19 June 2020

104th Whisky Insiders Interview - Leonard Russell

Ian Macleod Distillers

Managing Director


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I’ve been in the whisky industry since 1985. First at Scottish & Newcastle in NPD working on Castaway wine cooler, then at Saccone & Speed and IDV as Research manager, New Brand Development. I joined IMD, now the home of brands including Glengoyne and Tamdhu, in 1989.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
My biggest highlight has to be doing deals to revive the Rosebank distillery. It was beginning to crumble after being closed and neglected since 1993. It’s going to cost a lot to reinstate, but as my father says, if you’re going to do something then do it properly.

Rebuilding works have had to be suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic, but we’re looking forward to resuming the rebuild whenever we can.I am extremely excited and honoured to be able to undertake this project to revive the “King of the Lowlands”. Luckily we have a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable team who I trust implicitly to do the best possible job.

Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
My first dram was Maxwell blend, created by my father in the ‘60’s. I tried it again recently: it’s an old style characterful blend.

What does whisky mean to you?
Whisky is my life! It’s a miraculous industry which creates an outstanding, complex and delicious product just using water, barley, yeast, wood and time. I’m 3rd generation and custodian of the business for future generations. I love the whisky industry and know very many of the characters within it. In general, we are a friendly and helpful industry to each other. I have the best job in the world!

Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
I’m very excited about where we will be in five years’ time, because Rosebank distillery will have been renovated and should be merrily distilling away!

There is still a long way to go before we manage to revive Rosebank as we need to rebuild major parts of the distillery (which is already underway) plus we also need to use the original plans of the distillery to replace the distillation equipment on a like-for-like basis i.e. using wooden washbacks, triple distillation and worm tub condensers. It is in fact excruciatingly exciting for me. Plus, the new Edinburgh gin distillery should be built and operating out of the Arches on Market Street next to Waverley Station.

The future looks even more exciting than the past. Tourism is a large and growing sector of the Scottish economy and we are planning to be at the forefront of it, by engaging with our customers in an interesting and engaging way.

What was your last dram?
It was a Glengoyne 25 Year Old, on a Facebook live tasting hosted by Distilleries Manager Robbie Hughes and Brand Ambassador Gordon Dundas. It’s natural colour, 48% ABV, unchillfiltered and 100% matured in olorosso sherry casks. Fabulous depth and lots of interesting smells and flavours especially Christmas cake!

Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
It would have to be oysters prepared with a few drops of Glengoyne 18 Year Old, by Tom Lewis of Monnachle Mhor. Outrageously fab!

What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
I enjoy a dram most with friends, colleagues and customers who enjoy whisky. As a rule, I try to only employ people and work with customers who I would enjoy having lunch with. It means I end up working with great people who’s company I enjoy which in turn means great lunches/dinners! It’s maybe a slightly selfish strategy but it seems to work! The time and place is immaterial.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
I think a few distilleries may change hands over the next year. I’m not saying which ones as it’s just theoretical in my mind. Misleading “sherry edition” “sherry influenced” style claims will hopefully be fixed. Japanese whisky may create more regulation over the transparency of their labelling.

What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
I could live without any specific whisky. There’s a vast array of fabulous whiskies out there to try!

Many thanks to Leonard Russell. Who will be our next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!