Interview with Svatopluk Buchlovský
I had the pleasure of meeting Svat during my first attendance to the Autumn Speyside Whisky Festival 2006 and since then, we exchanged a few e-mails about his book that includes several of my photographs. Six years after our first encounter at the Glenfiddich distillery, his book has been finally published in Czech. A review of his book was published here (link to be added) and if you read Czech, do not hesitate to purchase it (http://www.whiskybrani.cz/)!
If you ever have the chance of consulting his book, you can only be amazed by the work he did.
Svat kindly took the time to reply to my questions:
Whisky-news (WN): What were your first experiences with Scotch whisky and what is the situation in the Czech Republic for Scotch whisky and especially for single malts?
Svatopluk Buchlovský (SB): I tried my first Scotch whisky, I remember that it was Ballantine’s, some decades ago. My first single malt was Glenfiddich. But a lot of time has elapsed between these two occasions. I started to drink Scotch whisky regularly only when I moved to the United Kingdom in 1991. I was born in South Moravia, a wine making region of the Czech Republic, where a lot of fruit brandy, mainly prepared from plums and apricots, was always consumed. In truth, it was a shortage of good quality slivovitz in England that drew me into a whisky drinking.
The position of Scotch whisky in the Czech Republic in comparison with other distillates is not very strong. But the situation is slowly changing and single malts are becoming more popular mainly among some professional groups. But there are still only around ten whisky clubs in the whole country. On the contrary, Irish whisky especially Tullamore Dew and Jameson are consumed more, I suppose mainly due to massive marketing. Czechs as the most western Slavonic nation have a lot in common with Germans and I believe that in ten years time the position of Scotch whisky in the Czech Republic could be similar to that of Germany. But we should not forget that the consumption of Scotch whisky and especially single malts as some kind of an elite category among spirits is also directly linked to the result of the economy in the country.
WN: Svat, when and how did you come up with the idea to write a book about whisky?
SB: Wine was always my big hobby. As far as Scotch whisky is concerned the paramount impulse to be more knowledgeable about this subject came for me in 1999 when the first issue of Whisky Magazine was published. I started to buy books about Scotch whisky, visited some distilleries in Scotland and became a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Five years later, when I had read more than one hundred books about whisky I realized that only a small minority of them are genuinely interesting for me, since the majority of these publications are not aimed at a reader like myself who is looking for detailed and deep knowledge. At that time I took the decision to write a book which would be quite different from others.
WN: How long did it take to write the book?
SB: All four volumes took me roughly six years of writing plus one year to collect photos, diagrams and to finalize it with references. In 2006 and 2007 I spent six months of each year in Scotland (I was based in Elgin) just for the purpose of visiting distilleries and tasting whisky. During these years I also made about ten two-week-long trips to Scotland, especially in order to take part in some whisky festivals (Islay, Speyside and Dufftown). Each year I also visited Scotland two or three times for two-day visits as a participant in a special technical seminar in some distillery organized by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling .
WN: What was the objective of this book? To provide a reference document for future researchers? For educational purposes?
SB: Initially I had in my mind mainly students at Czech universities, since any similar educational publication about the production of spirits based on an experience of the Scotch whisky industry does not exist in the Czech language. To my surprise I only later realized that you can not find it in English either. This is why the first two books describe in comprehensive detail the process of production of Scotch whisky, covering in great details the fermentation and distillation technologies, including working schemes with a lot of numbers. After some time of writing I came to a conclusion on the basis of my first hand experience from distilleries that a majority of writers about Scotch whisky did not have the time to visit all distilleries, so I included comprehensive and precise technical information about all distilleries and later also about official bottling. About ninety major Scotch whisky blends are also covered and all whisky based liqueurs.
WN: In your book, you not only describe all the manufacturing steps processes, but you are making a comparison with the production of other alcoholic beverage. What was the reason behind this?
