We had the pleasure of meeting Andrew “Andy” Hart for a couple of times at festivals with the stand of Whisky Import Nederland. Andy is always ready to answer your most difficult questions about his products with a big smile on his face. Every time it is great to meet again and have a chat about the very lovely bottlings they have. We became curious about the story behind “The Maltman” bottles and the man behind the stand. Andy is from Meadowside Blending, run by his father and himself. He was very kind to answer some of our questions and let us have a look in the world of an independent bottler.
Thanks for the chance first off all for this interview and taking the time out of your busy schedule. Can you tell us something about Meadowside Blending and its history?
Yes, we are a family firm based in Glasgow and bottle single casks of whisky under our label “The Maltman”. We are quite a new company, launching in 2009, but both my dad and I have been working in the whisky industry for many years. So we have a good heritage.
Besides you and your father, how many people work in the company?
There is my mother and occasionally my sister, she is an accountant but helps with behind the scenes. So a real family business.
Both you and your father are Keepers of the Quaich and working in the same company. How is the work in the company divided between you both?
Well I am mostly dealing with marketing, sales, and attending trade shows. And my dad is back in the office doing all the hard work. We both get along great, so when we are in the office together we can plan schedules, bottlings, and of course tasting of our cask samples.
Your father has many years of experience in the whisky industry. Can you tell us something about his travels and how he came to the position he now is in?
My dad, Donald, started in 1964, so this is his 50th year in the whisky Industry. He started working with his other brother Iain in whisky broking and acquiring casks to blend and bottle his own blended whisky which in those days was more popular than single cask believe it or not.
Can you tell us something on the whiskies that Meadowside Blending is putting on the market, “the Maltman” as single malt and “The Royal Thistle” as your blended whisky brand?
We mostly bottle whiskies that we think are great drams, and that way we can put our “Hart” and soul in to our bottlings. We would never bottle anything we felt wasn’t of a high quality, as our reputation would suffer. We think the customer has so many bottlers to choose from, that putting out a bottling just for the sake of it would be madness, and you are only as good as your last bottling.
The Royal Thistle is totally different, of course it’s a nice whisky, and it’s an easy going dram, but it is more for the entry level market, or consumer who likes an “every night dram” before bed, as its an excellent quality / price ratio. The taste is smooth, chocolaty with some mocca and honey notes. It is also a very good starter whisky for people who are just beginning their adventure in whisky.
Looking at bottling percentages, non chill filtering and colouring, do you have a philosophy behind this decision for the “The Maltman” and “the Royal Thistle” bottlings?
We do bottle at cask strength and we also bottle at 46%, but never below. I think you have to judge each cask separately as each cask is different, and some taste heavenly at cask strength, and others are too overpowering, and you really don’t get the nose, and the palate qualities coming though when it is like fire water.
We do not chill filter or add colour and the philosophy is to bottle the best tasting dram possible, keeping the oils, fats and enzymes in the whisky that mother nature intended. The Royal Thistle as it is bottled at 40% and is a mass produced item, I am afraid like many blends , it has a dash of colour and is chill filtered.
Do you buy empty cask and have them filled at the distilleries, or do you purchase pre-filled casks via brokers and mature them in your own warehouse(s) or with the distilleries?
It is a bit of both, we have good relationships with a couple of distilleries where we can still get new make, and then we send up empty Sherry and port casks to be filled. However if a broker offers us whisky that is of good quality and price, we would purchase where we can.
Do you and your father both select the casks? And how to ensure the high standard you both seek for in the expressions? Can you make demands on the origins of the cask and how it was treated?
Yes my dad has taught me well, and now we both decide together, what we bottle and when and what we leave to mature longer..We get cask samples from each cask every year, and monitor the maturation and quality… the tasting of the samples is a tough job, but someone has to do it!!
Do you prefer certain cask types for different distilleries, or do you buy “what you can get”?
I love Mortlach, Ben Nevis, and Springbank, all different distilleries and in different regions, but all these whiskies have great qualities, such amazing flavours and aromas, and to me these whiskies are what I will be asking santa for. As for different cask types, I have tried port and Sherry versions of each, which always add a nice fruity dimension and colour.
How does the process of selection work between you and your father? And what are the steps after selecting a cask?
Usually a lie down on the sofa and little sleep… hehe. Well the cask selection process is very relaxed. We usually try the samples mid morning, when our taste buds are least affected by other tastes. We compare notes and aromas, let the whisky breath, go back, try some more..and so on..some tastings can take all afternoon 🙂
Do you have your own bottling plant (on site)?
We do not have our own site, we use an out sourced bottler who also do many of the other independent bottlers, which is good as being a small company, we do not have a lot of overheads, meaning what we make we can re-invest in to the company.
How is the future looking for Meadowside Blending? Any new plans on the horizon?
No new plans, we are quite old fashioned and like to keep the status quo of doing what we do well. I don’t think we will expand, we are happy being a small family firm, and with no pressure for high turn over, we just concentrate on quality, not quantity.
Where did the name “the Maltman” originate from?
I worked at Springbank for a short while for work experience on the malting floor as a maltman, turning the malted barley which was just great. I loved the aromas and old fashioned style to the way they do things at Springbank. My father is also a member of the maltman society in Glasgow, which is part of the chamber of commerce and the other reason is we just thought it was a pretty cool name for a bottler.
We hear that it is more and more difficult to source good (filled, matured) casks for independent bottlers. How do you look at this all, and is it bothersome?
It is getting harder and harder to find good casks, and we struggle like many other bottlers. Thanks to my fathers contacts we still get offered some nice casks, but It is not what it used to be. My dad recently told me that one day 14 years ago someone offered him 25 hogsheads of Laphroaig and that was not an unusual occurrence. You can’t imagine that these days.
At the end of the ‘90’s when you started working for the company you worked the first period in Scandinavia mostly while living in Sweden. How did you end up moving there?
I actually moved to Sweden for a girl surprise surprise… what can I say, I am an old romantic, and while I was there I learnt the language and helped import Hart Brothers to Sweden. It was a very proud moment to see my dads bottlings in the System Bolaget, and it was a great experience living there when I was younger.
Looking at your experiences in the whisky industry, was it a ‘no-brainer’ that you were going to work in the company, or did you study something entirely different and ended up working with your father by accident?
I left school and ended up working with the family business which was “Hart Brothers” which my father and uncle Alistair owned. I enjoyed several years learning my trade, as well as making the coffee and emptying the bins, it was great to learn from my dad, and as I already had a love for whisky growing up in the Hart household it was an obvious route for me to get in to the whisky industry as well.
Can you tell us something more about yourself and hobbies? Other passions beside promoting great whisky all around the world?
I love my job, and for that I am very lucky, so I am a bit of a whisky geek. It’s special to work for a family business, as you are not working for a big conglomerate where you are just a number, this way you do not mind putting in the hard work, as it is for the good of the family. As for hobbies, I love to play football, and support Glasgow Rangers. I love being with my family, walking the dog, travelling, and meeting new people. I am really into cooking too, and enjoy making nice meals and relaxing with my wife and dog.
Are there any other questions we have not asked, but you really want to have out there?
How about, best way to enjoy whisky? Good company, good dram, good nosing and tasting glass. Whisky drinking is fun… enjoy it… and try new drams all the time. Slainte!
Looking for some more information on Meadowside Blending and their products? On their website you can find some more information, or have a lookout at the festivals or in the shops for their bottlings.