11 December 2020

106th Whisky Insiders Interview - David Robertson

Holyrood Distillery



How long have you been working in the whisky industry? 
You could say I have been involved all my life. Born July 1st 1968, when my father was Assistant Manager at Royal Brackla Distillery, I grew up around Aberfeldy (1970 – 1983) and Glendullan (1983 – 1990) distilleries, before going to university to study Brewing & Distilling. Graduating with a 2:1 Hons BSc in 1990, I joined Guinness (now Diageo) in 1990 as a Management Trainee in the malt distilling division based Elgin.

I was lucky In August 1994, to become the youngest Distillery Manager in Scotland joining The Macallan and went on to become its Master Distiller in 1996, and was responsible for the creation of some of the most iconic and I think delicious whiskies ever released during the late 1990s; 1979 – 1982 Gran Reserva releases, Blue Box 30 Year Old, 1946, 1948, Millennium Decanter, which then culminated in the creation and launch of The Macallan’s ‘Fine & Rare’ vintage range in 2002. 

In August 2006 I joined Whyte and Mackay as Innovation Director and led the renaissance and premiumisation of The Dalmore Highland single malt, releasing a range of rare and aged bottlings; Sirius, Eos, Selene, Candela and the worlds first £100,000 bottles – Trinitas. It helped put The Dalmore on the rare whisky map, a position I think it continues to enjoy today.

I then set up my own whisky consultancy in 2012, providing expertise and advice to the wider scotch industry and in 2014 joined forces with Andy Simpson to create the leading analyst, consultancy and brokerage agency Rare Whisky 101. 

Partnering with Rickesh Kishnani in 2014, we developed and launched the worlds first private equity whisky fund, raising and deploying $12M, with the fund is now in exit mode. RW101 provided stock acquisition services and are involved at exit stage.

I then co-founded the Holyrood Distillery in Edinburgh with Rob Carpenter, raising £5.5M and leading the design and build project and operations. This exciting venture has successfully resurrected malt whisky distilling in Scotland’s capital for the first time since 1925. 

Lastly, as part of Glenor team that acquired a bottler business with 850 casks of maturing single malt and single grain whisky, I now provide organoleptic quality assessment, quality enhancement advice and strategies to seek to add and enhance the value of these precious casks and the whisky inside. 

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
I have a few standout moments. Becoming Macallan Distillery Manager and Master Distiller, selecting and launching Macallan Fine & Rare, setting up Rare Whisky 101 and then resurrecting Edinburgh single malt whisky distilling with Holyrood Distillery.

Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
I was told my dad rubbed Brackla new make on my gums when I was teething. My first real memory of whisky was tasting a 1923 distilled Glendullan with my dad from a “lost” cask in the warehouse around 1985. It was rich, intense, fruity and woody!

What does whisky mean to you?
Everything! It has been my life so far. So many great people, products, places it is seen in. I have seen some ups and downs, mainly ups thank goodness as the demand for single malt scotch continues to spread around the world. I also met the love of my life, Susan, whilst working with at United Distillers in the early 1990s, and my kids were born whilst we lived on site at The Macallan.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
Launching Holyrood’s amazing flavour focused single malts – inspired by craft brewing speciality malt insight, to shake the whisky world on how good youngish whisky can really be. Great new spirit, derived from speciality malt in brilliant wood!

What was your last dram?
An old Glenkinchie 10 Year Old bottled in the 1990s. Fruitytastic!  And before that some 33 Year Old Invergordon single grain, delicious stuff!

Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
Yes, Macallan Gran Reserva 1979 and Chocolate Souffle. An amazing and decadent experience. We tried this when we launched this whisky in the USA in 1997/8 and it blew everyone away.

What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
Murrayfield with a hip flask, after Scotland score a try to win a big match (against you know who) in the last 10 mins of a titanic battle. And yes, I would share this with the fans around me – from both sides!

What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon? 
Speciality malt driving a whole set of amazing flavours. Probably a bit like in days gone why distilleries had their own maltings and may have inadvertently cooked, toasted and roasted their malt a bit longer than they had maybe planned when the Kiln man fell asleep…

What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
Andy and I “hired” a distillery almost 5 years ago for 2 weeks and made a ton of cool stuff. The whiskies are amazingly rich and intense after such a short time, driven by our novel malted barley recipe selection. We have tried and tested it with many pals and colleagues and are told it reminds many people of the old style Macallan 18 year olds. Proof, if yet more proof was needed of a young whiskies ability to surprise and delight if done right.

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