Euan Henderson had the good fortune to become distillery manager last spring, just as the Speyside distillery was celebrating its 125th year of making whisky. Although he has been in the spirits industry for a couple of decades, this was his first opportunity the actually head a distillery.
Recently, we asked him some questions about the past, the present, and the future.
Congratulations on your 125th! How did you celebrate at the distillery? A big party?
Thank you! We’re very proud to be celebrating 125 years of Speyburn distillery. To mark our anniversary, we’ll be opening the doors of our distillery to the public for the very first time in our history at the Spirit of Speyside festival that runs from April 16 until May 1. To invite the public to experience our distillery after all these years is really special – our distillery has such a rich history and an amazing story to tell, and we’re so excited to share it.
You’re located in Speyside. Is there a special quality to Speyside malts versus malts from other regions of Scotland?
Absolutely – no two single malts are the same, even if they are from the same region. Speyburn’s signature flavor is light, subtle, and floral, with naturally sweet undertones. Each expression is wonderful as a neat dram or with a dash of water, but the accessible flavors also work really well as part of a longer serve [cocktail]. Other whisky regions have their own characteristics that they are known and loved for. For example, Islay is more known for its fiery, smoky drams, and the Highlands for its hints of spice and oakiness.
What are your production plans for 2023 – how many barrels and what kind of barrels?
Over our 125 years, Speyburn has curated an excellent core range that really showcases our distillery and craftsmanship – “Bradan Orach,” 10 Year Old, 15 Year Old and an 18 Year Old. Ranging in flavor and intensity, there is something to suit every preference. Our intention for 2023 is to continue to produce our flagship malts whilst welcoming more people to experience the world of Speyburn.
With your oldest barrels at the distillery, how – and how often – do you access them?
To determine when they are ready to be moved to a different location or even bottled, I’ll draw samples on a regular basis to monitor how they are maturing. Whilst we can’t disclose the age of our oldest casks, they are handled with respect and appreciation to ensure the spirit enclosed is maturing as it should.
Are there changing tastes in Scotch in what the public drinks, and how do you accommodate those changes?
With younger drinkers getting into the spirit, we’re seeing whisky-based cocktails becoming more popular. With this in mind, our team has created some delicious cocktails that are really easy to make at home, including a 125 Highball showcasing our 10 Year Old and a “Bradan Orach Cream” Soda. It’s never been easier or more delicious to enjoy single malt.
I know as part of your celebration, you created a number of 1890s-style cocktails. Which is your favorite, and what do you like about it?
My favorite is the “Jubilee Punch,” created with Speyburn 10 Year Old, Earl Gray tea, sparkling wine, bitters, raspberry, and lemon. It takes inspiration from one of the most popular pastimes of that era – an afternoon tea – and offers a real citrusy-sweet flavor. The raspberry and lemon pair beautifully with the butterscotch notes of the 10 Year Old and topped with sparkling wine, it’s the perfect celebratory serve.
Finally, a story – you’ve been in the industry for a while. Tell me how you became manager at Speyburn.
I spent my younger years living at distilleries, as my father was in the industry, and then having spent all my working career in the whisky industry; it was my dream to follow in my father’s footsteps, who was also a distillery manager.
Having visited Speyburn back in 2016, I remembered it being a distillery with real character but also with lots of potential. When the vacancy came up, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to allow me to follow my dream whilst also being able to shape and have a real influence on a distillery that isn’t yet vastly well known. My intention was and continues to be, to create something special and make Speyburn one of the best distilleries in the world.