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Meet the Master Distiller: Richard Paterson, Dalmore Distillery

We visited Dalmore Distillery during their celebrations in honour of the MacKenzie clan and were lucky enough to get the chance to speak to the Nose himself, Richard Paterson

Published: August 25, 2015
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Every so often you get the pleasure of interviewing a person that you consider to be an idol in your chosen industry and there are few people who come closer to being whisky royalty than Richard Paterson.

For those of you who don't the name or haven't come across any of his interviews - or his Youtube videos - then you are about to witness six minutes of pure whisky related pleasure:

It’s a great privilege to watch the man in action, not just when he’s holding court in front of a room of a hundred or so people but also when he’s alone with you, discussing a subject that he still maintains all the zeal and passion of a street preacher for, ever since it was introduced to him by his father at the age of eight.

Lauded for his tasting skills, he has rightly earned his nome de marque 'The Nose', and even has his prize asset insured by Lloyd’s of London for £1.5 million.

We were lucky enough to catch him for a chat just before he took his place as conductor for the recent dinner held by the distillery in honour of the MacKenzie clan:

So Richard, what have you been up to?

Right now, I've been very busy as always. I’m only home for a very short time as on Wednesday, I go back to Taiwan and over to China for another ten days. So it’s quite hectic at the moment but it’s also quite an exciting time as our owners are being very generous in terms of their support of our wood policy, which in my mind is key to the whole thing.

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The investment is important because we have a lot of expressions coming out, involving the use of casks, and particularly with regards to our sherry seasoning programme which itself involves thousands and thousands of casks.

Have you been strengthening your ties with the sherry and the port industry?

We have always had very close ties with the sherry industry. We have a good partnership with González byass, who have been our sherry shepherds for well over 100 years.

The MacKenzies (the family have played a huge part in Dalmore's history), visited Jerez de la Frontera and actually went the bodegas - which are still there – and even when I went over recently they still have a cask with the MacKenzie name on it.

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Really, it is the sherry, the Mathusalem, 30 years old, the Apostoles, and the Amoroso that are all key to Dalmore's unique flavour. The King Alexander is a perfect example, it showcases just how much we care about wood, it's the only single malt in the world with six different finishes.

This weekend alone I have sampled some really fabulous finishes that we are working on, that will be released next year, and that is actually the best part of my job, to see that development of Dalmore. When you introduce a style of wine, or a style of Sherry or Madeira or Marsala, and it really gives it that finesse and elegance you hope for and it’s exceeded your expectations, that is true job satisfaction.

Cask management has really come to the fore in the industry just now, not only with Sherry, Bourbon and Port casks but also with different types of wine casks and even different styles of rum, have you been experimenting with more unusual casks?

There is not one type of wood we haven’t been experimenting with, whether it be Port, Madeira, Marsala, Sparkling Wines, White Rosés, Fino Sherries, really everything. I have to say to you, though, that although you experiment, not all of them are successful and that’s why you really have to know what’s out there.

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A lot of People might be into rum right now but Port is my baby; in particular vintage old Ports that are 30 or 40 years old, they give me these plum notes that go well with the marmalade style of the Dalmore.

It's like a woman choosing her attire, you know she has to pick something that suits her personality, well I have to do the same for our whisky and pick something that enhances the quality of Dalmore but it’s a lot of trial, a lot of error and you know even when it has worked sometimes it doesn’t work to the right degree and that's where I have to use my expertise to experiment further.

Richard with the Caberfae of the MacKenzie clan . Picture: SM

Richard with the Caberfae of the MacKenzie clan . Picture: SM

With some of the other brands like Fettercairn or Jura, do you feel that different types of wood suit those whiskies?

Yes, absolutely, that’s a good question because they are all different, I tell you right now sherry does not suit Jura until it’s at least 16 to 20 years old, although at 16, I do use 10 per cent there, it is not until at least 20 to 25 or even 30 years old that at last you get from Jura a "hello, I’m ready to take on some sherry".

For Jura we use American white oak, which gives us these lovely notes that are beautiful - toffee apple, a little bit of cinnamon spice and they are very delicate, where as at Dalmore the flavours are big fat and bulbous.

Each of our whiskies have their own style and voice.

You know that’s what you notice when you come here to the distillery - this is not like Speyside, this is not like Islay. Look where we are, we are on the Cromarty Firth, we’ve got the Ben Wyvis in the background. Look at the shape of the stills, you know they are big, they are fat and then we have the Matusalem, so you know that something must be different here and that’s what we’ve got that really sets us apart.

With all the changes in the industry of late - such as the explosion of demand - how has that affected yourself and your daily operations? Are you finding it hard to get casks?

Well, we are actually very lucky as we have invested over the last two years and that has meant that we have sealed up the contracts and relationships we need, and even though that’s cost us a lot of money, it is definitely worth it because we must have that.

Although we are expanding like the others, you have to stop and say “Guys, if you don’t have the wood from the start and especially, the right wood, you are not going to do anything”.

We really are taking the bull by the horns and making a huge investment in our cask programme now, when it matters. Seven warehouses are being built as we speak but that’s important too because that's what we have to have.

We are operating you know, ten, fifteen years ahead to give us the style of whisky that we are looking for.

With the success of Scotland's whisky visitor centres and movements such as the Scotch Charter pushing for the industry to unify behind tourism, not only in Scotland but also in promoting Scotch whisky globally. Is this something you support?

We would warmly embrace the idea of a unified front, at the present moment we have 1.3 to 1.5 million people coming to the distilleries across the country and you know although we operate separately, all of us are ambassadors for Scotland and the UK, we all support tourism and we must also be there to supply the best visitor centres to cater for people who visit us and we must cater for these visitors in a professional way.

How do you maintain your passion for the industry after all these years? 

Every day when I get up there’s a new challenge, the excitement of hosting things like tonight’s event (the MacKenzie dinner) which is not just going to be a room full of whisky people but a room full of people who are coming here to celebrate their ancestors and these people are from all walks of life.

So, I’ll not just be focusing on whisky, I'll also be showing the passion of their clan, the MacKenzies who blazed a trail for us. It's the various events like this, which are always keeping me on my toes and giving me so many unique experiences to enjoy.

If you had a message for someone who is starting off in the industry, perhaps even a younger you, what would it be?

When you start off in this industry, you start off in a huge industry, you know it’s just mind boggling to think that we export to over 210 different countries and that there’s over 20 million casks maturing across Scotland just now.

That’s something you have to be aware of, you have to understand the scale of the thing and where you fit in it. You have to have that passion, that commitment, you have to have knowledge, never stop learning.

And when things get bad just persevere and carry on, make mistakes and learn from them . Try to keep that dedication, commitment and passion going.


Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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