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Why Scotch Is Not Going Anywhere

With a nose for good whisky, Richard Paterson senses Scotch will continue to reign for a long time to come.

Richard Paterson parts his hair to the left, high on the pate. The bush that the nose sits on is as neat. Appearances matter and he dresses niftily for occasions, always in a two-piece suit with matching pocket square and tie.

The 64-year-old Scot easily passes off as chairman of the board. Except he is not. His is the world of art and he, a craftsman creating expressions of whiskies.

Paterson has been Whyte & Mackay’s master distiller and blender for over four decades. He is also custodian of The Dalmore single malt distillery, bastion of many of Scotland’s oldest and rarest whiskies. But Paterson is most acclaimed for sniffing out when whisky stocks are ready to roll out. It is an art passed down two generations, from grandfather and dad – the ability to tell when a whisky gives off the right scent means the difference between a great and an exceptional Scotch. His nostrils, insured for £1.5 million (S$3.2 million), usually hit the right notes. Peers hail him as “The Nose” and he wears it with pride. His Twitter account carries that moniker.

When he criss-crosses the globe, he is the ambassador for Scottish whisky. It is a regal role as Scotch is the world’s gold standard for the many expressions of the alcohol.

But of late, it has had to contend with stiffer competition. In April, the Scotch Whisky Association said demand for supplies fell 7 per cent, with sales dropping from £4.26 billion in 2013 to £3.95 billion last year. The biggest drop was in Singapore, its gateway to Asia, sliding as far down as 16 per cent in the first half of last year.

What gives? There was the craving for American bourbon and Tennessee whisky, with exports hitting the US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) mark.

We are never complacent. We are Scotch whisky and have been around for hundreds of years. We intend to stay here, especially in Asia, for a few more hundreds of years to come!

RICHARD PATERSON, Master Distiller & Blender, Whyte & Mackay’s

There were also the rising Asian stars, Japan’s Nikka and Yamazaki. They won 10 and three gold medals at this year’s World Whiskies Awards and are the ones to watch. In 2008, Whisky Magazine named Nikka’s 20-year-old Yoichi single malt as the world’s best, while revered critic Jim Murray’s pick for last year was the Yamazaki expression. In seven years, global demand for Japanese whisky grew by 86 per cent.

Paterson muses over the trend, but doesn’t let on if there is a case to panic. Scotch, after all, has tradition on its side. It’s been around since the 15th century and Japan got round to making whisky only less than a hundred years ago. But the point is taken that Scotland has been given a kick on the backside and, if anything, Paterson tells The Peak that they will step on the gas.

“We are never complacent. We are Scotch whisky and have been around for hundreds of years. We intend to stay here, especially in Asia, for a few more hundreds of years to come!”

But the artisan in him can’t be silenced. He is often called to judge at international competitions and knows the quality coming out from the Land of the Rising Sun. They are, as Paterson says, fully matured, exquisite and unique, and have “that lovely plummy wine note that I like towards the end”.

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“If you win a gold medal in any category today, you are absolutely supreme. You are producing something quite unique. And I see that frequently with Japanese whiskies, Irish whiskies, and many Scotch whiskies, of course.

“But, when you take a country like Japan, where the people are very dedicated and passionate about what they do, (you see that) the master blenders the likes of Yamazaki and Nikka have the same kind of fervour as the master blenders of Scotland. And they have spent a lot of years creating their style.

“Remember, it is a Japanese style of whisky. There is a style of Scotch and Irish whiskies, but the Japanese have managed to put a style that has now become attractive to many discerning consumers around the world.”

(SEE RELATED: Japanese Whiskies Tastes Nothing Like Scotch)

But they are at a crossroads. The world’s growing love affair with whisky has taken a toll on aged stocks and Japan has been especially hit. Supplies are at their lowest levels and both distillers have responded by rolling out no-age-statement styles, Yamazaki in March last year, and Nikka six months ago.

Scotch has not been left unscathed. In the previous 20 months, Glenlivet, The Macallan, Laphroaig, Highland Park, Glennglassaugh, Bowmore, Auchentoshan, Mortlach and Oban introduced their own expressions. Paterson also created The Dalmore Fortuna Merita Collection last October.

But there is another reason for its proliferation. An age statement on a bottle, says the Scot, does not tell much about quality, and a classic example is the 12-year-old style that has been popular with consumers for a long time. “I produce a lot of aged whiskies but some that I actually utilise are not always ready at 12. Sometimes they are at 15 or 20, or younger. But producing no-age-statement whiskies allows me, as a master blender and distiller, to create something special.

So don’t think that it is cheap whisky. It is not. It is about a master blender using younger, as well as older, whiskies to create a style that will be very acceptable. The reputation of the company producing it must also be of high standing, because it has to ensure that whatever is in that bottle is appreciated.

RICHARD PATERSON, Master Distiller & Blender, Whyte & Mackay’s 

“So don’t think that it is cheap whisky. It is not. It is about a master blender using younger, as well as older, whiskies to create a style that will be very acceptable. The reputation of the company producing it must also be of high standing, because it has to ensure that whatever is in that bottle is appreciated.”

Paterson is still sought after for his craft in aged whiskies. Two years ago, he worked with Harrods to produce The Dalmore Paterson Collection of 12 bottles that sells for £987,500. He has also been creating unique issues for DFS since 2011 and, this year, his masterpiece is The Dalmore Five Decades Collection for Singapore’s Golden Jubilee. The price tag: $162,000.

With a cellist, harpist and flutist for company, Paterson introduced his babies to a well-heeled audience at DFS last month. Good Scotch, he tells them, hits the right notes the same way the classical pieces of the great masters do. “I’ve always created something special for DFS and this year is no exception because this is the 50th year of Singapore’s independence. What I have created is 10-, 20-, 30-, 40- and 50-year-old whiskies, only five bottles.

“It is totally unique, and I have created them for each decade, using different casks, styles and elegance. It resonates with music that is light, stimulating, peaceful and tranquil. I hope somebody will be drinking them in the same manner, because the melody of the notes of the flavours is reflective of music.”

For all the pretensions of the great whiskies knocking on the door of Scotland, Paterson tells a convincing tale about Scotch. It’s hard not to be swept by his romance with it.

(SEE RELATED: How Yamazaki Became The World’s Best Whisky)

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