SB: I believe that comparisons between Scotch whisky and other whiskies and distillates are very important in order to understand all these spirits. As I mentioned above, this issue was never covered before in any book about whisky. But I have not limited myself only to rum, cognac, armagnac, calvados, grappa, gin, cachaça, tequila, but I also included Russian vodka, Armenian brandy, Hungarian pálinka, Japanese shochu and others distillates. I concentrated mainly on the comparison of fermentation, distillation (types of pot and column stills) and maturation processes. If I am especially proud of any part of the book, this is the one.
WN: Unless I am mistaken, you were not involved in the whisky trade (business) and the objective of visiting every distillery of Scotland is extremely difficult, since many distilleries, in particular grain distilleries are not open to the public. How difficult was it to have access to all these distilleries and how did you manage this?
SB: You are right, I am not in the whisky or any other alcohol business and the book is only a hobby for me. There are roughly 110 distilleries in Scotland and around 50 of them are open to the public. In my experience with thirty managers of other distilleries it is possible to find a way to be allowed to visit them. But there are about 20 distilleries (many of them are owned by Diageo) where a more rigid regime prevails and it is extremely difficult to get access there. It is possible to visit some of them during Speyside or Dufftown Whisky Festival if you are lucky enough to be registered during the first few hours. I had an advantage that as a member of the Scotch section of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling I could also visit many of them during so called technical days which are organized three times per year mainly for managers from other distilleries. The secretary of the Scotch section Tim Dolan was very helpful and with his assistance I was able to also visit all grain distilleries, where the access for security reasons is probably the most difficult. So I am pleased to confirm that I have visited all the Scotch distilleries, some of them being in very remote areas (for example Loch Ewe or Abhainn Dearg). There is one exeption as when I visited the Starlaw grain distillery it had not yet been finished and thus I did not see the working process there.
WN: Was it your first book? If so, what were the main issues that you experienced and how difficult was it to find a publisher?
SB: Yes, it is my first book and I am very happy with the result since all four volumes and cover box look very professional and the paper, design, photographs and prints are of top quality. The most difficult were some periods during the writing when I realized that I should additionally cover some areas new to me and for this reason the finish line was postponed many times. The book with the title Whiskybraní (Whisky harvesting) was always only a hobby for me and I am happy that I could share this value with the publisher. The commercial aspect is not a priority for us. The most important is if this book would be able to open new horizons for whisky drinkers in the Czech Republic and give impetus to some people to more regularly try a drink with the most complex of flavor among all spirits. The first reactions direct from some readers are very encouraging.
WN: The book is in Czech and thus restricting the access to your book. Any plans to translate it into English?
SB: Not currently. I have no experience of how long it would take for some professional to do a full translation since some parts of the text are quite technical and difficult, with each word being very important. It could also be expensive, but I am more afraid that I will have to check each page again and it means in my experience a minimum of about one year of full-time hard work.
WN: Any plan to write a second book about whisky?
SB: Definitely not now. I am not sure if I would be able at all to write a second book and if so what the subject would be. I love wine and some small wine regions are very close to my heart (including Bolgheri, Madeira and Crimea). The same is thrue for fruit brandy, for example slivovitz from the Balkans. I also feel that some very exciting developments took place in recent years in gin production. Russian vodka is in my view not covered properly at all since Europe is familiar only with a small percentage of the total production in Russia. In the whisky area, I would probably start with bourbon.
WN : You have now collected huge experience on whisky. Any plan of sharing this knowledge to a wider audience (e.g., presentations at whisky events in Czech Republic or in any other country)?
SB: I currently do some presentation in whisky clubs in the Czech Republic. I published some
articles about Scotch whisky and other spirits in a few Czech magazines and I will continue to do so. I cannot see myself marketing any special Scotch brand or distillery since I have always tried to be strictly impartial. This is also why I very much appreciate the excellent and unique work of Malt Maniacs.
WN: Thank you very much for taking the time answering these questions and I wish you plenty of success.
www.whisky-news.com ©28 Aug 2012