Andrew Macdonald is the manager of the Glenmorangie whisky distillery. Scottish Field found out what it meant to run a distillery in the Scottish Highlands.
One of the most popular activities on the workplace of an everyday office is daydreaming. This should come as no surprise, as there are many other professions out there that many of us can only actually dream of; famous actor, background singer of a successful band or owning a resort on a Caribbean island are ‘functions’ that come pretty close to the general view of a dream job. A less obvious career that seemingly fits into this aspiring list is managing a whisky distillery in the Scottish Highlands. The lucky fellow in question is Andrew Macdonald, current manager of the Glenmorangie whisky distillery, based in Tain, Ross-shire.
Managing a whisky distillery in the Highlands is one of those jobs that is indeed as good as it sounds. Andrew’s day starts at around eight o’clock in the morning, starting off by wandering around the distillery. The friendly manager has a chat with the 27 men working at the distillery, making sure the whisky is being made as it should be. “That usually takes a while, depending on what goes on”, explains Andrew. “It’s not unusual for problems to occur in a distillery, as a big part of the work is manual. Breakdowns with the machinery or a leak are common inevitabilities. After the daily round through the entire building, Andrew heads up to his office. “From the outside, managing a whisky distillery in the Scottish Highlands seems like the dream job, but trust me, there’s plenty of paperwork to be done for a distillery manager. Finance, legislation, customer related matters, there’s plenty of stuff going round here. We’re making a whisky, so you can imagine there are quite a few people interested in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Other than that, I also receive a good deal of visitors at the distillery.” Paying visitors are received by our visitor centre, but Andrew personally guides the so called V.I.P.’s around the building, such as contractors or journalists.
The distillery manager has many predecessors, all trying to create that perfect dram. William Matheson, a hard-working farmer, set up the Glenmorangie Distillery in 1843, where he initially brewed beer. While down in London selling beer, the enterprising William took note of two copper distillation stills that happened to be on sale. Not long after, William was the proud owner of the two largest stills in the country. William immediately moved back up to Tain to start distilling his beer, maturing it and making spirits out of it. An entrepreneur in his day, Andrew Macdonald is thankful for his founding predecessor. “I’m glad he brought up those stills, because those things are still in use. We have 12 stills now, all of the same size and materials. They are the tallest stills in Scotland, which is a big virtue. Since the stills are so tall, the vapors travel longer up over the top, resulting in more copper contact. This contact removes the heavier spirit characters and leave behind only the sweetest and purest spirits. This is why Glenmorangie is renowned for its fruity and floral type of whisky.”
The Glenmorangie distillery’s working staff counts 27, a larger amount than normal for a distillery. This is explained by the amount of manual work being done, rather than turning the entire process into a high-technology cyber centre where one man pushes all the buttons. One of whisky’s many charms is the authentic way the dram is produced. This has not changed in over 150 years, and is not likely to do so anytime soon. Not completely surprisingly, the same can not be said for the job of managing a distillery, explains Andrew; “Looking back to the 19th century, there’s quite a difference in the job I’m doing to the job William Matheson was doing.. I can imagine a distillery team used to be much more like a work force, as everything was very manual. Now, it’s more like an overseeing task, being responsible for the entire workflow. The legislation side of it is much more complex today, too. Most of the paperwork now gets done on computers. Another notable change is the fact that the staff of a distillery doesn’t drink their own whisky during working hours anymore. It was very normal for a worker to have a wee dram before doing a dirty job or a heavy manual job. They would get a nice glass of whisky to see them along the way. You can imagine why we don’t do this anymore.”
The maturation warehouses
Loving whisky is not necessarily one of the demands a man or woman must meet to be given the key to the front door of a distillery, but it certainly helps if you do. Andrew’s love for the dram is evident. “Whisky is my passion in life; so I love naturally love my job here. Even from a young age, I have always had whisky in my blood; growing up around distillery’s. I’ve been in the whisky industry for about twenty years now. It’s an attractive business to be in. Before Glenmorangie, I was working in another distillery. Before that, I was working in the oil business in Aberdeen. I did that for a few years before I got the attractive chance to move into whisky – an easy decision to make.
“One of whisky’s many charms is the authentic way the dram is produced. This has not changed in over 150 years, and is not likely to do so anytime soon”
Moving from the metal barrels of oil to the wooden casks of whisky, Andrew was taking on as a trainee-manager at his first distillery, receiving a training program and working many shifts. During this time, Andrew swiftly made himself familiar with all the ins and outs of a distillery. When finished, the dram enthusiast was sent off to an island distillery in Skye, his first ‘posting’. “That was an interesting way of beginning, to say the least. My wife and I moved to Skye, where we had two children. We lived there four years before getting shipped back to Speyside, where I worked at a distillery for ten years.” Finally, Andrew got promoted to the position where he still happily spends his hours today, up in Tain. “Working for a prestigious brand like Glenmorangie is a pinnacle in my career. It’s a top seller in the U.K., and a huge multi-national brand. It’s Scotland’s number one malt whisky, which is fantastic.”
So what does the boss drink himself? “My personal favorite is the original Glenmorangie 10 year old. From the extra maturation range, I will have to go with the Nectar D’Or. The quality and the body of those two have the pure Glenmorangie spirit inside them. As a true whisky lover, Andrew does not stick exclusively to his own brand. “I drink quite a few other whiskies. I’ll occasionally have a taste of the competitors to see how they are comparing against ours. I visit other distilleries from time to time too. I’ll put on my fake moustache and sneak in the backdoor. Jokes aside, the whisky business is a small business. We have regular seminars and award ceremonies were we all see each other once in a while. I have a lot of old competitors, companions and friends in the whisky business. You have to keep in touch and find out what’s going on, you don’t work in isolation.
The sixteen ‘Men of Tain’
The job of a distillery manager is a not a bad one. But, like any other job, it is not perfect, either. “It’s not all glamorous. Occasionally things go wrong, I have plenty manager difficulties to deal with. The responsibilities can be quite high, bringing along the obvious pressure, just like any other job. But on the whole, it’s a very enjoyable career. Someone has to do it, eh?”