11 October 2012

Whisky Insiders Interview - John McCheyne

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society



How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I’ve only been working in the industry for around six years. Infact up until March of this year I was also working in the world of financial services. I’ve been a member of SMWS for a long time and I used to do private tastings and whisky dinners in my spare time. I signed up with the SMWS as an Ambassador in 2007, initially to do local member tastings, but now I work locally and further afield.
What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
I think until recently it was doing a whisky presentation and tasting at the G20 leader’s summit in Whitehall in 2009. I followed Jim Murphy who was Secretary of State for Scotland at the time onto the stage. I think my whisky slot went down better than his political speech!
But this year I was proud and delighted to be the SMWS Ambassador in Scotland House for the duration of the Olympics. There was a whole series of formal and informal tastings as ‘Scotland welcomed the World’ in advance of all the big events happening in Scotland over the next three years.
Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
It was at Hogmanay in Scotland when I was a young man. My uncle Jim always brought a bottle of Black Bottle. Others in the family would bring Bells, Teachers, Black and White etc but Black Bottle was my first and my favourite. At that time there wasn’t the array of single malts available that there is today.
What does whisky mean to you?
Whisky to me is associated with Scotland, well mainly. It represents family, friends, good times and bad times. It can mean lying on a beach on Islay at midnight with pals, looking at the stars and passing a bottle round, or memories of celebrations/commiserations and anticipation of events to come, or just the drink which brings people together in friendship and camaraderie.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years time?
I worked for a Swiss Insurer and a Lloyds Broker in England for a long time. Working with the SMWS helps me get some sense of Scottishness back! I have come to Whisky as an ‘add-on’ career. I don’t have grand ambitions, I would simply like to continue working with SMWS, maybe on a more extensive basis, all the time continuing to learn and keeping pace with changes.
What was your last dram?
I visited my parents this week to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. My dad and I said Slainthe with a SMWS 76.91 ‘Caballero in an orange grove‘. Distilled on 23/8/1989 in the heart of Speyside and drank as a cup of good cheer by 2 men in Glasgow on 19/9/2012.
Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
Lots, but recently at Scotland House Alex Reid of ‘Cambus May’ cheese in Aberdeenshire and I paired a 29.115 ‘candy floss in a fairground’ with one of his rich original recipe cheeses, and we had a ’eureka’ moment! The visitors to Scotland house loved it as well.

What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
With friends before, during or after dinner. No long drawn out swirling , sniffing or note taking. Just enjoying the flavour and laughter without any overdone analysis.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
Scotch is booming around the world as we know, and more distilleries in more countries are and will be producing whisky. I think there will be pressure on what ‘whisky’ is from some quarters, but Scotch will more than hold its own.

There’s a growing number of younger people, men and women coming to whisky, with discerning palates and a thirst for knowledge and appreciation, demanding more and seeking out unusual expressions and bottling’s.

We’ll see expressions continue to be developed for diverse distribution channels. I guess pressure on stocks and enhanced maturation techniques will mean marketing and distributing NAS whisky will continue to grow.

What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
Working with the SMWS you have to get used to doing without because of the single cask uniqueness. But because it was Laphroaig which lit up the world of single malt for me, and has been my ‘friend’ for such a long time, it would be the ‘standard’ Laphroaig 10 Year Old.

Many thanks to John McCheyne. Who will be the next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!