Walking with giants: A Scotch whisky training session with Dr Bill Lumsden

In order to make our public whisky tastings and whisky tours as informative and interesting as possible, we make sure that every member of the team at the Scotch Whisky Experience is given plenty of training on all aspects of the whisky making process. This includes a day studying at our industry-recognised Scotch Whisky Training School, an important qualification which every member of the team holds. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to play host to the giants of the whisky industry – the people who shape the whisky brands that are known and loved across the globe – a privilege that many who work in the sector never get to experience.

In this blog post, Senior Visitor Assistant Ali Baxter talks us through one of 2017’s training highlights so far…

“Recently, staff at the Scotch Whisky Experience had a special whisky training session with Dr Bill Lumsden, which included a presentation about Scotch whisky production, maturation, and tasting, as well as an informative question and answer session.

Dr Bill Lumsden is the Glenmorangie Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation which means he is in charge of two very popular single malt Scotch whiskies: Highland whisky Glenmorangie and the Islay-based distillery of Ardbeg. Known as one of the whisky world’s much-admired innovators, it was fantastic to have an audience with a figure like Dr Lumsden, who’s at the forefront when it comes to creating exciting new flavour profiles through experimentation with maturation and processes in the range of whiskies he looks after.

To start the evening, Dr Lumsden took everyone through the ins and outs of the distilling process, giving new members of the team a chance to get familiar with the more complicated aspects, and ask specific questions and how whisky flavours are created in the copper pot stills. Glenmorangie is one of just a few hard water distillery sites in Scotland, the naturally high levels of calcium and magnesium making the yeast particularly active, and giving the whisky lots of light, esther-y flavours. Dr Lumsden also explained the fruity, delicate flavours created through the uniquely tall stills at Glenmorangie distillery. Standing at 26ft in height, these stills give the whisky a soft velvety texture, giving a high reflux and lots of copper contact for the alcohol vapours to remove the heavier sulphur compounds before condensing in the lyne arm. This insight into Glenmorangie sparked an immediate interest from the team, and the passion emanating from Dr Lumsden was infectious. We were then taken through a tasting of the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg ranges, including the classic Glenmorangie Original, one of Scotland’s favourite Scotch whiskies – and by the end of the tasting a lot of the staff’s new favourite! Both very different whiskies, this insight into each of these brands from the man behind their creation was a real privilege.

The staff at the Scotch Whisky Experience come from many backgrounds, most of which did not have a pre-existing knowledge of the whisky process when they first started. However, my colleague Iain, who has just graduated with a degree in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, relished the opportunity to pick the brains of one of the industry’s leading experts talking about the mineral content of the water and how “hard” or “soft” water would create different flavours and textures in the spirit. Other questions were asked about how much bearing the marketing of a whisky had on the style Dr Lumsden wanted to create (very little, it turned out), and about the exciting new developments in the pipeline as the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg ranges continue to grow.

There are constant training sessions at the SWE, revolving around blind tastings, industry background as well as chances to meet distillers and brand representatives. Even if you do not like whisky to start with, it’s enough to fall in love with the history and industry as a whole.”


Want to understand more about all aspects of Scotch whisky, or to train your team in the sales and service of Scotch whisky? Take a look at our training options for staff in the drinks or hospitality industries.

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