Dennis McBain has dedicated his entire career to the ‘water of life’. As one of the industries longest serving Coppersmiths having started working in 1958, he has seen the whisky industry evolve immensely over the last 65 years.
His role as Coppersmith and Guardian is one of great importance, overseeing each part of the process, tending and caring for the exceptional whiskies produced by whisky pioneers, Charles and Sandy Gordon, many expressions of which make up the collection that is today known as House of Hazelwood.
For almost one hundred years, generations of the Gordons, the renowned Scottish family of distillers, carefully laid down stocks of whisky for special occasions and personal consumption. Spanning seven decades and every corner of Scotland, the diverse whiskies held in cask tell stories of remarkable places, lost ways of working, first casks, last casks, the ambitions and achievements of several lifetimes – none of which will be repeated again.
In this Q&A Dennis shares with us his own lessons alongside industry insights, from his lifetime career as a true craftsman in the age-old industry. Read on to discover more.
Read more about House of Hazelwood here
Please tell us how you discovered that this artisan craft was the career for you.
On my way to school each day I would pass the Copperworks where they made the Copper Stills and I used to stop and watch the coppersmiths working on these large sheets of copper and always wondered how they were able to end up with a Pot Still. When the opportunity came along after I joined the company to work with the coppersmith whom Charles Gordon had head-hunted from the Copperworks to look after the distillation equipment, I jumped at the chance. I was also offered a 1Penny raise in pay which was a fair deal.
Not only did your father work in this but your son does too – did you encourage this decision?
My father encouraged me to seek work with the company because of its good reputation with its workers, so when one of my sons was interested in the industry, he had my full backing as I told him that it was a great industry to be part of.
Please tell us the best advice your father gave to you and what you passed on to your own son.
The best advice that I got from my father was to respect the company that you work for and do your best and you will be looked after.
You joined the industry in 1958 – you must have seen a lot of changes in that time. Which have been the most significant and if/ how have they impacted the business as it stands today?
Modern technology has been the big change in the industry compared with the old hands-on method of distilling which has helped the company to grow but the family remain the same down to Earth people.
Your role as an in-house Coppersmith was an industry first. Please tell us more about this innovative decision and its impact not only on the business but the industry.
It was a great idea of Charles Gordon to employ his own tradesmen to look after his distilleries as he no longer had to rely on outside contractors to keep the whisky running and that is still the case today.
Although you are retired now you still work on select projects. How do you decide which are those you’d like to be involved with?
I still enjoy going to the distillery to catch up with what is going on and to keep my hand in doing some small copper items to help the company in some small way. I still enjoy making something new out of copper.
Which is your all-time favourite whisky and why?
In my career with the company, I have been lucky enough to enjoy whiskies of all ages and types, but I do have a soft spot for the First Drop as that was the year that I got married and it is such a unique whisky.
Finally, please tell us your life motto (if you have one)
To always try and be the best person that I can be.