A drink with… Scott Watson, The Lost Distillery Company
Co-founder of The Lost Distillery Company (TLDC), Scott Watson, details the art of bottling Scotch whisky flavour profiles that have long-been extinct.
What are the origins of The Lost Distillery Company?
I have been in the drinks industry for most of my life and always worked in whisky, starting at United Distillers. I have travelled around the world promoting the Scotch industry, and as a local guy from Kilmarnock in Ayrshire I always wanted to run my own business. I have always been intrigued by the thought of whisky heritage being lost – almost half of Scotland’s distilleries have been shut down, and many destroyed or forgotten. I thought that was a great pity and I wanted to remember this heritage and do it from my part of the world in Ayrshire. Now my business partner, Brian Woods, and I have a company that exports to almost 40 markets.
TLDC bottles whisky that reflects flavour profiles of Scotland’s long-closed distilleries. How do you select which liquid to bottle?
We look at how to bring to life these closed distilleries. It’s got to be an honest job that we do, so we are not saying these whiskies are copies or clones of those from closed distilleries, because whisky-making has changed a lot over the last couple of centuries. What we are saying is, if these distilleries were alive today we believe this is the style of whisky they would be producing. To get to that position we have a team of archivists who research each distillery. They focus on the terroir and the mechanics of the stills used, the type of wood, the water profile, soil, and all the factors that give whisky its character. Then we define a flavour wheel for what we think the whisky’s profile would have been, and we blend aged single malts to mirror the aroma and taste we have identified.
Do you have bottling plants and maturation warehouses?
At the moment everything is outsourced. We bottle in a few facilities across Scotland, depending on the volume and the type of product. In time we might look to take more control over that. We will pool most of our extra mature vintage stock into one location and watch closely because it’s very easy for that to mature too quickly. We would like to bring whisky making back to this part of the world. But we will see how that evolves.
Your products are not available from UK retailers yet – why such an emphasis on exports?
We spent a lot of time working and travelling overseas and saw a lot of interest in craft whisky. We just saw more opportunity overseas than in the UK. We are also quite quiet in what we do so we just stayed off-radar, and it was easier to do so by not being in the UK. But this year we will start to offer our brands in the UK.
Are you looking at other markets too?
This year we moved into Hong Kong and Macau, which are going really well. There are lots of interesting markets in Asia – particularly Vietnam and mainland China. It’s difficult for a small company like ours to make a mark but I expect we will continue to add five to 10 markets a year. We like to get cracking – we are very un-corporate and we move quickly.
You moved your business operations to stately home Dumfries House in Ayrshire last year – is this is sign of a ramped-up publicity effort?
As a business we need to be visible and we have been, frankly, invisible for the past five or six years. I remember people saying that we need to talk a bit more about what we are doing. We are fortunate to have this opportunity at Dumfries House. It seems like an obvious time to start talking about what we are doing and our synergy with the estate. The Dumfries House team is looking to regenerate this part of the world, and we are privileged to be the only commercial business on the estate.
Have you got any exciting launches on the horizon?
We have an interest in blended Scotch, a mix of malt and grain, which we are looking to release later on this year, and we have a Campbeltown release coming up under The Lost Distillery Company. As a region, Campbeltown was a big part of the Scotch whisky industry, but a lot of the distilleries around here were impacted by the World Wars and Prohibition took a heavy toll, too. There’s a lot going on. There’s never a dull day.