Meet Richard Paterson, the man with a very expensive nose. Once insured by Lloyd’s of London for $2.6 million, he is to the world of whisky what Marco Pierre White is to the kingdom of food – a walking encyclopedia intoxicated with nothing but the truth. There is just so much to know. So read on, as we dive into the wonderful world of whisky with the master blender of The Dalmore.
What was your first sip like when you were 8?
When I was 8 years old, my father wanted more than anything for me to smellthe whisky the first time, and not just sip. He gave me the glass and said, “What do you think of it, son? Is it heavy like your grandfather, or light like your mother? Or perhaps it’s sweet as a chocolate bar, or is it dry as the dust on the floor?” I could see it was heavy and grumpy like my grandfather, yet had a certain sweetness about it. And that was reflected when I tasted the whisky. That first introduction stirred my emotions, and that’s what has been in my blood ever since.
Was there a time when you got into trouble for drinking too much whisky?
No, not really because my father always dictated to me that you must look at whisky but there must always be moderation, and that’s what I’ve always relied on to keep me in good stead. Having said that, I’ll tell you, there has been a few occasions when I’ve deeply indulged!
Is it true that your nose has been insured for $2.6 million?
At one point, yes, it was insured for that amount. It was an incredible amount, but as these premiums go up every year, it starts getting too exorbitant, so I have to say yes at one time, but not anymore.
How much pressure do you feel for owning such an expensive nose?
I don’t really feel any pressure but what I do feel is more – it’s not pressure precisely as I prayed to think that perhaps I’m unable to create whiskies, not just that I enjoyed but I put into the market and I share with the people and they are going to enjoy it and that’s really all about it.
What would you do if one day (touch wood) you lose your sense of smell?
I’d probably… jump off a cliff. The sense of smell is something that’s very important to me and it’s something you must keep and maintain all the time. When you get older, you’re trying to hold on to memory of all these things, but the thought of losing sense of smell would be absolutely disastrous.
You’re a walking “whiskipedia”. Tell me three little known facts about whisky.
Well, whisky is the water of life, uisce beatha. That’s ‘whisky’ in Gallic. Unknown to the Greeks, the Romans and countrymen, that was its early beginnings. Cistercian monks, the monestry of monks started easing this into the market. They created it, and when the disillusion of the monastery began between 1536 and 1541, they left England and they brought the art of distillation because it was the monks, more than anything, who were the repositories of knowledge, and from that, whisky bloomed.
What are the most common misconceptions about this sacred spirit?
A lot of people think that perhaps adding ice and loads of water into the whisky is what should be done, and it’s no farther from the truth. Because really, what you’re doing with ice, especially ice, is masking the flavour. It’s like great coffee – when you have great coffee, you don’t need to add sugar or milk or cream. You just take it straight. Well, it’s the same with whisky. But if you find the whisky too strong, then add a little water, not ice, which sort of anesthetises or takes the taste away.
Take your pick. Peated or unpeated?
I love them both, because I think you can actually have peated whisky at the right time and right place, unpeated when you want something that is perhaps a little more gentle. But if you’re out there with the wind and rain in your face, a peated malt is fantastic.
Blended or single malt?
Again, I love them because they both have their attributes. Single malts – like yourself – are individual as they come, and you take them at certain ages and what have you. But then a blended whisky, you know a mixture of 25 or maybe 30, different single malts and rye whiskies combined together, come together, in a loving union. Now, you can get more complexity sometimes coming from that blend of whiskies than a single malt, but I have to say, both are fantastic.
Age-statement or without?
All these age statements… Yes, age does tell you something like a 12 year old. 12 year olds are being marketed around the world for many years but some of my single malts were not mature at 12, so you’ve got to be aware of these things. You’ve got to be aware of your stocks – when stocks are perhaps low or perhaps high, you just blend it accordingly, but it can lose the statement. You can use younger whiskies with older whiskies, and get the same character as that original whisky of a particular age.
Is there such a thing as too early when it comes to drinking whisky?
Too early an age, or too early in the morning? Start with a Speyside malt and then work your way up, but remember, that’s your palette, that’s your taste, so take your time over it. Drinking first thing in the morning? Well, I don’t really recommend it, but for my job, I have to do it. I have to test the whisky and I find that when you wake up in the morning at 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock, it is the best time to assess the whiskies, when there is no other odour in the air. It is also a much quieter time for me. That’s when I really enjoy looking at whiskies.
There’s tap water, mineral water, distilled water, etc. Which is best to drop into my whisky?
A good, reliable still water is always good, but sparkling water has the opposite effect. What happens when you add sparkling water, the bubbles, the gas, splits it and gives it another dimension, whereas good, clean and reliable still water can open up the whisky, especially when it’s perhaps a high strength. Just take it with a little water and diluting to your palette is absolute perfect.
Will ice mask its complexities?
It can, but again, there are many different styles of ice. I remember in America recently, I asked for a Dalmore and this man just put immediately, lots of cubes of ice and I said, “What did you do that for?” and he says, “Well, everybody drinks whisky with ice”. I said, “Well, I’m sorry, I don’t.” I picked up a cube of ice and I smelled it and went, “How long has this been in your refrigerator?” He said, “I don’t know, maybe 2 or 3 weeks. Why? What’s the problem?” I said: “It smells of garlic, cheese and things picked up from the fridge.” So you’ve got to be very careful, but again I would have to say to you, it’s purely personal.
What makes a good whisky cocktail?
The actual mixologist, that’s what makes a really good cocktail. It’s the mixing of how he’s going to create it, be it a Manhattan or Rusty Nail. The way he does it, the way he selects his ingredients and combines them all together, that’s his signature and that’s the key component.
Is it a sin to make one out of a single malt?
No, not at all. But what I would rather see happen is that the barman or the mixologist say “this is a single malt and we’ve created a cocktail”. Then when you finish the cocktail, you might say “actually, that was a great cocktail. Why?”
“Because of the single malt was used, why don’t you try that now on its own?” If that encourages people to drink whisky from a cocktail, no problem!
When you’re not drinking whisky, what’s the first tipple that comes to mind?
I love red wine and I also love champagne. All these beautiful wines that are out there are really perfect, especially with a great dinner, but I always finish off with coffee or a single malt.
Will we ever come to a shortage of good whisky?
No, never. You’ll always have great whisky. There may be some that are okay, not up to the standard that you might well expect, but there will never be poor or bad whiskies. They’ll always be good.
Your favourite Dalmore and why.
Oh, that’s a very difficult one. I suppose one of my favourites has to be The Dalmore King Alexander, the only single malt in the world with 6 different finishes. This is Dalmore in 1992, taking port, madeira, marsala, cabernet sauvignon, a small batch of bourbon and matusalem sherry mixed together. It’s like opening a box of chocolates, the flavours just go on and on. And at 40% alcohol, it just goes over like liquid gold.