EWA Alumni: Hugh Barron
Independent bottlers have long formed a key part of the whisky industry, bringing many and varied single malt and blended expressions to the fore. We spoke with Hugh Barron, a former Diploma in Single Malt Whisky candidate, from James Eadie to find out more.
How did you first discover whisky?
Whisky had always been a part of my life, but as with any great story it’s been based on a few key chapters. Firstly, I remember my Scottish grandfather would enjoy a Famous Grouse with water every day at 5pm on the dot. As youngsters, my siblings and I used to raid his drinks cabinet whenever we’d visit and see what else he kept in there. Later on, around age 11, I went on a family holiday to Ireland where we visited the Jameson Distillery. As we took the tour, my brother was allowed to taste the whiskey but I was too young and I remember being furious. I was still really taken by the whole experience, especially the workings of the distillery. At university, I worked in the Whisky Shop in Oxford. Before starting with them one Christmas, they gave me a DVD on the ins and outs of whisky. That’s what really piqued my interest.
What attracted you to the EWA and our Diploma courses?
When I decided I wanted to work in the whisky industry I spoke at length with my father about it. He was really supportive and suggested that gaining a formal qualification was the best approach. When we researched what was on offer the Edinburgh Whisky Academy stood out due to its depth and substance; the Diploma in Single Malt Whisky clearly covered all aspects of whisky and the wider industry. It was presented clearly and professionally on the website and had good provenance with family history behind it. Being taught by an industry professional gave it a degree of credibility that other courses didn’t have, and the SQA certification was the deal maker for me.
Which aspects did you find most fascinating about the Diploma?
The history! I’m a big history fan so the history of whisky and the stories within was great fun to learn about. I’ve learned most of the important dates and use them as part of my whisky tastings. For example, I can now cross reference the history of James Eadie with the history of the industry and see how the company grew and changed alongside major events. In my role at James Eadie, the business of whisky element was also very useful for sales and marketing efforts. This module helps you see whisky as more than just a bottle on a shelf – the tax element, for example, was a huge eyeopener. You don’t necessarily think about these aspects as a drinker but it is essential knowledge for those in industry. The tour to Glenkinchie Distillery was my first visit to a Scotch whisky distillery. This interactive learning helped all the theory fall into place prior to the assessment.
Tell us more about James Eadie and your role there?
James Eadie is an independent bottler of single malts and blended whisky. I look after the UK market, with a focus on the Dutch and German markets too. We’re active across eight export markets but the main focus is the UK where I generate sales, brand development and host tastings. I love my job, it’s great fun.
How do you see the role of independent bottlers changing in the content of the wider industry in the years ahead?
The growth in independents is encouraging. Independent bottlers are great avenues for showcasing whiskies – or certain expressions – that people might not have heard of before or would otherwise not get access to. It’s important to highlight lesser known distilleries through the ‘indy’ market, while it’s also a great place for whisky geeks who like to stray from the beaten track. Independents can also be a little more innovative with their products, in maturation and ‘finishing’ for example, without too much risk. This can be a good testing ground for distillers and consumers alike to try something new and see if there’s a taste for it. This could be a trend going forward. Similarly, independent bottlings can help brands grow. Take Ardbeg in the 1990s, for example. They didn’t have a huge fan base for their own bottlings – people discovered it through niche and innovative independent bottlings. Just look how far that particular brand has come since then. Indy’s will continue to be a front runner for industry innovation going forward.
Whisky wisdom: quick fire questions
First whisky you ever tasted?
Famous Grouse from my Grandad.
Best whisky you’ve ever tasted?
From James Eadie, it’s Trade Mark X. As a whisky drinker, Talisker 10 first made me realise how good whisky could be.
Who is your ‘whisky hero’?
Ronnie Cox of Berry Bros. & Rudd for helping me out at the start of my career.
Who would you most like to conduct a whisky tasting for, dead or alive?
Michael Jackson (the famous whisky writer) or Dr Jim Swan for what they’ve done for the industry.
Favourite distillery to visit? I would like to visit Clynelish and Brora (and maybe ask for a few casks…)
Ultimate bottling for your collection? Something from the 1960s to taste what the old way of distilling was like. Something from Springbank maybe?
Favourite non-whisky drink?
I like ales, but it has to be red wine.
Favourite way to mix whisky? Trade Mark X with ginger ale, I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth.
Favourite whisky and food pairing? I’m not a huge believer in whisky and food, but I hear seafood and Islay whiskies can be a great combination. Scallops and a Caol Ila it is, then.