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SB meets… Gordon Dundas, Ian Macleod Distillers

We sat down with Ian Macleod Distillers’ brand development & advocacy director, Gordon Dundas, to talk about the company’s prestige portfolio, and what it takes to rescue a brand from the brink of becoming a historical footnote.

Ian Macleod Distillers Gordon Douglas
Gordon has worked in the whisky industry for 18 years

Rosebank Distillery was closed for a quarter of a century. What were Ian Macleod’s priorities when it came to resurrecting the Rosebank brand in 2017 – did you stay loyal to the brand’s origin, or was this an opportunity for innovation?

I think it is fair to say that with a unique brand such as Rosebank, with its history, there is a time and a place for innovation but maybe not immediately with this lowland icon. We were very much driven with bringing back the unique style of Rosebank used in blends for so many years as a top dresser malt, and then in its own right as a revered single malt with its signature style.

It’s one of the most spirit driven whiskies in Scotland, triple distilled and then using worm tub condensers, a combination that is the ultimate juxtaposition. Matured in predominantly refill casks, this whisky really does reveal so much of its spirit, and how it changes over the time in cask.

In an industry where experimentation is often rewarded, where do you think the line is between innovation and loyalty to tradition? Is it possible to have both? 

The one thing we are very aware of is that Rosebank is an icon, not just in the whisky world but in the town of Falkirk. The new single malt must take that on board and blend that with the needs of a modern whisky market, very different from when the distillery closed in 1993.

When you look at Ian Macleod’s brands, innovation has been to the fore and this will mean that we will of course be looking to this trait going forward for Rosebank.

Rosebank Distillery Ian Macleod
An artist’s impression of the restored Rosebank Distillery

The restoration and reopening of the Rosebank Distillery is due to take place in 2023 – what can we expect from the new distillery?

Well for those who have seen the progress, the distillery is a beautiful combination of new and old. The iconic chimney has of course been retained along with the original canal side buildings. The rest is new with a glass still house showcasing the three stills of the original shape, celebrating the original distillery.

As a visitor experience, it will offer a sense of the history and status of this brand, educational and entertaining and leaving you with an in depth understanding of what makes Rosebank different.

With a new distillery comes new opportunities for production – are there any grand plans for the liquid you can share with us? What opportunities will the new distillery afford the brand?

To be honest we haven’t been able to do any work on the spirit as yet. Malcolm Rennie our distillery manager is really looking forward to getting his hands on the raw ingredients and then tailoring them into a Rosebank for the future. With the same three stills and worm tubs, there will be plenty of opportunity to really hone the spirit style.

Ian Macleod Tamdhu
Tamdhu is dedicated to sherry cask maturation

Ian Macloed Distillers boasts an impressive selection of prestige bottlings, namely in the Glengoyne and Tamdhu portfolios  – what separates these expressions from the brands’ core ranges?

Nothing to be honest. All of our whiskies from these distilleries come from the same ethos, make great spirit and use great casks and finally the skill of the blending team.  Yes, some of our whiskies are rarer and less available but rest assured, when you pick up a Glengoyne or Tamdhu, the quality is simply fabulous.

A fine example of this is Tamdhu’s dedication to full maturation in Oloroso Sherry casks. This is a company decision and therefore means our volume aspirations are somewhat cut, but this makes the single malt sit in a very unique position and you taste that dedication.

Similarly with Glengoyne, beautifully inefficient in terms of its distillation – the slowest single malt in Scotland – this generates a fruity style which manifests itself in green apples and bananas in our 12-year-old and tropical/stoned fruits in our 30-year-old.

In a ‘cost-of-living crisis’, do you expect to see a change in consumer behaviour concerning Ian Macleod’s prestige bottlings, or do you think premiumisation will prevail?

We are in a tough time for sure and I think we may see a general sense of trading down when we maybe saw a little trading up during the pandemic. In terms of prestige, I do not see it that being too much of an issue for us, purely due to the wide demand across the world but also the very limited amounts we have of our prestige range. 

The whisky industry is under a lot of pressures in terms of getting the whisky in the bottle and I have to say we do not see this changing in the short term. Barley, Casks Power, glass, cardboard, containers and trucks are all considerably more expensive, as it is in life for all of us. 

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