Bringing together whisky and good friends

FNB Whisky Live Festival 2012 Preview Q&A with Ian MacMillan

The countdown to the 2012 FNB Whisky Live Festival continues! Last week we gave you a preview of what you can expect from John Glaser of Compass Box and this week it’s the turn of the Master Blender of not one, not two, but three distilleries! Of course we’re talking about Ian MacMillan, Head of Distilleries, from Burn Stewart Distillers.

It’s great having Ian come back to SA for another visit, especially as he brings some great drams with him. Let’s dive straight into the Q&A session and find out what we’re in store for at the 10th FNB Whisky Live Festival.

WTF: Hi Ian, Can you provide the readers with a brief overview of yourself and Burn Stewart Distillers – its origins, its whisky ranges and your vision going forward?

IM: I am employed as the Head of Distilleries and Master Blender and am currently in my 40th year in the industry, having been with Burn Stewart since April 1991. BSD were originally a whisky broking / blending company founded in the 1920s. The present company originated from a management buyout in 1990 followed by the purchase of Deanston Distillery in 1990, Tobermory Distillery in 1993 and Bunnahabhain in 2003.

A full range of aged, vintage and limited expressions have been released from our three distilleries worldwide over the years. We maintain traditional methods of production and all of our single malt range has been bottled at 46.3% abv and unchillfiltered since 2010. As you know we are the proud producers of the Scottish Leader and Black Bottle ranges of Blended Scotch Whisky.

Whisky Live 2012 with Ian MacMillan

WTF: This certainly isn’t your first visit to South Africa – what keeps you coming back?

IM: Each year I have become more impressed with the growing knowledge and awareness of the South African consumer. Every year the Whisky Live event get`s bigger and better and I have developed great working relationships and friendships over the years.

WTF: What are your impressions of the country and its people?

IM: A beautiful country with friendly people who can play some pretty good rugby!!

WTF: Which brands will you be representing at Whisky Live – Bunnahabhain, Black Bottle & Scottish Leader?

IM: Yes, all three.

WTF: Will you be hosting private tastings / workshops / manning a stand / etc?

IM: I will be involved in all.

WTF: Will you be attending the festival in all three cities – Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg?

IM: Yes, over two visits.

WTF: Will you be bringing along some special whiskies for a lucky few to taste? (Toiteach, Darach Ur, Chruach-Mhona & other magic drams we’ve never seen over here)

IM: I have previously brought all three Limited Editions from Bunnahabhain for the Lexus / Volvo select tours in previous years. This year for the select tour I will present an extremely limited edition of our Deanston Single Malt – Spanish Oak expression which is 19 years old and very special. I may also have a few other surprises with me that I have not yet decided.

Ian MacMillan, hard at work creating the next great whisky WTF: Can we look forward to seeing you launching any new releases to the South African market while you are here?

IM: Not during this visit.

WTF: Are Burn Stewart ever likely to bring Tobermory, Ledaig & Deanston into South Africa?

IM: There have been discussions on this possibility however these are still in the early stages.

WTF: With changes in stock levels and the like, how long until we see a change in the Bunnahabhain range? Perhaps a 21yo instead of a 25yo, for example?

IM: Our current stock levels of Bunnahabhain are very healthy and indeed since 2003 I have released no fewer than 25 Limited expressions of this brand.

WTF: Do you have any plans to introduce new expressions into the line, or perhaps a series of limited edition releases for the die-hard whisky lovers out there?

IM: I am always working with all my single malts and experimenting with various cask finishes and maturation which will see a few limited releases in selected markets over the next few years.

WTF: How much experimentation do you do? Different cask types, etc?

IM: I regularly carry out numerous experiments with different cask types and finishes.

IM: Some very pleasing , others not so!!

WTF: Thinking about your favourite drams, what stands out? What is it in a whisky that wins you over?

IM: Whisky is a mood thing and the location of where I am, the ambience and my general feeling will go a long way in me deciding which dram I wish to drink. Sometimes sweet and honeyed to rich and fruity to robust and smoky.

Ian MacMillan in the lab

WTF: Following on from that, what is your favourite Burn Stewart whisky, and why?

IM: In the order which I have just stated (see question above) – Deanston 12yo, Bunnahabhain 25yo or Tobermory 15yo then Ledaig 10yo

WTF: The same question again, but this time, looking outside of the Burn Stewart stable, and why?

IM: Again in the same order – Glenlivet 12yo or Aberfeldy 12yo (both beautifully balanced sweet and delicate single malts of character), then Mortlach 16yo (in my view the ultimate Speyside), then Lagavulin 12yo (in my view the ultimate peaty Islay).

WTF: Do you have a favourite food and whisky pairing?

IM: The most obvious is Bunnahabhain 12yo Single malt with Haggis, Ledaig 10yo with Scottish Smoked Salmon, Tobermory 15yo with rich meat and game dishes and Deanston 12yo with the Scottish desert Cranachan. Single malt whisky is also a great accompaniment to most cheeses.

WTF: Thanks for your time Ian – we look forward to seeing you at Whisky Live!

Be sure to try the Burn Stewart Distillers’ range of whiskies at the festival and see if you can convince Ian to pour you a dram of the Deanston Single Malt – Spanish Oak. Tell him that I sent you over 😉

FNB Whisky Live Festival Venues, Dates and Times

Cape Town: 3 – 5 October 2012 (18h00 – 22h00) at the Cape Town International Convention Centre
Durban: 1 – 2 November 2012 (18h00 – 22h00) at the Durban International Convention Centre
Johannesburg: 7 – 9 November 2012 (18h00 – 22h00) at the Sandton Convention Centre

You can also visit the website for more details.

Not long to go now!


1 Comment

  1. Frances van Rensburg Frances van Rensburg
    November 27, 2012    

    Where in South Africa can I buy 12 year old Red Breast whiskey? I live in Stellenbosch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.