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INTERVIEW WITH GLENGOYNE MALT MASTER, JOHN GLASS

Posted on 08 Oct 2019 by Glengoyne Distillery

From discovering his first drop of Scotch at University to nosing tens of thousand of whisky casks, Glengoyne's Malt Master John Glass tells us how his role has evolved over the years.

What made you decide to get into the whisky industry, and how has your role changed over the years?

I had never drunk whisky until I was at university, but being gifted a bottle of Jameson’s opened my eyes to whiskey and later, Laphroaig to Scotch.  It was when listening to Richard Paterson at an event that introduced me to the wider world of whisky and prompted me to work at a whisky bar just so I could try lots more!  In terms of Glengoyne, my role has evolved over the years, covering more of the core portfolio and planning stock for its future.

In your role, how would you describe a typical week?

There is no such thing!  A particular joy of being in a small family-owned company is that there is always something exciting on the horizon; I never dreamed I would be working with Rosebank, for example. Weekly activities could include blend trials, nosing and quality control checks both of new products and bottlings occurring that week. I am also in the warehouses quite a lot as I like to take samples directly from casks because seeing and opening the cask myself adds to the knowledge and experience of the whisky.  Having said all that, there will be days of spreadsheets, speaking to customers and attending various meetings. 

What procedures do you go through when analysing whisky?

Firstly, it is with the nose and eyes at 20% abv, and occasionally I’ll taste select vattings at 20% abv, which is another useful tool.  We also regularly check the colour and strength using inhouse instruments, along with haze and pH.  If required, further analysis can be done at the lab, but this is rarely used for day to day operations.  

On average, how many whisky casks will you nose in a day, and how many have you during your career to date? 

Every day is different, some days may only be a few, other days 80 plus.  I can’t say how many casks I have nosed to date, but it would comfortably be in the range of tens of thousands. 

 At what point will you taste the whisky?

Tasting is very selective, alcohol will affect the palate, flavours will linger and hasten fatigue; however, tasting can be beneficial to me so I will taste samples at 20% abv to look at vattings of casks that seem good to the nose. However, I would point out this is the last safety check in case there are some trace elements detectable only on the palate that could cause issues for the finished product – peat smoke, for example. Tasting of the final vatting before bottling is also essential.  

Being a Malt Master must bring many challenges, especially when it comes to producing only the finest single malt whiskies. At what point do you decide when a cask has reached this level of quality. How do you maintain that consistency?

We need to analyse our stocks regularly to see what is maturing well, what has come to its peak, and what needs more time. This will ensure the balance and depth of flavour, which is vital to a cask reaching its peak. For instance, we will know if a cask needs more time if the youthful elements of the new make may still be present, notes of sharpness and lack of integrated flavours. Or, if it has matured for too long, the wood will dominate the spirit and perhaps becomes a little too tannic.  We have an extensive database of notes on our casks and how they are maturing, and we work hard with forecasts to ensure we use casks in an even and planned manner to create the styles that we want for the Glengoyne range.

Of the Glengoyne limited editions and distillery exclusives released over the years, what has been your best creation to date?

It’s a difficult one to say, there have been some great single casks, exciting finishes and fantastic additions to the core range while I have been working with Glengoyne. However, I would say every batch of Teapot Dram is always a lot of fun to work with - we look at so many sherry casks to find the right ones. I am also really pleased with the Legacy Series: Chapter One that we released earlier this year, though I have been working for the past few months on next year's Legacy Series: Chapter Two and I think it might be better yet…

The “Angel’s Share” is a term affectionately used in the industry when referencing how much alcohol is lost to evaporation when the whisky matures in porous oak casks. In an average year, how much of Glengoyne’s whisky is lost to the "angels?” 

We find the industry average is a rate of 5% in the first year and 2% per year after that.  From each year’s distillation, you could say over 50,000 bottles of Glengoyne are lost every year!

It’s a cold dark winter’s night. What Glengoyne would you pour yourself?

I am a sucker for the Glengoyne spirit, I love the distillery character - the soft fruitiness mixed with underlying sherry richness, so I would probably most often pour myself the warming 10 Year Old. It was the first vatting I ever worked on, and still brings a smile to my face.