Outlanderstar and whisky fanatic Sam Heughan joined Vic Galloway in the SMWS Members’Room on Bath Street in Glasgow recently to take part in our Whisky Talk Malts& Music podcast series. In this edited extract, Sam discusses his growingpassion for whisky, his appreciation of the SMWS and his current and futureplans for the whisky and wider spirits world.
VG: Tell us about your whisky journey, how youdiscovered whisky and why you’re such a whisky fanatic now. Where did it start?
SH: I think like yourself, your firstintroduction is probably a little quarter bottle, sneakily drank behind the busshelter, something really young and not very palatable, it sort of gives you hairson your chest. It wasn’t until I was living in London with a good friend fromScotland, there was a Burns Night in our local bar and we were missingScotland, being quite kind of homesick. We ordered a single malt whisky, it wasthe first time I had really drunk whisky properly, and I was just like: ‘Oh, myGod!’. It took me back to Scotland. It reminded me of Scotland. It’s weird, Ihave an emotional reaction to whisky, I think people do. You know, it’s notlike vodka or other spirits, whisky just has so much going on and can reallyconjure your imagination.
VG: You’re a long-standing member of The ScotchMalt Whisky Society – what do you appreciate about the Society so much?
SH: Well, looking at the whiskies you put out,they’re all so unique, so individual. They have these incredible names andgreat descriptions of what each whisky tastes like. That’s really accessiblefor someone who’s new to whisky or trying to explore different whiskies. Youlook at the profile name and the description, and then you see if you can findthose same flavour profiles that are described. But also the Members’ Rooms, Ihave to say they are brilliant. We’re in Glasgow right now, The Vaults [inLeith] is beautiful, and I do like popping into Queen Street [in Edinburgh’sNew Town] now and then. As a member, you get access tothose unique bottlings before anyone else. I often take guests along to TheVaults and we have a few drams, and then they’re kind of like: “I need to buy abottle of this.”
VG: Tell us about your own whisky, Sassenach. Somepeople might think Sassenach is the name for an English person, an ‘outlander’,right?
SH: You got it in one! It was a derogatory name,a name for an English person or an outsider, and I think that’s why we took iton board. Part of it was from Outlander, where my character’sterm of endearment for his wife is ‘Sassenach’. I think the show has changedthat, and I think Scotland has changed. Scotland has become a very open,forward-thinking place. We’re very welcoming, and I think, you know, aren’t weall ‘the Sassenach’? And anyone that’s not from Scotland should feel welcomehere.
So, yeah, I sort of wanted to ownthat. I also wanted to create something that is uniquely Scottish, a greatblend that is up there with the Asian blends, and I didn’t think we had that. Thereis other splendid Scotch, but this one is predominantly a malt whisky, and ithas that real character of Scotland. So that was the beginning, and thenworking back in Scotland I was offered a lot of opportunities to work withdifferent brands, but I really wanted to create something of my own, so we wereself-financed and self-designed.
VG: And a lovely bottle!
SH: From the bottle to the design to the juice,you know, it’s all me, really, and I’m proud of it.
VG: And did you do the tastings to get it allright?
SH: First of all, we went on a road trip, myselfand my business partner, we toured all around Scotland and met a number ofmaster distillers, different producers, from the Lowlands up to Aberdeen andthe Highlands, and eventually we came upon one person who we decided would beour master distiller. He just had a great understanding and a greatappreciation, and we agreed on a lot. And then I tormented him for months. Youknow, he kept sending me samples, and we went down this journey together andeventually came to this blend. It’s predominantly a single maltin there. It is a blend of a 12 and a 9-year-old malt and then a 19-year-oldorganic grain, I’m a huge grain fan. You can get these amazing, veryaged bottles that are half the price of a single malt.
VG: You don’t seem to be a snob about whisky. Ifit’s a good blend, you’re into it. If it’s a grain whisky, you’re into it. Nodoubt you like ryes and all sorts of other stuff.
SH: I’m a huge rye fan, actually, yeah, reallybig. I was recently in America, and I went on a trek around New York with allthe different distributors, looking at their rye selection, there’s stuff youcan get there you can’t get over here.VG: And, as well as Sassenach whisky, you’realso doing a tequila.
SH: We did a collaboration with a tequila brand.It was funny, it was actually the day we officially launched the Sassenach inAmerica. We were in Jalisco with some friends, and we were tasting somedifferent tequilas. One of our friends there, Tony Salles, is a third-generationmaster distiller, he was drinking our whisky, we were drinking his tequila, andwe were like: ‘Why don’t we do something, just a one-off bottling?’ And it wasan exceptional tequila, really exceptional.
I think in the UK we don’t haveappreciation of good tequila as much as they have in the US. We all have thosememories of like: ‘Let’s do a shot of tequila’, you make a face when you drink,and you grab a lime and you suck it ‘cause it’s so bad. But tequila can be likea great single malt, or like Sassenach – there are so many flavour profiles, especially with theaged tequilas, the reposados [ages up to a year in oak], añejo [aged more than a year]. Our tequila, the SassenachSelect El Tequileño, is a doublewood reposado, it’s actually añejo, but because of the barrels it’s in, it’s termeddifferently. It’s been aged first in bourbon and then French oak, so it’salmost got a champagne quality.
We’re also working on a gin rightnow. I love Scotland and I want to celebrate Scottish culture and heritage, andwe have so much to offer. Obviously the gin market is quite saturated at themoment but we are making our own, a wild Scottish gin. All the botanicals arefrom Scotland, from the glens and the Highlands. It’s been a really funprocess.
VG:What kind of botanicals are yougoing to throw in? A bit of heather?
SH: Well, you guessed it, there’s heather inthere, but there’s crab apples, obviously citrus is very hard to find in theUK, but I have these great memories of picking crab apples as a kid and they’reso sour. We’re using blaeberries, blackberries and toasted oats, which give ita really interesting mouthfeel, there’s almost like this rich caramelliness.
VG: And tell us about the Men in Kiltsexperience and the book that you and Graham McTavish did, Clanlands.That must have been a new experience.
SH: I created and produced the show. I justwanted to go out on a tour of Scotland and do things that I enjoy. We hadRichard from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society come and do a wee tasting with us.I think that was the first thing we ever did, actually, at 9am, a whiskytasting – it was probably the right way to start thetour! We went all around Scotland, did a number of activities, and we’ve nowjust finished our second season in New Zealand, where I got to taste some greatdrams. There’s some really interesting whisky coming out of New Zealand, and ofcourse, a lot of the Scots that went down there took the skills with them, soit’s no surprise, really.
VG: What’s next for Sam Heughan?
SH: I feel very lucky...Outlanderhasopened opportunities and doors for me, and I do have my business side, but it’swhat I’m really passionate about – the whisky, the gin and a number of things. AndI’ve actually got something really big for Scotland coming up.
VG: Are you going to give us a little exclusiveon this?
SH: It’s very big and it’s something I’ve been workingon for a long time, I’m very excited about it. And then hopefully, career-wiseand acting, I don’t know, we’ll see what happens. But I would love to do moreand drink more whisky!
Youcan listen to Sam’s full chat with Vic and find out what music he paired withhis whisky in Whisky Talk Malts & Music, available both as a podcasthere and in video formathere.
Ifyou’re reading this and you’re not already a member of the SMWS, find out moreabout the world’s leading whisky club atsmws.com