A short interview with Billy Walker

Billy Walker, master distiller and entrepreneur, is continuing his legacy with some new projects at GlanAllachie Distillery. Not content to just rest on his laurels after the much vaunted sale of GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh, Billy almost immediately set out to put his Midas touch on yet another distillery, earning GlenAllachie the 2019 award for Scottish Distillery of the Year. Our passionate whisky-lass, Juliette Venter, asked Billy nine short questions about his involvement in the distillery and his future plans.

“GlenAllachie ticked all the boxes”

JV: What first attracted you to the whisky industry?

BW: Scotch Whisky was kind of in my blood: I was brought up in the town of Dumbarton which was the spiritual home of both Ballantines and J&B scotch Whisky, so there was an inevitability that I would catch the Scotch Whisky bug, by joining Ballantines (which was then owned by Hiram Walker & Sons) – a fantastic company with fantastic distilleries and brands.

JV: Why did you decide to purchase GlenAllachie Distillery, you seem to stay within the highland and Speyside region is there a specific reason for this?

BW: Having completed the sale of The BenRiach group of distilleries, our minds immediately focused on the next acquisition: the ideal template for our modus operandi was to find a distillery which had not been exposed to the market, so no real history. This gives us a blank canvas to work with and to take the brand through the private / independent / Importer / distribution routes to market, which are ideal routes to build brand knowledge, presence and awareness.   GlenAllachie ticked all the boxes and was a malt with which I was very familiar in terms of style and quality. The fact that GlenAllachie was right in the heart of Speyside was an additional attraction.

JV: Congratulations on the distillery of the year award, how do you feel after this massive achievement ?

BW: Look, any team achievement is worthy of celebrating and being crowned “Distillery of the Year” is a fantastic team achievement and is a worthy recognition of the effort and commitment which they have put in over the last 2 years.

JV: What are your future plans for GlenAllachie Distillery?

BW: Our ambitions, are to continue to grow the market and consumer awareness for GlenAllachie: we will expand the core range, by introducing   GlenAllachie 21 Year Old and GlenAllachie 30 Year Old during Calendar year 2020. In addition we will re-launch White Heather Blended Scotch Whisky as a super premium 21 Year Old Blend. We also have plans to launch a range of Rums with interesting wood style twists, which is a very exciting project.

JV: Do you have any plans with distilleries outside of GlenAllachie?

BW: Our focus over the next 2 – 3 years is the pursuit of excellence for the GlenAllachie range, but this does not rule out the possibility of further acquisitions.

JV: What valuable lessons did you learn with BenRiach, Glenglassaugh and GlenDronach ?

BW: The period during which we owned BenRiach, GlenDronach and GlenGlassaugh was unbelievably exciting. It coincided with an accelerated awareness of the Single Malt Category by a growing and informed consumer audience which had a real appetite for emerging boutique distilleries. The one enduring lesson was the importance of attention to detail and that there is no short cut to quality, and yes age does matter.

JV: Do you have any plans to produce gin, as so many whisky distilleries seem to be doing?

BW: No plans to launch a gin, but we will definitely get involved with rum.

JV: What advice can you offer to any future whisky distillers/blenders?

BW: I cannot emphasize enough how important the pursuit of quality and perfection is: intense interacting with the inventory is key to understanding how the whisky is maturing and how its personality / DNA can live with various styles of casks.

JV: What are your thoughts on the new regulations concerning previous cask spirit products such as tequila and calvados, and would you be interested in experimenting with those cask types types at GlenAllachie or not ?

BW: At GlenAllachie we only use top end wood, and discard casks after a second fill. In truth we do not see any immediate attraction in using either tequila or calvados casks, but we are open-minded.

Wild about Whisky wishes Billy and his team every success.