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6 February 2024

McTavish Spirits – From The Hobbit To Bourbon

McTavish Spirits – The WarchiefA few weeks ago, I received an invitation for a one-on-one interview with Hollywood star Graham McTavish, to taste his new 7-year-old Bottled in Bond Bourbon, aptly named “McTavish – The Warchief” I approached the interview with a degree of scepticism, my past encounters with celebrity-endorsed spirits have left me under-impressed, given their tendency to prioritise branding over the quality of the whisky itself, often resulting in disappointment.To my satisfaction, any reservations I had were promptly dispelled having tasted both his Bourbon and Rye offerings. Under the guidance of Paul and Connor, the hosts of the Bourbon With Friends podcast and Graham’s partners in the brand, they have set out to prove that a celebrity-backed brand can be taken seriously and produce a fine spirit. In a tight-knit industry where reputations count, the trio exhibited a genuine commitment to showcasing their knowledge and appreciation for whisky. They needed to choose the right barrels from MGP, a distillery that has been in operation since 1941 and produces whisky for multiple independent brands. They had to steer clear of the pitfalls of nondescript, mass-produced bourbons devoid of soul or passion, and find complexity, character and depth. I am pleased to say they succeeded. Before I share our interview, which took place in London, it is important to share the significance of  “Bottled in Bond” and how it differs from ordinary bourbon. A legal classification, “Bottled in Bond” stipulates that the whisky must originate from a single distillery, be produced within a specific distillation season (either January to June or July to December), boast a minimum alcohol by volume (ABV) of 50%, and mature for no less than two years in charred new oak barrels. Importantly, no artificial colours or flavours are permitted in the production process.You may know Graham from the Hobbit trilogy (where he played Dwalin), Witcher, Outlander, The Preacher, Rambo and the cult favourite UK series Red Dwarf. Graham, you were born in Scotland, but you then moved to America? Yes – I moved to England and then Canada from when I was eight until I was eleven. Then we moved back to England and I went to London University. After university, I did a bit in the South and went back to Scotland to do theatre for ten years. I then moved back to London before going to LA for four years. I then moved to New Zealand to film The Hobbit, so I have moved around quite a lot!What was your first introduction to whisky? My dad introduced me to whisky at a pretty early age. It was a very communal experience, drinking Scotch, a very family sort of time. My dad would do toasts around the table, so that was my understanding of whisky was just Scotch.When I moved to America I was introduced to Bourbon by a friend whilst having dinner at his house. At the end of the dinner, he said, oh, you know, do you want a Bourbon?  I had always thought of it as cheap knock-off Scotch, that it wasn’t its own drink in its own right, and that it was the American version of Scotch.I was a bit dismissive of it to be honest, but I drank it. I can’t remember which one he gave me, but I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I just thought, wow, this is amazing. And then I felt guilty because I felt like I was sort of cheating on Scotland in a way. So I kept it quiet. Was there any particular bourbon you drank?I used to sneak Angel’s Envy out onto the deck in New Zealand and drink it there.When I met Paul and Connor (from Bourbon With Friends) they really deepened my knowledge, understanding and appreciation of whisky. I appeared on their show and they suggested that we do something together. It’s like a lot of things that I’ve done in my life really. I go into them in a sort of blissful state of ignorance, acting, writing, bourbon, all of these things.It’s almost like a kind of strength for me is not knowing too much about it in advance because I think if you know, sometimes if you know too much about something, you’re never bothered to do it. So I went into this very enthusiastically. They gave me some very thorough R&D experiences which were quite taxing on my liver.Was it in these R&D sessions that you discovered this whisky? Yes – we hit upon this particular whisky that you are drinking now and we all knew immediately that this was the one as we wanted a Bottled in Bond and out of all the samples we knew this was the one. I find the whole historical side of Bourbon and Bottled in Bond very interesting.We really wanted this to be the first “celebrity” bourbon that was Bottled in Bond. So we did it, and here it is. I can hardly believe how short a time actually we’ve been working on it, but it’s been intense. It’s been fabulous because it’s a whole different world for me.The people involved and the support that you get in