An Interview With Frank McHardy,
Ex Master Distiller for Springbank Distillery
Recently I was able to sit down for lunch with Frank McHardy, Springbanks ex head master distiller. It was an exciting experience to say the very least, meeting one of the legends of the whisky world, and over lunch Frank was kind enough to agree to an interview with myself. Here is that interview.
SquidgyAsh: Let's start with a little information about you, You've been in the whisky industry for over 45 years, getting your start in 1965? at Invergordon, correct?
Frank McHardy: Good Morning Squidgyash. First of all you should appreciate that I retired from full time employment at Springbank Distillery on July 31 st this year . I continue to do " special " tours on the distillery's behalf and will also do the Springbank Whisky School during May / July 2014 . I also have my own company , Craigowan Distillers Ltd , and have set myself up as a " Consultant " within the world of Whisky/ Whiskey .I can advise on all matters regarding the production of the product and the design of new distilleries . I also carry out tastings on demand . I started work at Invergordon Distillery in March 1963 and was fortunate to be involved with Invergordon , Tamnavulin, Bruichladdich , Bushmills and of course Springbank .
SquidgyAsh: What were some of your highlights or greatest moments in your career?
Frank McHardy: I would say that the highlight of my career was to oversee the reopening of Glengyle Distillery in Campbeltown . I was responsible for the sourcing of all the equipment and the design of the layout of Glengyle Distillery . From the purchase of the building to the distillery producing Spirit took from 2000 - 2004 . Glengyle Distillery produces Kilkerran Whisky and the first of the distillation from 2004 will of course be 10 years old in early 2014 . Good excuse for a celebration.
SquidgyAsh: What made you get into the whisky industry?
Frank McHardy: I initially got into the Whisky industry because I need employment . One I moved to Tamnavulinn Distillery in 1966 I quickly realised that this was the career for me .
SquidgyAsh: At our lunch you were talking to me about the different methods in which Springbank distillery produces their whiskies, with the Hazelburn being a triple distilled non peated whisky, Springbank a 2.5x distilled partially peated whisky and Longrow being a double distilled heavily peated whisky. You're explaination on how the Springbank was distilled was extremely enlightening, would you be so kind as to explain it once more, this time for my readers?
Frank McHardy: Springbank is often described as being 2.5 distillation spirit and the way it works is as follows . We have three stills , one wash still and two Low wines / Spirit stills . The wash still produces Low Wines and they are stored in the Low wines receiver . Low wines are distilled in Low wines still no 1 and the total of this distillation is collected as feints in the Feints receiver . When enough Low wines and Feints are produced a mixture containing 80 % of Feints and 20 % Low wines are pumped to Low wines still No 2 . The middle cut of this distillation , average strength 71 % alcohol is retained as Spirit , The heads and the tails are returned to the Feints receiver . The process is known as 2.5 distillation .
SquidgyAsh: Springbank is a distillery that does things a little differently from everyone else in Scotland, controlling the entire process from malting the barley to bottling the whiskies, I've heard that the family that owns the distillery feels it's their obligation to help provide jobs in Campbeltown. Can you confirm or deny this for me?
Frank McHardy: Part of the reason that we carry out all of the processes from malting through to bottling is that we can control everthing in house . We also feel a responsibility to the people of Campbeltown and do take pride in providing employment in the area .
SquidgyAsh: With Springbank whiskies I've heard that almost all of the whisky is actually bottled as single malts as opposed to going into blended whiskies, is this correct? And if so why does Springbank bottle so much whisky as a single malt, unlike the majority of the other Scottish distilleries where the majority of their stock goes into blended whisky?
Frank McHardy: Pretty well 98 % of the single malt that is produced at Springbank Distillery is bottled as such . If you think about it there are so many blends out there with many being produced quite cheaply which we could never compete with. Springbank prefer to market their single malt as such and have a big following due to the fact that we carry out all processes on site .
SquidgyAsh: The whisky industry has changed radically in the last 40 or so years, moving from an industry where high quality sherry casks were plentiful, stills were fired with coal, and age statements were king, what do you see changing over the next few decades as more and more of the industry becomes driven by American bourbon casks, indirect firing of the stills and the rise of NAS whiskies. Do you think these changes will be for the better, the worse, or just different?
Frank McHardy: I think that we will continue to see the rise in popularity of Single Malt and especially that produced at some of the smaller and independent distillery companies . Casks , of course are all important , and I firmly believe that 60 % of the flavour in a single malt will come from the cask . There are still plenty of good Bourbon casks available and , while sherry is not such a popular drink , there are good casks being laid down in Spain and put through the Solera system especially for use in Whisky maturation .
SquidgyAsh: Most of the whisky affaciados that I know love Longrow the most of the Springbank line up, but I've heard that only 100 casks of Longrow are distilled each year, do you see an increase in that output in the future or no? If not is there any specific reason why the output of Longrow is so low?
Frank McHardy: All Springbank , Longrow and Hazelburn production each year is geared to satisfy future case sales and will continue to do so.
SquidgyAsh: Right now in Scotland and all over the world in fact, whisky is booming more then ever, however the last big whisky boom was in the 1960's to mid 1970's before the big whisky bust which saw the closure of many beloved distilleries such as Port Ellen, Brora, Banff, and St Magdalene, do you see a similar whisky bust in the future?
Frank McHardy: All distilleries produce to satisfy perceived case sales in future years otherwise you would have either shortages or " lakes " of products in future years. I think that companies have learned their lessons as far as the " boom and bust " years and as I previously said tailor production to a fixed plan
SquidgyAsh: Do you have any particular favorites in the Springbank line up? Either a specific bottling or even a specific line?
Frank McHardy: I have had quite a few favourite Springbank bottlings over the years but I think that the current 18 year old is quite stunning . So malty , sweet , full bodied and rich that it a stand out to me .
SquidgyAsh: Springbank has been playing with lots of delicious different wood finishes such as Longrow Gaja Barolo, Springbank Calvados, etc, are there any new upcoming releases that my readers and myself, should keep an eye out for? Any words of advice for anyone of my readers looking to get into the whisky world, either as a drinker, collector, or someone in the industry?
Frank McHardy: The best thing to do as far as looking out for new releases is concerned is to keep an eye on Springbank web site which will give details . Finally I stress again that I am retired and Gavin McLachlan is the new Distillery Manager .
SquidgyAsh: Thank you very much for your time Frank, it's greatly appreciated and I look forward to catching up with you when my wife and I head back to Scotland in 2015!