Malcolm Waring has spent years thinking about water. Waring started with Pulteney Distillery in 1990, and after working his way up the production ladder, he became Distiller Manager, a title he’s held for 15 years. As the leader of the team behind Old Pulteney’s core and limited expressions, his responsibilities focus on production capacity and the use of aging stock.
As Scotland faces increasing drought and unpredictability of water supply, a lot of that management comes down to water.
After a recent dinner in New York City, we caught up with Waring to talk about his vision for the near future of Old Pulteney, along with a broader view of changing appetites for Scotch. That includes an innovative distillery expansion and new “closed-loop” system that could help make Pulteney one of the most water-conscious distillers operating today.
Note: This interview has been edited for readability.
Drinkhacker: What does a day in the life of Malcolm Waring look like?
Malcolm Waring: Very varied. Never the same thing all the time, to be honest. It’s all about the safety and wellbeing of everybody. Paramount. Anything else? I have my core responsibilities and the process flow. Responsibilities are from the receipt of our core ingredients, namely malt, water, yeast, that kind of thing. Then intake, storage, milling, mashing, fermentation, distillation, and then maturation as well. There are so many variables in it.
No two days are the same. You’re dealing with people and the environment, it all has its impact. So it’s always interesting!
Drinkhacker: When we last caught up in person, you mentioned a potential expansion of the distillery. Can you go into any detail there?
Malcolm Waring: Many, many years ago when the distillery was built in 1826, we used to sit on the edge of the town of Pulteney. The growth of the fishing industry took off and the town grew with it as well, it swallowed up the distillery. So physically we can’t really expand out in most ways. We’re limited to the space that we’ve got. So I’ve been looking at things, and I have plans in place that I was going to increase the capacity without moving things too much around. So basically it’s better utilizing water, adding some extra fermentors, that kind of idea. My bottleneck is my spirit still. I plan to add another spirit still and increase the capacity to the wash still.
Drinkhacker: How much do you think that would be increasing your yearly production?
Malcolm Waring: If I was going on a seven day per week schedule, I’d probably get about nearly half a million liters extra per annum, which is not a lot compared to a lot of producers. That would bring me up to about two and a half million liters.
Drinkhacker: Can you talk a little bit about the pressures of what happens when you have to discontinue an expression and how those decisions are made?
Malcolm Waring: When you discontinue it, people are always asking about it, saying, “This was my favorite, that was my favorite.” We’ve got our core at 12 years old that’s been with us from the very start. It’s going to be with us all the way through. And from that you bring on extensions, and initially it was back in 2004, it was a 17 and 21 year old. We’ve had them for a number of years. We’re not a big distillery, as I mentioned. So we really have to be cautious of the stock and the inventory that we’ve got coming through and how we can launch something and grow it.
You’re always looking at what you have, what you can do, how long you can take it for. And there were a couple of decisions where the 17 and 21 had been there for quite a number of years. We were looking in conjunction with a lot of people and different departments that we were going to bring on another range. And hence the 15 and the 18 year old expressions were developed. So we’ve got a profile of stock through the ages that we can sustain growth on that. You’ve still got the DNA of Pulteney, you’re drinking Pulteney, but you’ve got something a wee bit different as well.
Drinkhacker: What are some new or upcoming expressions that you are particularly excited about?
Malcolm Waring: We’re doing a Coastal Series at the moment. There are going to be four over the next four years. So we’ve done the first one, which is Pineau des Charentes. There’s three further to come out over the next three years, and each one is really a certain place within the world that sits beside the sea that produces very fine product. And we explore the synergy and how it matches up with Pulteney as well being coastal.
Drinkhacker: Let’s talk a little bit about sustainability efforts. How is that part of your focus?
Malcolm Waring: Traditionally since 1826, we’ve never had a problem with water. This last couple of years we’ve been having drought conditions for whatever reason. Over the last two years, I’ve lost roughly about 13 weeks of production because of that. So one of the things I’m planning to go ahead with next year is a closed loop system where the water that I’ve got, I will reuse it and cool it through either after coolers or a cooling tower and reuse that water.
So basically I have very little water usage in terms of the distillation side of things. That would mitigate any need to stop or not start production.
Drinkhacker: How do you think consumer taste has evolved over the last 20 years when it comes to Scotch?
Malcolm Waring: A lot of the process is the same wherever you go, it’s variations on a theme. And you had the traditional ways of doing things and, but now there’s more selective use of casks. We’re bringing on casks that 20 years ago you would never think of using.
The hunger for the consumer and the demand from the consumer in terms of taste and profiles. That’s been a huge, big change in 20 years. But you can only work with so much in terms of your core ingredients, your water, yeast, and malt. But when you bring in a cask, I mean, it has to be oak, but what’s been in there before? How does it match and how does it pair with your whiskey as well? It really is driven by new generations coming into it as well, and the diversity of casks available to do very, very exciting times.