Putting the wow in whisky

Master distiller Richard Paterson relies on innovation to stay ahead of the competition and draw increasingly discerning drinkers

The Dalmore's master distiller Richard Paterson may have been in the industry for 50 years, but the Scotsman is not just counting on heritage to carry the distillery into the future.

The 68-year-old is well aware of competition in the whisky industry, especially with new entries in the market from Taiwan, India and Canada, among others.

He notes that "there's always something different and these new producers will have other stories to tell".

"It's dog eat dog out there. You cannot be complacent," he says, acknowledging that new producers are on the rise. "A lot of these new boutique distilleries are very young and aggressive and they want to make their mark."

He learnt whisky-making from his grandfather, who founded a blending, bottling and brokerage company in 1933. His father, who took over the firm in the 1950s, taught him how to nose whisky when he was just eight years old.

He was in Singapore recently as part of the sixth edition of DFS Masters of Wine and Spirits. The event on March 25 showcased more than 60 cognacs, wines and whiskies from more than 50 legendary distilleries and houses.

Mr Richard Paterson. PHOTO: DFS

It's dog eat dog out there... A lot of these new boutique distilleries are very young and aggressive and they want to make their mark.

MR RICHARD PATERSON on the whisky industry

At the event, Mr Paterson unveiled The Dalmore 50 Year Old Scotch Whisky. The 50-year-old single malt spends time in American white oak, Matusalem oloroso sherry casks and Colheita port pipes before it is finished in Domaine Henri Giraud Champagne casks for 50 days and bottled.

Only 50 Baccarat crystal decanters of the rare whisky will be released worldwide.

When asked if there is too much emphasis on extravagant and expensive packaging these days, he disagrees immediately. "If I go to such great lengths to put my whiskies down and mature them for many years, I really want to make sure they have the wow factor," he says.

It extends to attracting customers in travel retail too. "A lot of consumers passing through airports have only a certain amount of time. They have to be drawn in as well."

The brand is keeping ahead of the competition by constantly innovating and introducing expressions that surprise and delight.

"People now are becoming more demanding and discerning - that's why we have to be more innovative," he says.

The Dalmore King Alexander III, for instance, is the only single malt in the world with six finishes - port, madeira, marsala, small-batch bourbon, Cabernet Sauvignon and Matusalem sherry. The Dalmore Quintessence, on the other hand, combines whisky matured in bourbon casks and finished in five types of Californian red-wine casks, namely Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir.

Both are No Age Statement whiskies, which he is not averse to. He says such expressions let distilleries manipulate old and new stocks "and bring a better consistency".

Ultimately, he and his fellow master blenders from the Scotch industry are committed to quality. "There's no way any of my fellow blenders will put anything into the market that has not attained the highest quality. That's sacrosanct."

At the same time, The Dalmore is not neglecting its bread-and-butter expressions such as the Dalmore 12 Year Old.

"There's no point catering to just the high end. We must cater to those who want to get into whisky for the first time and they must be introduced in a way in which they'll stay with it," he says.

DFS global whisky festival kicks off here

Travel retail giant DFS is launching a global whisky festival across its stores in June, kicking it off in Singapore first next month.

The Whiskey Festival will be a store-wide campaign anchored by single-malt whiskies, says Ms Brooke Supernaw, senior vice-president of spirits, wine, tobacco, food and gifts at DFS.

She was speaking to The Sunday Times at the DFS Masters of Wines and Spirits event last weekend.

"It will be a full immersion, bringing in brand ambassadors, malt masters, new exclusive products and tastings," she says.

DFS Group, which has 17 airport and 18 T Galleria locations across 14 countries, has been in Singapore for more than 30 years.

She says: "Singapore is a major destination, a hub with 60 million travellers. It's a great venue and audience for us to develop."

She was responsible for the Changi First programme, where duty-free products such as whisky, cognac and other spirits are launched globally out of Changi airport. "This creates a bit of disruption and something unique, since customers are often coming through the airport and they want something different from what they can purchase in the domestic market," she says.

The programme has been around since 2006. This year, DFS will launch more than 80 Changi Firsts.

The fact that wine chateaux, champagne maisons and distilleries are willing to launch products at the airport is a testament to DFS' relationship with them.

"My team spends quite a bit of time in the market - whether it's Scotland, Cognac, Bordeaux, Napa Valley - meeting directly with the brands," she says.

DFS also opened spirits duplexes in Changi Airport's Terminal 3 in 2015 and Terminal 2 last year. The two-level stores house a retail space for wines, spirits and tobacco, as well as tasting bars and experiential areas for selected brands. "Ultimately, we want to bring that brand's story to life and create that sense of urgency to purchase it," she says.

Anjali Raguraman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Putting the wow in whisky'. Print Edition | Subscribe