Today’s whisky landscape is becoming increasingly crowded, moving from trend to trend at a very fast pace that it sometimes feel hard to keep up (yes, even for someone who spend 198477 hours a day checking whisky-related news…)! Looking at the current list of independent bottlers alone, there’s probably huge chances you’ve never heard about half of them, but you know what, that’s ok! You may still have already come accross this enthusiastic ambassador (boasting probably the most well-combed hair in the industry), hitting the road in his tartan suit introducing the world to his range of colorful bottles.
Today we’re then sitting with Dean Jode, Murray McDavid’s ambassador, who kindly agreed to answer my 7 questions!
First of all, could you tell me a bit more about yourself: where do you come from, career background etc. and how did you end up working for Murray McDavid?
Sure! I’m from the beautiful regency town, Cheltenham. In all honesty, Scotch was not a career focus of mine until I reached my early 20’s, I was determined to be a documentary photographer. I studied Advertising & Editorial photography at university, it is was and still is such a huge part of my life, I used to spend my summer’s photographing music festivals around the UK. During my time at uni, I needed to fund my… studies, I got a part time bar job and started working with people passionate about hospitality. When people are passionate about what they do, it could be anyone working in a bar or it could be a plumber, its infectious seeing people work with pride and enthusiasm, and is something that has stuck with me in everything I do. It must have been about 6 months into the roll when our bar manager took us to Oxford for a whisky tasting hosted by Whyte & Mackay, I must have been 23 and this would have been my first ever whisky tasting! The tasting was focused around the Dalmore range, I was completely transfixed, I remember the history being as deep and rich as some of the drams on the table. Being a complete novice and trying the King Alexander III for the first time, I was sold! Following our Oxford adventure, I was fascinated with the production of Scotch whisky and I soon came to understand the diversities, and I loved exploring the history… I had caught the bug as they say.
In 2011, I started hosting drinks enthusiasts at Cheltenham’s adored whisky bar, John Gordons. I spent 4 years there developing an impressive collection of whiskies, both old and new, I think we had about 300 different malts from around the World, we also celebrated gin, rum and tequila… It’s a must visit if ever you’re in that neck of the woods!
Now, here’s where a slight stroke of luck comes into play… I had a call from a fellow bar manager telling me that I “MUST” come along to a private whisky tasting at one of Cheltenham’s finer establishments (an hour before the event started)! Not knowing too much information, I hesitantly got myself together and arrived to the tasting with a smile on my face but not really knowing what to expect… I still didn’t know who was hosting. Copita glasses were on the table, along with discreetly labelled bottle of golden liquids, it was all very mysterious indeed but the tasting started and to my delight it was hosted by a company called Aceo Ltd*. Oddly enough, it wasn’t Scotch on the table, there was a mighty fine line up of Irish single malts from the 80’s, outstanding and unexpected! With the tasting going well, conversation flowed and I soon came to learn Aceo owned a dormant whisky brand… my ears perked up! I stayed in contact with the Aceo team over the months that followed with the view to help with the development of Murray McDavid and I have now been with them for 2 years!
*Aceo are one of the biggest Scotch whisky brokers within the industry, supplying most independent bottlers, and had recently purchased Murray McDavid following the sale of Bruichladdich to Remy.
What’s your personal relationship with whisky: first sipped, noticeable milestones in your malted journey, any favourite expression/production country/distillery/flavour profile?
My relationship and attitudes have changed quite radically over the past few years, when working with John Gordons, I used to collect. I had over 120 bottles of some now very rare bottles, not just Scotch, I had some Karuizawa and Mackmyra (I’m a massive Mackmyra fanboy). 2 years ago I sold my bottles of Karuizawa to fund my dream camera, I now realise I could have saved them for another 2 years and bought my dream house (I exaggerate, just)! Today, I get a buzz out of exploring flavour and trying to further my understanding of maturation techniques so most of my bottles are open these days.
