Who is Mark Watt (if you don’t know him yet)?
Mark Watt is probably one of those personalities who in current pop culture would be described as a “whisky rock star”. Indeed, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to him, you’ll realise that he’s not only incredibly good at his job as a whisky bottler, but he also has a rare gift: the ability to pass on his passion to others. Suddenly, if whisky as a subject has always made you feel uneasy because of the overwhelming culture it brings its tradition, after a conversation with Mark Watt everything will appear easier and light-hearted. It’s all about the taste, after all.
No wonder MNIW decided to dedicate the second edition of the capsule collection “The Faces of Whisky” to this great personality of the whisky world.
Mark Watt, a renowned independent bottler, took his first steps in the whisky world at the age of 18, working for Quaich Bar in the Craigellachie Hotel. After coming a long way, he was part of the Sales Team at Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky Ltd. and then became Director of Sales at William Cadenhead Ltd. Today, he owns his own independent bottler label, Watt Whisky, together with Kate Watt, a partner in life and business. Despite initial difficulties due to the timing of the brand’s creation with the global health emergency, Watt Whisky has continued to grow, delighting us with wonderful editions. Further proof of Mark’s mastery in spotting only high-quality whiskies.
A chat with Mark Watt
MNIW had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Watt a few years ago for the book “A Sky Full of Stars” when he was still working at Cadenhead. During our meeting, Mark told us about some of his most precious memories around whisky and how he chooses the whiskies to bottle.
What is the first memory related to whisky?
W: Well, actually that’s a tough one. I grew up at Macallan distillery so whisky was always around us. I don’t really have a defining whisky moment. I remember when I was young, my father would go fishing on the River Spey. Very rarely he did catch any fish, but he always came home with a glow and that smell of whisk at the end of his breath. So that’s probably my first memory, but there is not a really proper whisky moment where everything became clear.
What do you like and don’t like in a whisky? When you choose, is it more intuition or do you have parameters?
W: I love being surprised. You get a Craigellaiche and suddenly there is a touch of smoke or something crazy like that which is always good.
I personally love most whiskies (laugh). I do like big sherry casks whisky, obviously, as I grew up at Macallan, I have always been a fan of sherry cask whiskies, but personally, I tend to prefer refill sherry casks or bourbon barrels because they allow the distillery character to shine through and that’s particularly important for Cadenhead’s.
Don’t get me wrong: I like big sherry cask whiskies, occasionally we bottled big sherry cask whiskies that can be good sherried whiskies, but the sherry overpowers the whisky and even if it’s a beautiful whisky, you can’t tell if it’s a Miltonduff or a Glentauchers or whatever because it’s just a sherry cask whisky. So for me, the most important thing is finding a balance by adding something into the whisky, while not overpowering the whisky. Generally, when we are selecting casks, we try the samples and you’re looking for reasons to eliminate the cask rather than necessarily looking for something amazing.
First of all, you’re looking for any off notes, you want to find out if there is any reason we should not bottle this. Then you look for the reason why I should bootle it. So that’s a light insight into what we do.
A big intuition you had when surrounded by sceptical people?
W: There have been a few. When I first started here, we bottle a 41yo Glenfiddich, it wasn’t ridiculously expensive, but it wasn’t cheap either, I think maybe 300 pounds a bottle, and people in Cadenhead’s said: “oh, that would never sell at that price”.
What happened was that I could add a zero to this price and it would still be sold out. This was quite a naive one. There have been funny things. There is one about a cask of Ben Nevis I did and a lot of people saying “we don’t want this”.
Then a few bottles hit the market and people tried it, loved it and then all my importers were phoning up saying “can we get some more?”. Ah, I replied: “ut you did not want any of it last week” and I do love it when it happens and I tell people to trust us.
Obviously when Serve Valentine scores come out, then you have people calling and I go: “ah you did not want any of it yesterday”.
Curious to know more about what we talked about with Mark? You can discover much more within the pages of our book, “A Sky Full of Stars”.