Whisky lovers travel from all over the world to visit the nine locations on the Malt Whisky Trail but what they might not have experienced yet is the incredible people behind the trail that keep the wheels turning. We want to give you the ‘behind the scenes glance’ at The Malt Whisky Trail.
For our first interview we managed to walk down memory lane with Keith Cruickshank, Benromach’s Distillery Manager of 21 years.
Why should people visit a Speyside distillery?
Speyside is at the heart of Scotch whisky with over half of Scotland’s whisky production located in the region. The beauty of a traditional Speyside distillery is the balance of smoky and fruity flavours in the whisky that is unique to this region. Benromach has an exciting role to play in Speyside, attracting over 15,000 visitors a year from across the globe. Last month, our Brand Home Manager, Susan Colville, won the coveted title of Visitor Attraction Manager of the Year at the prestigious Global Whisky Icons Awards.
What has been one of your fondest memories from working in the distillery?
An incredible milestone was the first spirit cut after the distillery was purchased, refurbished and reopened by the Urquhart family in 1998. The cut was witnessed by members of the Urquhart family as well as Brian Grime, the excise man who had observed the last filling at Benromach in 1983 before the distillery closed its doors. He didn’t expect to witness another filling here, so being able to share that moment together was particularly special for us all.
Benromach Distillery holds a lot of personal memories for me. One stands out which involved two elderly gentlemen who arrived to take a tour about 16 years ago. During the war, they had been billeted here and hadn’t been back since peace was declared. We explored the distillery together and they remarked that the malt barns had barely changed. When we entered the barns, it was as if they had stepped back in time. They remembered using the bottom floor as a dance hall; one of them had met his wife there and was celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with her that year.
How long have you worked at the distillery?
I’ve been working at Benromach Distillery for 21 years, so you could say that I have officially come of age here. I’ll always remember my first visit; my wife was eight months pregnant with our son and the distillery was being completely refurbished after the Urquhart family bought the mothballed buildings. There was something about the atmosphere that energised me when I first set foot inside.
What makes Benromach special?
Benromach is one of only a few distilleries in Scotland to use traditional methods to handcraft its whiskies, without any automated machinery. Our small team of distillers employ all their senses, managing the process by sight, sound and touch to create the unique, handcrafted and authentic Benromach taste. We even joke that we have developed a sixth sense for the liquid. In reopening the distillery, the Urquhart family wanted to create a single malt whisky with a classic Speyside character: beautifully balanced with a light touch of smoke.
Why do you like working in the whisky industry?
Our team here at Benromach is particularly close-knit and each new expression that is released feels like a new addition to our family. We pride ourselves on taking the time to nurture a handcrafted product and we each play a part in the production of every bottle that is filled. Sitting here enjoying a dram of Benromach 15 Years Old, I can say ‘we made that.’ It’s very rewarding.
We at The Malt Whisky Trail want to thank Keith for sharing these wonderful stories with us and giving us an insight in to life ‘behind the trail’.