23 August 2021

111th Whisky Insiders Interview - Graham Coull



Company:
Dingle Distillery

Job:
Master Distiller

Website:




How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
My whisky career started at the Glenfiddich Distillery on the 29th of August 1994, which just so happened to be my 26th birthday. Prior to that I spent three years at Webster’s Brewery in Halifax as a graduate trainee gaining experience in brewing, bottling and human resources of all things. Needless to say, I worked out very quickly that human resources was not the career path for me. I enjoyed Halifax but it must be one of the wettest places on this earth. Even Dingle can’t match it for incessant drizzle!
 
At Glenfiddich, I spent a few years in bottling and then became the Distillation Manager for Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. It was a great place to learn and soak up the experience of my fellow work colleagues. In August 2005 I followed in the footsteps of Ed Dodson to become only the fifth Distillery Manager in the history of Glen Moray Distillery.
 
During my time at Glen Moray, I expanded the range of whiskies from three to well into double figures. I also introduced the ‘Bottle Your Own’ feature which became very popular and a great way to showcase Glen Moray at a cask strength level. I was also fortunate to oversee the expansion of the Distillery from a capacity of 2.0mla to 6.0mla.
 
October 2019 saw me add an ‘E’ to my CV when I moved across the Irish sea to the Dingle Distillery in County Kerry. I am very much looking forward to the future with Dingle, but it is also satisfying to be able to see some of my previous work being released and enjoyed by many.
 
What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Now that is a hard question! There are many things that I look back with pride on, so I will take the liberty to name a few if that's ok.
 
My time at Glenfiddich coincided with the last industry-wide slump in production. Volumes were slashed with many distilleries being closed or mothballed to allow the maturing whisky loch to drop in level. The Glenfiddich site was no exception. Glenfiddich itself was operating at less than 20% capacity and Kininvie was closed for several months. Only Balvenie was operating at full capacity. I had a full team of Process Operators to keep busy and rather than let some of them go I became creative in cross training everyone so that the workload could be shared. Some of the operators who had been Stillmen for many years suddenly found themselves working the Floor Maltings at Balvenie. Due to the physical nature of the job the weight fell of them and the Maltings was the renamed ‘The Balvenie Gym’!
 
Hopefully the distilleries I have worked at will be around much longer than I will, but it was a great honour to steer Glen Moray through its 120th Anniversary. To mark the occasion, I was given the honour of creating a whisky to celebrate. As a result, ‘Mastery’ was born. My aim was to create a whisky which raised a glass to the previous Distillery Managers and to do this I composed a whisky with five different components from four different decades. It was a pleasure to work closely with Ed Dodson during the celebrations that year. During my time at Glen Moray Ed was only too willing to help and give advice.  
 
Moving the clock forward to Dingle Distillery, I would have to say the highlight so far has been to create the first ‘permanent’ release of Single malt from the Distillery. Until now the releases have been in limited edition batches, so this is a big step forward. I am delighted at how well the Dingle Single Malt has been received and it is a tribute to the hard work of the Dingle team that the Distillery has reached where it is now in such a short space of time.
 
Finally, I must mention highlight of being awarded the Speyside Whisky Festival Ambassador of the Year award in 2017. The award was presented to recognise my achievements in raising the profile of Speyside and its whiskies to a worldwide audience. I have to say though that I could not have done it without the help of the team at Glen Moray.
 
Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
Now that’s a test of the memory! I remember sharing a whisky with my Dad and brother aged 18. This would have been during the mid-1980’s and I think it was a Famous Grouse blend. To be honest I was more of a beer drinker back then and enjoyed drinking 80 Shilling whilst at University in Edinburgh. It was really when I started at Glenfiddich that my love for whisky began to grow. A favourite of mine back then would have been the now discontinued Balvenie Founders 10 Year Old.
 
What does whisky mean to you?
Whisky (and now whiskey!) is much more than a career to me, it has become my life. When you are managing distilleries that are operating 24/7 you are never off duty. You can receive a call any time of day or night to deal with issues that arise. There are so many positives though to working in the whisky industry, it has given me the chance to meet so many people who are genuinely interested in what I do. It has also provided opportunities to travel across the world to spread the whisky word. It would be very difficult to do this without the support of family and I must take this chance to tank my wife Fay for supporting me and ‘volunteering’ to help at numerous events over the years.
 
Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
I’m not getting any younger and I am reaching ‘veteran’ status within the whisky industry! My aim when we moved to Ireland was to steer Dingle Distillery into its next chapter and this will likely take 5 to 10 years. So to answer the question I will be making whiskey rather than whisky in 5 years’ time!
 
What was your last dram?
My last dram was a Connemara 12 Year Old, which is one of the few peated Irish whiskies available at present. The Irish peated category will undoubtably grow and if you can wait a few years you will see a peated whiskey release from Dingle Distillery.
 
Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
I tend not to eat when I am drinking whiskey, but if I do it would be with a nice cheeseboard. I find the taste and texture of different cheeses provides the ideal contrast to the sweet spiciness of the whisky.
 
What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
I am quite traditional and usually enjoy a dram in the evening once the red wine is finished! If I am in the pub, I will often have a half pint of beer alongside my whiskey to refresh the palate between sips. I know I am probably showing my age by doing this!
 
What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
Irish Whiskey must be the next big thing! The growth has been phenomenal in recent years and it won’t be long before the new distilleries are competing for retail space and positioning in bars. This will undoubtedly result in Irish whiskey becoming far more prominent and pose a real challenge to other whisky categories. Competition is healthy though and will ensure that high standards are maintained. Single Pot Still whiskey will also play a big part in the Irish Whiskey renaissance.
 
What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
Over the years I have been very fortunate to taste some great whiskies not only from the bottle but also from the cask. The great thing about whisky is that every cask is unique and when itis gone it is gone. What you are left with is the memories of when, where and who you drank it with. As a Master Distiller my role is all about looking forward to the next whiskey so I should probably say that the whisky I can’t live without is the one which has not been released yet! Looking back though I do have a soft spot for Scapa 16 Year Old, because it brings back special memories of family and friends.
 
Many thanks to Graham Coull. Who will be our next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!