Whisky Saga profile #3 - Adam Hannett
On April 13, 2019, I was in Gothenburg to attend their Guinness World Record attempt for the world’s largest whisky tasting (more on this in a few days). On site to lead the tasting was Adam Hannett, Head Distiller at Bruichladdich.
Adam took over as Head Distiller when Jim McEwan left the position as Master Distiller in 2016. I was fortunate enough to get half an hour with Adam after the record attempt, and this interview is the result of our little chat.
First off I have to mention that I've been to Islay a few times, and I have naturally visited the Bruichladdich Distillery. The first time I was there, back in 2011, I briefly met Adam in the warehouse. It was just a quick hello, as our tour guide, Kate (Adam's sister) rushed us on to a flight of waiting drams.
I started off the interview with five general questions just to get to know Adam a little better. Here's what he said:
What do you read?
I used to read every night, actually, but my wife doesn't really read a lot so I have more or less stopped myself. When I do find time I like to read books by Scottish novelist Christopher Brookmyre. Other than that it is technical whisky related stuff, the BBC news website, and of course bedtime stories for the kids.
What do you watch?
I like to watch movies, and I prefer documentaries and mysteries.
What do you listen to?
Everything will do really. I grew up listening a lot to the radio. If I have to pick a favourite I would say indie music, Radiohead in particular. I also find that as I get older I listen more and more to Scottish music.
What do you eat?
Again everything goes. I am quite fond of Thai and Chinese food, and of course fresh local sea food.
What do you drink?
Oh, that's easy; the Botanist gin, and the Port Charlotte 10 YO. If you twist my arm I'll admit to being fond of Lagavulin.
How did you get started in the whisky business?
"Started working at Bruichladdich in 2004, mainly manning the shop and being a tour guide at first. Since then I've had every possible job at the distillery, including working the warehouse, mashing, distilling, bottling, you name it. It has always been about learning from the best for me, working alongside Jim McEwan and Duncan McGillivray.
At first, when the distillery had just re-opened there was a lot of uncertainty and no long term plans, the focus was on survival. Nowadays it is more about what you want to do, how we can grow and improve over time."
What is your fondest work related memory?
"One moment I remember very well was back when Jim was still there. I always had morning meetings with Jim and Duncan. I had just been to assistant manager, and had the key to the distillery. One morning I arrived early. There was no one else there, only me - and the distillery. A special feeling came over me, it just felt natural. Then when Jim and Duncan came in, Jim asked me "So did you have that feeling where you feel like the distillery was yours?". A very good memory.
Then of course I also have to mention the feeling today with 2283 people at this World Record Tasting. It is close to the entire population of Islay. I felt like a rock for half an hour."
Care to share an embarrassing work related memory?
"Well, I do try to erase them from memory. I do remember when I was doing my first ever tasting with Jim. It was in New York, of all places. I had really never done a tasting before, and we had this gig for all our US distributors. Rémy Cointreau had just bought the distillery. Jim was on stage and the whole atmosphere was electric. One of the guys there was winding me, probably as he saw I was a bit nervous. He told me the sales guys from the Midwest had guns in their pockets and took no bullshit. When I got on stage to present my one dram I felt to the core that I had to be dedicated to do this. I can't wing it, I have to feel it and be passionate about it."
What can you tell us about current development at Bruichladdich?
"We have out own maltings in the works. It should be up and running in a couple of years. As you know we focus a lot of local Islay barley and Scottish barley in general. This year we are up to about 50 % Islay barley in our total production. We are working with 19 local farmers. Out new maltings will be scaled to deal with all our Islay barley and a bit more. We also cooperate with single farms on Orkney and mainland Scotland.
Experimenting with Islay peat is also a fairly new thing. We are actively working on where to extract peat on Islay. Once we start out own maltings you see more use of Islay peat from us. That will be something new, as we today use peat from Caithness and Aberdeenshire.
Rye is another new area of development. We produced some rye in 2017, nothing in 2018 but will have another go this year. The mashbill we are using is 55 % rye and 45 % barley. There is no talk of actual rye products yet, but wait and see.
In total we now have somewhere around 15-17 different spirit types in production."
Anything special at the Feis Ile 2019?
"Feis Isle this year for us will be Octomore Day. So look out for something special!"
Thanks to Adam and the Bruichladdich team. See you soon on Islay, I hope!