If you’ve ever had the privilege to talk shop with Dalmore’s Master Distiller Richard Paterson, you’ve likely heard him repeat a quip by Scottish writer Compton Mackenzie that Scotch whisky makes the world “go round twice as fast.”
The quote holds truer than ever for Paterson, now 50 years into his iconic career in the whisky business. It’s as if the five decades have flown by for the third-generation whisky blender, from his first sip as a kid to his current world tour spreading the gospel of whisky and pedaling Dalmore 50.
“My great, great grandfather was Cyrano de Bergerac himself”
A luxurious, limited-edition single malt whisky, Dalmore 50 was released in September 2016 to honor Paterson’s anniversary. Aged in American white oak, Matusalem Oloroso Sherry casks from the González Byass Bodega, and Colheita Port pipes from Portugal, and finished in Henri Giraud Champagne casks, each crystal decanter containing Dalmore 50-year-old will be hand-filled to order and sold in a presentation case with a solid silver stag for £50,000 (about $64,000).
Paterson is well-known and loved in the whisky world for his unparalleled passion and unconventional wisdom. (Have you ever seen him toss whisky on the floor during a presentation?) Then there’s his £1.5 million nose, once insured to protect the value of his legendary nosing skills. His nickname, after all, is The Nose.
Old Liquors Magazine sat down one-on-one with Paterson in early April during the 2017 Universal Whisky Experience at the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore. A charming, gracious, and truly genuine chap, he discussed his illustrious career, his noteworthy nose, and the celebratory Dalmore 50.
You’ve had many accomplishments over the past five decades. Of which are you most proud?
The ones that involve the Dalmore single Highlands malt. We produced the Dalmore 62-year-old, the 64-year-old — these are very rare expressions. For instance, the 64-year-old, there’s only three bottles and they go back to 1868, 1878, 1926, 1939. These three bottles, in fact — two are in America, one is in London — they haven’t been actually opened. But they are really rare gems from our portfolio and our portfolio has many aged Dalmores. It really is to show you what can happen to a great whisky, providing you look at it.
How did Dalmore come about?
The company had purchased Dalmore Distillery way back in 1960 and when we actually started looking at the different expressions, what we wanted to do, we found that after 1960, that the 70s and the 80s, especially in the 90s, people really began to see what single malt whisky was all about.
You must never forget that malt whisky only accounts for about 10 percent of the market. The other 90 percent is still from blended whiskies.
Dalmore comes from one distillery, and one distillery only, like a Chateau Bordeaux wine. That’s what makes it unique. But what also makes it unique is making it change over that period. You can have the 12-, the 15-, the 18-year-old, but what we’re now finding, because of all these whisky festivals, in particular this one, the consumer is becoming more discerning, and what I must do is make sure we excite our consumer.
Are you concerned at all that the global rise of whisky brands has flattened the sales of Scotch whiskies?
I have to say, you know, back in the ‘80s, the ‘90s, cognacs were rising and I think we became a little bit complacent. We must be aware of the Canadian whiskies, the Irish whiskies, and the Japanese whiskies, but we must make sure that we are leaders in that field. Scotch whisky still represents around about 51 percent of the spirit market, but we must get our products right. We must get the quality right. We must get the packaging right. That’s so important. I’ve always been a great believer that if you’ve got something that’s wonderful to sell, well make sure it’s encased in the finest packaging. That will draw in the consumer and they will buy it.
Who were some of your teachers and mentors over the course of your 50-year career?
My father more than anything was the one that influenced me. And when I was 8 years old, he did take me to his warehouses in Glasgow. It would be an experience I would never forget. He took my brother and me to the heart of the Glasgow and he took a big bunch of keys out, and he unlocked these huge doors of the warehouse, and he pulled them open, and we stepped into his world for the very first time.
“I took it in my hand and I said, “I don’t know what you mean dad” and that’s when he hit me in the back of the head”
The first thing we noticed was the smell, the fumes engulfing our nostrils, and we said, “What the heck’s going on here?” We could see the silhouette of the casks in the background, but it wasn’t really of any interest to us. So we started fooling around. That annoyed my father, so much so that he … went into the cask and he poured me a large glass of whisky and he said, “Richard, ok you think it’s funny, why don’t you tell me something about the whisky?”
I took it in my hand and I said, “I don’t know what you mean dad” and that’s when he hit me in the back of the head. He said, “You’re being silly, you’re being stupid, what I want you to do is to hold the whisky in the back, hold it down at the bottom, swirl it around bring it up and say, hello, and then go back to it and say, how are you? Are you as heavy as your grandfather or are you perhaps as light as your mother? Or perhaps are you as sweet as your chocolate bar. Or are you dry as the dust on the floor?”