The first ever bottle of whisky I owned was a blended malt called Muckle Flugga, a beautiful balanced malty tipple, very approachable, it has a charming story to match. This was the first quality blend I had tried, and as a bar host at the time, I used this dram to break the negative associations carried alongside blends. Today, I’m lucky enough to be able to re-introduce and inform whisky enthusiasts using our range of beautifully crafted blends at Murray McDavid.
As mentioned, I am a huge fan of Mackmyra, I remember first reading about their groundbreaking and beautifully designed distillery and there maturation techniques… putting casks in mines… bonkers… I love it! Having looser regulations allows for more creativity in production and I think the wood management at Mackmyra is sublime, it certainly inspires me!
Ooooh… One of my personal milestones in my malted journey would be when I did a solo pilgrimage to Islay. I had a backpack, a tent and a few ferry tickets, I was away for two weeks, I did the tours, I hiked over and around Arran, I nearly fell off a cliff and I woke up next to a bull! Dram filled memories, simply impossible to forget!
Could you please quickly introduce the approach behind Murray McDavid: how you select the casks you bottle etc.
So, as I am sure you are aware, Murray McDavid are a Scotch whisky bottler and as we do not distill, we have to master the art of maturation, we practice and develop our skills in the traditional dunnage warehouses at Coleburn Distillery, in Elgin. As of 2014, we cater for the whole family of Scotch ranging from our rare and prestigious single malts in the Mission Gold series to the Select Grains and through to our carefully Crafted Blends.
Our wood policy is outstanding and is at the heart of Murray McDavid. We look to use first fill casks from around the world, sourced from top quality producers of fine drinks. I am really excited to start talking to people about the varieties of casks we have been using from producers such as Koval Distillery and many highly acclaimed vineyards across France.
The cask selection process is something I take great pride in being involved with, we draw cask samples that are earmarked for release and they’re inspected separately by Allan Findlay (Senior Whisky Creations), Steve McConnachie (Whisky Creations) and myself. If we feel it’s not to the standard we wish to keep then it will go back into the ‘Art of Maturation’ programme. With the samples that have made the strict selection, we host Tweet Tastings, I try and organise these every 4 months. The Tweet Tasting phenomena is crazy, all sorts of eccentrics in the whisky blogging community take part (you know who I’m talking about), but it has been a lot of fun and it’s really important for us to include and engage with people.
If you had to choose ONE product from the range, which one would it be and why?
THIS IS MEAN! We have 25 in our current release!! In all honestly, this is a really easy choice for me… I would commit to our pretty little Peatside, it’s a 6yo blended malt, bottled from 6 different casks – two 1st fill Port Pipes and four 1st fill PX casks. Those beautifully rich barrels really nurture that young spirit by imparting berry flavours, a slight pepper note along with malty smoke, and soften the harsh edges you would expect from a 6yo spirit. The youth of the spirit still allows that boisterous Speyside peat to shine through, yummy stuff! I get a lot of enjoyment showcasing the Peatside, mainly to see peoples disbelief when they see the age statement, it’s also one of our most affordable products, quite amazing craftsmanship behind this charismatic dram.
Not a month passes without a new independent bottler enters the market, how do you think Murray McDavid is standing out within this highly-competitive environment? Do you see this more as a threat or an opportunity?
I love the diversity and the growth of independent bottlers, it’s a whisky geek paradise, we are in very exciting times! The curiosity of whisky lovers and their enthusiasm to find new and exotic flavours, not just from Scotch, has never been greater. At Murray McDavid we’re creating very exciting things for the future, in our dunnage warehouses at Coleburn Distillery there are one of the most diverse collections of Scotch whisky under one roof, I think we counted 89 different distillery makes back in November. As our ‘Art of Maturation’ Programme grows and by sourcing casks from specialist producers from around the world, we’re adding more flavour profiles and new experiences for whisky enthusiasts from around the World to enjoy. A fine example of this would be our 36yo Bunnahabhain, there is nothing like it in style, it’s spent a considerable amount of time in an Austrian dessert wine cask from the celebrated producer, Willi Opitz. I love watching people try this for the first time!
