The first time I met Richard Paterson was in 2011, when he did a presentation and tasting for The Dalmore in Petaling Jaya. What struck me most about that session was how much of a showman he is.
Paterson is not only an excellent and engaging public speaker, he also gave an utterly memorable presentation. It involved getting the audience to taste an aged whisky he kept in a vial in his pocket (he said it was 50 years old), teaching them to nose a whisky by “jamming your nose right in there”, and tossing his entire drink onto the floor to make a point about wasting whisky, much to the dismay of the outlet’s owners!
“I still do that today! I might not be very popular because of all the carpets I’ve ruined, but the message is still clear. Whisky is a luxury product, an icon – don’t abuse it!” The Dalmore’s master blender said at a late-2017 interview in Kuala Lumpur.
One of the most celebrated and well-respected icons in the Scotch whisky industry, Paterson celebrated his 50th year anniversary of his career on Sept 5, 2016. So when I got to speak to Paterson once more, I took the opportunity to ask him about his five decades working in whisky.
Paterson started his career as a 17-year-old at A. Gilles & Company Whisky Blender & Brokers in Glasgow in 1966.
“My father (Gus Paterson, who ran whisky broker WR Paterson & Co.) got me the job as an office junior. It was a small company, but I learnt about whisky, from blending to bottling to export,” he recalled. “Then I joined Glen Scotia (a Campbelltown distillery), and by the time I left four and a half years later, I had a good sound knowledge of every aspect of whisky making.”
He joined Whyte & Mackay after that, and five years later in 1975, a 26-year-old Paterson was promoted to master blender.
To celebrate his 50 years in whisky, The Dalmore recently launched the ultra-limited The Dalmore 50, which was finished for 50 days in an Henri Giraud Champagne cask, and bottled in a hand-finished decanter.
“The whisky was put in American white oak ex-bourbon casks for 37 years, then transferred into Matusalem oloroso sherry casks for about nine years, Colheita port pipes from Portugal, back to bourbon casks, and then finally, rare champagne casks from Domaine Henri Giraud for 50 days,” explained Paterson.
Only 50 bottles of the Dalmore 50 were produced, one of which was made available in Malaysia by local distributors Luen Heng F&B Sdn Bhd.
Rise of the single malt
According to Paterson, in the early years his life was centred utterly around blended whiskies, but that soon began to change.
“At that time, blended whiskies were still doing really well. “Back then, people who wanted to go for an extra dimension would buy a 12-year-old blended whisky! It was only during special occasions that they would move on to single malt,” he recalled. “The 60s were the beginning of the single malt renaissance, but it was really Glenfiddich who started it in 1963. They plowed the fields and opened the doors.
“Then as we came into the 80s, things began to change with more and more innovations, and we became part of a conglomerate. I’ve been taken over 11 times by 19 different bosses! We had a lot of different owners doing different things, and from there, we really began to rebuild some of the icons we had.”
Other developments that really changed the industry include the increasing use of casks other than sherry for maturing whiskies, advancements in packaging, storage, shipping methods, and of course, the Internet.
“Now with the Internet, that’s been so helpful to expose single malt in another way. When I want information it’s there right in front of me!” he said. “It’s easier to get information about whiskies, so we can’t just put any buzzword on the label – everything has to be 100% truth.”
Another thing he has noticed is that worldwide, consumers are getting more and more knowledgeable.
“Even in Malaysia, consumers are getting more discerning. If we showed up for a festival with just a 12-Year-Old Dalmore or a 10-Year-Old Jura, we’d get killed!” he said with a laugh.
“But I do believe that more people need to look at whisky in a more discerning way. There are many good drinkers out there, but you need to hold it longer on your palate instead of just knocking it back. You need to savour it, and we need to educate everyone, especially the bartenders, so they can share the right information with consumers.”
Arguably one of the pinnacles of his career was creating The Dalmore Paterson Collection, a compendium of 12 Dalmore single malts which was finally sold for £1mil (RM5.47mil) late last year after four years on the market. Others include The Dalmore King Alexander III, the first single malt whisky in the world with a six cask finish, and recreating a whisky that was buried in Antarctic ice for 100 years (which led to the creation of the Shackleton whisky, a new blended malt created in memory of Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton – the original whisky had come from his ship).
He also released a Dalmore 62-Year-Old and the 64-Year-Old Dalmore Trinitas, both of which previously held the title of the most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold.
According to him, The Dalmore has got a lot more aged whiskies than many of the distilleries in production today, including 45-, 50- and 60-year-olds. “We’ve still got the core 12YO, 15YO and 18YO, but we’ve also been putting out some really rare whiskies lately, which is raising the profile of our single malts,” he said.
Of all the accolades he has earned, one in particular stands out, not because it is a prestigious award (which it is), but because it made him remember his father.
“My dad died in 1994 And just about three weeks after his death, I won the Spirit Of Scotland award. Although it’s an exceptional feeling, I was kind of sad that my dad wasn’t alive to see it, because he was the man that showed me what whisky was all about,” he recalled.
“I’d have said to him, ‘Thanks dad, I didn’t appreciate it much when you were alive’. That award in 1994 was the most poignant for me, because it reminded me about my dad and what he did for me.”