the bourbon community, with all their passion really struck me. I met Ian Somerhalder, who I know sort of outside of whisky, and we met up at Bourbon and Beyond. I was really struck by how he wants my bourbon to succeed, especially as he has his own brand of bourbon. So there isn’t that kind of competitive thing that you get with other things.The thing I find so fascinating about bourbon is that there are so many possibilities with it.Even using the same mashbill, but a different distiller, it creates a unique taste. There are so many infinite avenues that you can go down.What are your future plans and how much can you get involved going forward in what is being distilled and what goes into the actual barrel?Well, you know, at this point, I know we have plans for another four whiskies coming out, but hey, you know, ultimately we would love to have our own distillery. I mean, that’s the ultimate goal for sure, to be in complete control and have that creativity right from the beginning.When you filmed The Preacher, would you sit down after filming and enjoy a bourbon with the cast and crew? They actually did had a bottle of bourbon with my character’s profile silhouette on it in the series and I think if you look closely you can see it in certain scenes. You see a bottle of bourbon with my silhouette dressed in the cowboy hat and the duster coat and the guns (Graham played the Saint of Killers).There’s also a scene where I’m drinking bourbon at a bar, I remember that, in fact, there’s more than one scene. The first time you see him practically he’s drinking bourbon, he’s sat in a saloon drinking and then you see him again doing it. So bourbon, it’s in there and that was a great show, that was a great, great show, my god, I loved those comics, was a big fan.I’ve never seen the comics but I absolutely loved the TV show.Garth Ennis who wrote the graphic novels has become a friend since then, and is such a quietly spoken lovely Northern Irish guy, yet can write the most violent blood-curdling horror that you can imagine it was a dream come true actually playing that part.You appeared in one of my favourite shows as a teenager – Red Dwarf. Do you have any great memories from that show? When we did Red Dwarf, in the script, there was a scene in which Ackerman, the character I played, he talks about the science officer that he’s in love with, who loves his eyes and his glass eye and all the rest of it, and there’s a scene where… I can’t remember which one it is, it’s either the episode, Cri-T TV or something, but anyway, everything gets frozen for a moment in the episode, and the thing that they see, they pass me frozen, and I’m wearing a Batman outfit, and the science officer is wearing a sort of Robin outfit, and we’re sort of tangled up together, it’s just a passing moment, and I was so looking forward to doing it, but they couldn’t do it because they couldn’t get the copyright, DC wouldn’t let them do it, and it would have been such a great moment, but I loved playing Ackerman, he was great fun, just what a lunatic.When you got your first bottle of McTavish Bourbon in your hands, who did you first share a glass with?I shared it with my wife and my two closest friends, Doug and Paul, not this Paul but another Paul and we had it together.That must have been quite a moment?Oh my god, absolutely and the thing is that a lot of my friends haven’t tried it yet, in fact there’s one going to be here tonight, a wonderful actor called Michael Maloney who’s going to be here with his partner and I’m looking forward to him trying it.Having attended the tasting, and watching from the back of the room, I observed everyone tasting the Bourbon and Rye and noticed how people smiled and nodded their heads in recognition of how tasty it was. This is a testament to the fact this isn’t just a commercial project but there has been serious consideration given to getting these bottles just right. Bottled in Bond 7 Year old.  50% abv – £85The nose is full of honey and wonderful aromas of a really good apricot jam on heavily buttered toast. A little time in the glass reveals spices such as cinnamon and vanilla. The palate is full-bodied and not too sweet which is a surprise given the high corn content of the mashbill. It kept inviting me to go back for more to get the lotus biscuit flavours that emanated from the glass. Spice and stone fruits dominated the palate, intermingling marmalade notes with a very long length. Each time I try this it seems to get better and better. RyeThis is a very limited production of Rye and shouts what it is on the nose. It smells sweet and floral with a herbaceous backnote. I nailed it down to thyme flowers and ripe lemon verbena. The palate was powerful, complex and full of flavour. The rye spice was at the forefront with a spiced apricot glaze playing so well with it. What a fantastic Rye this is. https://mctavishspirits.com

Category: Food & Drink
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