Q&A WITH BILLY WALKER
Updated: May 16, 2022
Billy Walker needs no introduction. He is one of the most recognisable faces in the industry and one of the most respected Master Blenders within the Scotch whisky world. During his career, Billy has been responsible for the creation of a plethora of award-winning whiskies, and has been the unstoppable driving force behind the acquisition and resurrection of several single malt whisky distilleries. His style of whisky at GlenAllachie brings back the enjoyment of a whisky falling back into the category of being 'proper drinking whisky'.
Billy took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us...
How much do you think the style of whisky has changed in the last 50 years?
Billy: Actually, quite a lot, driven by a much more informed and inquisitive consumer. The challenging shape of the world economy is attracting more and more interest in Scotch Whisky, with Single Malt leading the charge. Access to social media has allowed consumers to share views in real-time, shape opinions, and form their preference for quality and styles accordingly.
Has GlenAllachie under your control taken a new route or is it following a traditional path?
Billy: One of the attractions of GlenAllachie in terms of the acquisition, is that it had rarely been exposed to the consumer, and essentially presented itself as a “blank canvas”. This has allowed us to create our own vision for The GlenAllachie Single Malt. The key changes which we introduced immediately upon acquisition were:
Reducing annual production from 2.4 million litres of alcohol to 500K litres of alcohol
Longer Fermentation, moving to 160 hours
A much more hands-on maturation policy
An intense sampling regime to bibliograph how the casks are developing combined with an intent to deliver the quality vision and aspirations we have for GlenAllachie.
What pushes you to change, re-invent, and not stay still in what you and GlenAllachie does?
Billy: The restless pursuit of quality perfection is our primary motivator and pushes us to look at the influence of various oak casks; essentially, we are overlaying a sherry cask influence on the GlenAllachie DNA, with some notable exceptions.
What is one positive you've got out of the pandemic over the last 12 months for GlenAllachie and the whisky industry?
Billy: I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a positive, but interestingly the pandemic appears to have significantly influenced consumer behaviour and purchase patterns across the world. There has been a clear trend to shop locally and to trade up to higher-value releases. Of course, this can change, but it appears to have encouraged consumers (who have been lucky not to be financially compromised by the pandemic) to be bold and perhaps move out of their comfort zone, brand-wise.
What trends do you see occurring in the whisky world - do you see any new emerging patterns? (tastes, popularity, collecting, drinking more at home, etc)
Billy: Unquestionably, today’s digital media has allowed consumers to share real-time encounters with brands, with new taste experiences (out with comfort zones) being encouraged. In addition, the continued strengthening of financially strong markets such as Taiwan, South Korea, China, Singapore, Russia, and growing prosperity across Eastern Europe will influence the direction of travel. In recent years there has been a growing tendency for a small percentage of consumers to collect whisky, particularly limited releases and the very nature of whisky quite often means a bottling cannot be anything other than limited. At GlenAllachie we very much believe whisky should be for drinking, enjoying with friends and family, and that is an ethos in which we very much hope our consumers will join us. The current climate and impact of Covid19 has bolstered the take-home trade and this may continue, but the easing or removal of restrictions will likely re-set the previous social behaviour.
What is your favourite part of the process of running your own distillery and creating your own whisky? (such as selecting the wood/tasting the new make/selecting what gets bottled/the machinery/the people etc.)
Billy: The ownership of the distillery provides a freedom to create the team’s vision for the GlenAllachie, and indeed impacts on all the areas you mention; the new distillate, wood selection, what we bottle, and when we bottle it. We have complete freedom to absolutely prioritise our quality aspirations.
What's exciting about the industry right now?
Billy: The industry is in good shape, with the leading companies and brands being in very safe hands, and a lot of energy being created by the smaller players, driven in no small measure by a growing, informed consumer.
Who are your inspirations and whisky heroes?
Billy: The industry has been blessed with some talented and interesting characters, historically. People like Jack Goudie, Jimmy Lang, Peter Cullen, Turnbull Hutton, Charlie Mullen, Alf Bayvel, all have been inspiring players in this industry.
Favourite non-GlenAllachie whisky?
Billy: GlenDronach 15YO and Ballantines 30YO
What's your favourite type of whisky glass to use when drinking to relax?
Billy: My preferred glass is a small crystal wide-necked glass.
Favourite go-to drink at the end of the week? Whisky, beer, wine, other?
Billy: My favourite “go-to drink” would be the GlenAllachie 15YO, followed by some decent Saint Emilion.
What whisky release are you most proud of throughout your career?
Billy: The team did some great work at GlenDronach, but right now the GlenAllachie’s 10YO Cask Strength, 12YO, and 15YO are expressions I am particularly proud of. It was truly wonderful to see our 10YO Cask Strengthrecognised as “World’s Best Single Malt” at the 2021 World Whiskies Awards, in which a judging panel tasted blind so only the whisky in the glass counted – this award is testament to our journey so far.
Can you share any upcoming and exciting news with us?
Billy: We recently launched White Heather 21YO, our very first Blended Scotch Whisky. I’m a blender at heart and we'll continue to explore options here. Likewise, the MacNair’s range has the potential to grow, and we certainly have some interesting casks maturing just now, including rum which we’ve given a bit of a twist. And of course, we’ve had the pleasure of being custodians of GlenAllachie for almost four years now, and we've been very busy! Perhaps in the next 18 months or so it may be time to lift the curtain…
What will be your first destination for a holiday when lockdown is lifted?
Billy: Probably Cape Town.
Favourite pastime outside of whisky?
Billy: Catching up on football, spending time with friends and, of course, my family.
Thanks to Billy for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions.