25 Apr By Hand and By Heart Blog – Stillman Stories with Neil Cameron
Here at Glenturret Distillery, staff pride themselves on the fact that not a lot changes at all.
And that’s the appeal of working here, says Neil Cameron, our distillery manager and the man in charge of making sure that those malt whiskies actually happen.
“It’s hands-on, it’s not press button,” says Neil.
By hand and by heart is Glenturret’s motto, and by hand and by heart is how the staff approach their whisky making at Scotland’s oldest whisky distillery.
When he’s recruiting, Neil is interested in whether a person shares those values, and whether or not they’ll fit in with the small, tight team of stillmen. The skills can be taught, but the values can’t, he says.
You could say Neil cut his teeth on the whisky industry. He grew up in Dufftown, Speyside, home to a few famous whisky brands, and his first job as a young lad of 15 was loading cases onto lorries. He worked his way up to a warehouse operator then mashman, stillman and in 1995 became our distillery manager here in Crieff. It’s his job to make sure the right raw materials come into the distillery, that the whisky is made to our high, exacting standards, as well as to Government standards and regulations.
One of the first things Neil did when he joined us was to nose the huge wooden washbacks which hold the sweetwort while it ferments into wash. After the washbacks are cleaned and sterilised they give off a faint smell of crisp, green Granny Smith apples. Smelling the washbacks is still the first thing Neil does every morning, and he’s a firm believer that they contribute to the Glenturret taste.
“People can debate that until they’re blue in the face. There are some who say it’s just a fermenting vessel and that most flavours come from the whisky casks. But for me it does it play a part. I think they contribute something to the whisky, even if it’s a small percentage,” he says.
Neil could have swapped over to stainless steel washbacks decades ago, as other distilleries have done. But he chose to stick with what has worked here for centuries.
All those centuries later, Neil and his team are proud of their contribution to Scottish industry. “The whisky industry is a pretty sound one to be in. I like it and I like this place. My work gets me out of bed in the morning.”
His efforts were rewarded when Neil beat off stiff competition across Scotland last year to win the Distillery Manager of the Year award at the Icons of Whisky Awards.
Neil is also proud of his contribution to naming our Ruadh Moar peated whisky which features in The Famous Grouse Smoky Black. Working with the company’s master distiller, Neil based the name on the ruins of a lodge beside Loch Turret that can only be seen when the loch’s water is low in the summer.
When it comes to his own favourite malt, Neil prefers to keep his drams relatively young. So when we asked him to choose our Dram of the Month he went for The Glenturret 10-Year-Old Single Malt, with a pale lemon gold colour, a spicy citrus and mild peat aroma, and delicate orange and vanilla flavours.