In short, having our own dunnage warehousing is unusual for an independent bottler and vitally important for Murray McDavid when monitoring the quality and progression of each and every cask. Constantly trying to source unusual wood we can also play a monumental role in the success of Murray McDavid, as it’s these casks that really help us excel in the art of maturation.
We also like to play host, whether it’s in Speyside or on the ‘Murray McDavid’, our 60ft whisky boat in the heart of Glasgow. We spend a lot of time around the UK and further afield hosting a variety of events, if you haven’t been to one… YOU MUST! We have put together some truly unmissable events for the Spirit of Speyside this year!
Whisky demographics are slowly changing. One of the current trends is the shift towards younger consumers (those so-called “millennials”): how is Murray McDavid adapting to this new crowd? What do you think will be the next “big thing” in the whisky industry in terms of drinking trend?
Have you seen our packaging?? 2016 was the first time Murray McDavid presented the new range of products in the striking, colourful packaging. I really enjoyed gauging the reactions at the whisky festivals and had great conversations with all kinds of people about their first thoughts of our brand and how they understand Murray McDavid’s place in this very traditional drinks category. Naturally, there were those who enjoy the more traditional styles of branding, these styles have been on bottles of scotch for hundreds of years, so why change now…Right?
Murray McDavid has been around for little over 20 years now, we are a new producer in the grand scheme of things, and we do not have those much loved stories of illicit distilling back in the yonder years or any of the other marketing delights. We simply practice what we preach, we mature whiskies to the best of our abilities at Coleburn and present our range in 6 categories, carrying their own identifiable carriage colour. Yes, it is bright but Murray McDavid has never really done conventional… Clachan a choin
Hmmm predicting trends is not my strong point, 2 years ago I said that gin was going to die down, and look… it’s still being enjoyed and produced at incredible rates!
I am hoping to see more transparency and more detail offered to the consumer when investing in a bottle to enjoy. In the development of Murray McDavid, and for our imminent release, we’re celebrating the journey each spirit has taken by talking about the cask origins and offering a detailed history of the whiskies developments. We put a considerable effort into sourcing 1st fill casks, from all over the world, that will create new experiences for whisky drinkers, I’m really looking forward to show people our results. I can’t stop talking to people about our variety of casks from Koval Distillery, they’re an entirely different creature to those from Four Roses et al, due to the different origins… But I feel this is a conversation for another time!!
I also think Irish Whiskey has a few exciting years ahead! I love what the team at Teeling are already doing and I am really excited to see what the future holds with Mark Reynier and Waterford Distillery.
I really want to see single cask rums being celebrated in a bigger way! Once you start exploring the production methods and appreciating the varieties, it’s such a wonderful thing!
How do you see the future for Murray McDavid? How do you picture the company in 5/10 years time? Any crazy dream you’d like to achieve?
The future of Murray McDavid is very exciting. We have an astonishing diversity of cask whisky, currently sitting in our ‘Art of Maturation’ programme at Coleburn to be bottled over the next few years. As Murray McDavid grows, and we develop the already high standards, we’re building a great team of experienced people who are passionate about producing the great Scottish drink and enjoy sharing the experiences with fellow whisky lovers.
Quite a number of bottlers make the move into the world of distilling, which must be incredibly exciting, Murray McDavid’s focus is to continue developing the art of maturation, allowing us to consistently produce whiskies that offer new flavours and experiences. I feel very lucky to be an ambassador for Murray McDavid. Being involved in the production side of the industry, from cask selections & strategies to designing for the brand, is vital to my growth as an ambassador and to MMD, I love the hands on experiences when working with whisky; that’s where the magic happens!
A dream I have…. It’s a holiday.