.


On changes in the whisky world in the past five years…

I think probably the growth in single cask, becoming more popular with the whisky connoisseurs. If I’m nosing whiskies for Old Pulteney or Balblair, Speyburn or Knockdhu, if I find something new and interesting, I just keep it for reserve, single malt reserve cask so nobody else can touch it. Single cask is something people will expand upon in the next few years; we’ve got some quality casks coming through from 2004.

I joined in 2003 and when we started sourcing Spanish oak butts, good quality casks from sazerac, it’s interesting to see them even at 12 years old, 13 years old, they’re very good whiskies, very distinctive – the malt whisky aficionados will appreciate the quality you’re getting at that age.

We have some older ones, Pulteney we have 1997 casks we’re bottling at the moment. They’re very collectable, I think people are interested in investing in whiskies as well; it’s not just about consumption. Some people will buy three bottles, drink one and keep two for investment. One for short term, maybe get the money back, and one for long term investment as well.

On working with La Maison du Whisky on Whisky Live 2017…

I just tell them how I became a Master blender, my background, what I’ve done since I arrived at Inver House. When I arrived we only have 12 years old Pulteney, no 17 or 21. So that was one of my first jobs in 2004, sample 2,000 casks and decide what was the style gonna be.

Originally I was asked to produce 18 and 25, by sales and marketing, but when I looked at the quality and quantity to give me consistency, I said ‘If you want to release something in 2004 it has to be 17 and 21. If you want to wait a year you can do 18, wait four years we can do 25’ – they went straight for the 17 and 21! Quality-wise I’d put them up against the 18 and 25. I tell them a few stories, give them more information about how we make the whiskies – we are very traditional. We’ve stuck to the deep mash tuns, the wooden washbacks, all that adds to the complexity.

stuart harvey whisky

On the award-winning Old Pulteney 21 Years Old…

The first 21 Year Old came from the 1983 stock, so it was 21 years old in 2004. Got really good reviews, but the one that won Best Whisky in The world was 2012, Jim Murray gave us the accolade. Jim came up to see me and we spend half a day in the nosing room just chatting and looking at samples. Jim’s always been an Old Pulteney fan, he came up with the name ‘The Manzanilla of the North’, he nosed the 21 Year Old and said it had the manzanilla of the sherry from Spain, it has the slight saltiness, the sea air, and he told me it was actually the second last whisky he had nosed for that year, and he had done like 500, and he said, ‘that’s gonna be the winner’. We won it, we’re not complaining!

OLD PULTENEY WHISKY 1983ot 2017-11-21 at 12.01.01 PM

On what sets their brands apart…

Old Pulteney is our flagship brand, it’s our biggest-selling single malt in the UK; a top 10 brand in the UK. It’s very popular and well known in the yachting circle, and people consume quite a bit of it when they’re yachting up and down the coasts or when island hopping. You’ll find a natural spiciness, and slightly harder water, so it has more of a mineral character. Without a doubt, the warehouses are right beside the sea, the waves crash over in winter; you’re losing the alcohol but you’re absorbing the water. So the strength goes down half a per cent every year – we’ll go from 69% to 62% for the 12 Years Old, so even when people try it they’re surprised by how much depth and complexity it has.

On Balblair’s vintages…

Balblair is very traditional, but was a bit of a challenge, it wasn’t a priority for the company so I was told I had to do something different with it or drop it. The whisky was good, we were winning gold medals, the packaging was very old fashioned, so we went for vintages. We are the only malt whisky that is all vintages. Each vintage we wanted to make it slightly different, so that took a lot of work, a lot of samples. The 1997 we had a lot of good first-fill bourbon barrels, there was no coconut aromas there which I don’t like, so that was the first vintage. The 1989 was the second vintage and it was second-fill bourbon barrels, and the first thing I noticed from nosing the casks was bananas, which was very unusual, The esters there in every whisky, but usually it’s masked by other dominant aromas and flavours. So this is delicate and elegant, you have the banana and the vanilla, coffee, a beautiful whisky. The first release was a lot of people’s favourite. We had to have more than one release, and the following had a different flavour profile, not as strong with the bananas, it was hogshead instead of barrels.

There was an outcry, ‘Why have you stopped the first release?!’ Because we didn’t have enough!

balblair vintages whiskies

But there are collectors who have them all, first to third release, but 1989 was a really good year. And we had the 1978, also second-fill bourbon casks, so it was good for people to compare. We released all three vintages at once, it has its challenges, they get age statements, they don’t get vintages. Just do the math, do the math!

We’re trying to get the age across in the new packaging, especially for Asia, people here are obsessed with age statements, they just don’t get vintages and even though they like the whisky they just go, ‘aaaarrrr, it doesn’t say 12 years old on it’. But it can be good.

Inver House Distillers will be debuting a special Old Pulteney Single Malt at Whisky Live 2017.

Check out www.whiskylive.sg for ticketing info and masterclass schedules.

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