So from inherent beginnings, I could see it was heavy and grumpy like my grandfather, but it had a certain sweetness, and this was something that captured my imagination. It brought something into me and I thought this is something I want to be part of my life.
Your brother didn’t follow the whisky path?
No, he decided to go into the Navy and then he became a social worker. I suppose I create the drinks and he, maybe, socially looks after them.
He probably needs it as a social worker.
How did your nickname, “The Nose,” come about?
That came about quite a number of years ago because when I started blending I used to nose two-three-four-500 casks per day, and everybody used to say “here’s the nose arriving,” and for some reason, it just stuck with me.
As you can see, I’ve got quite a big nose because my great, great grandfather was Cyrano de Bergerac himself. But nevertheless, it is important. A lot of people never manipulate their nose. What you must do is swirl the whisky around, put it from one nostril to the other, and stop where you think you can actually achieve what you’re looking for … you must make full use of it, the nose … It will tell you 96 percent of what you need to know about the whisky. Only when you’re not satisfied will you put it in your mouth, hold it, and just see what the rest is going to say to you.
It’s not just nosing the whisky for me, but it’s like, if you don’t mind me saying to you, when I walk in the room, I smell everything, I smell you. I smell what’s going on here. You just become sensitive to these things. Before you open the curtains, can you see is it a dry day? Is it a wet day or what? These are things you just become conscious of, you know?
Then there’s his £1.5 million nose, once insured to protect the value of his legendary nosing skills.
Will someone without your nosing skills be able to detect a relatively light spirit such as the champagne over the sherry, port, and peat in the Dalmore 50?
When you really nose the 50-year-old, you will see all these notes, but towards the end you will just detect a little hint, a softness, a finesse, an elegance … and it’s very tender, it’s very, very beautiful, but what’s more important, it’s not woody, because if you’d been in prison for 50 years, you’d be pretty effected by the prison. Well, this is now refreshed with the port, with the sherry … the champagne. So it is really unique in that way and that’s why 50 bottles, in my mind, done. Beautiful in every way.
Did you know it would be a 50-year process?
No, no. I just knew really around the ‘80s and ‘90s that we were holding a lot of old stocks and we had to be very careful how we kept them, how we looked after them.
But having said that, it’s only in the last 15 years that the market has said we want these whiskies. We know that they’re going to become rare. We’re not going to possibly see some of them ever again. Like the Dalmore 64-year-old, that will never be seen again, and that style. They take years to put together before we finally put them in the bottle.
“Time is my master”
You must have so much patience….
Well, you need patience, and that’s actually a really good way of putting it. Time is my master. Time is what is needed to manipulate the whiskies, and that’s why I do get pretty angry when I see somebody picking up a glass and then just knocking it back.
What I want you to do with the 50-year-old or even the 35-year-old, I want you to put it … underneath your tongue, back in the middle, and you must keep it in your mouth for at least 30 seconds before you swallow it, and even when you swallow it, you must wait ‘til it comes up and then see what’s really inside, the actual soul of the single malt. It’s like opening a box of chocolates, seeing all the different centers, the different flavors. That’s how it should be seen on the tongue.
But again, we come back to time. You cannot hurry all these whiskies. Over the years, I’ve gone into the warehouse. It’s been very cold. I smell the whisky and I say, “Eh, she’s not right, she’s asleep. We need to get her a new dress, we need to leave her,” and then you think, “How long will it take? Will it take two-three years?” And then I go back and say “Nah, she’s not quite right.”
And then when I go back the next year … I suddenly say, “Oh, hello, she’s just beginning to turn,” and it’s so invigorating, so enthralling that you can see the change and that change has taken place because you’ve given her that new dress or a new suit or a new tie, what have you. It’s managed to stimulate her, and she can really show her true beauty.
“You know, it’s the same with the whisky. When everything comes together, it is quite enthralling”
Do you typically describe whisky with female qualities?
Yeah, I quite often come back to female. Normally, when I see a whisky that I love I call it a baby, and I say “This is a real beautiful baby, but she …” and then I refer to it as a woman. I just love to see, you know, somebody dressed and then suddenly really dressed and it comes away and you say “Look, isn’t she gorgeous? She’s got a new dress. That dress really suits you, darling.”
You know, it’s the same with the whisky. When everything comes together, it is quite enthralling.