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Billy Walker - A Whisky Revivalist & Master Blender

Updated: Mar 7


master distiller Billy Walker

Image by The Shout


Billy Walker is a known name to some, partly because he shares a surname with a famous whisky blend. However, the two are not related. Some might know him as the person who capitalised the second part of Scottish whisky distillery names such as GlenDronach and BenRiach. But his legacy is much more significant than that. He is a whisky revivalist who has brought new life to once-forgotten distilleries. Hopefully, he will be remembered for this achievement rather than just the naming convention.




 

The Early Years


Billy Walker was born in 1945 and was raised in Dumbarton, a town in Scotland known for producing whisky. He developed a keen interest in whisky from a young age. After obtaining his BSc Honours Degree in Chemistry from The University of Glasgow in 1967, he started his journey to learn the art of whisky making.


In 1972, Hiram Walker & Sons, the owners of Ballantine's blend, hired him as an employee and trained him in all aspects of whisky production. Walker learned about malting, fermentation, distillation, maturation, blending, warehousing, and bottling. He worked as a master blender for Inver House Distillers for six years, starting in 1976, where he was allowed to experiment with different types of wood and understand their impact on the final product.


Young billy walker whisky glenallachie

Images by The GlenAllachie - Billy Walker


When the whisky industry faced a decline in demand and overproduction, Walker joined the team at Burn Stewart Distillers in 1982. This small whisky producer owned the Scottish Leader blend (among others) and, at the time, did not own any distilleries. However, in 1990, the company acquired its first single malt distillery, Deanston, which had been closed since 1982. The purchase included the blend Black Bottle. Later, in 1993, Tobermory distillery became part of Burn Stewart Distillers after experiencing several years of hardship, including bankruptcy and mothballing from 1982 to 1989.


The third distillery, Bunnahabhain, had similarly experienced hardship since 1982 and joined the company's portfolio in 2003. Throughout all of this, Billy Walker played a crucial role in bringing these distilleries back from the brink of extinction.




 

The BenRiach Distillery Co


After 20 years serving as operations director at Burn Stewart, Billy Walker established his own whisky company by purchasing one of the 20 mothballed distilleries in Scotland. In 2004, along with his business partners Geoff Bell and Wayne Keiswetter from South Africa-based Intra Trading, he bought the Benriach distillery from Chivas Brothers. The distillery had been closed since October 2002. The inventory of stock that came with the deal piqued Walker's interest. The production of new make whisky restarted in 2005, and the first new bottlings and reinvented core range of BenRiach were launched in the same year, targeting the growing boutique whisky market.


Billy Walker & Wayne Keiswetter Benriach distillery

Image by TimesLive - Billy Walker & Wayne Keiswetter


In 2008, Walker made another deal with Chivas Brothers to purchase the mothballed Glendronach distillery, which closed between 1996 and 2002. Walker faced a challenge with the existing gap in the stock due to the closure, but he made it his mission to move the brand back to a significantly sherried style of whisky.


In 2013, Walker seized an opportunity to buy the mothballed Glenglassaugh coastal distillery, which had been closed between 1986 and 2008. Although he was keen on reinventing the brand, Brown-Forman purchased The Benriach Distillery Company, which now owned three distilleries, in 2016. The offer was too good to turn down, but reportedly, Walker felt unfulfilled with Glenglassaugh, feeling he hadn't taken the brand to its full potential.




 

The GlenAllachie Distillers Co


In 2017, Billy Walker used his connections with Pernod Ricard to establish The Glenallachie Distillers Co. after buying the Glenallachie distillery in Speyside. The distillery was mainly known for its exclusive bottlings and had gone unnoticed for a long time. Pernod Ricard had mainly used the single malt as a component in the Chivas Regal blend.


The purchase of the distillery also included MacNair's Blended Malt and White Heather Blended Scotch Whisky brands, as well as the entire stock stored in the distillery's 16 warehouses. With a wide range of aged whisky, the distillery released its first new bottlings in 2018, including a new core range. For Walker, Glenallachie was the ideal opportunity to build a reputation for the distillery, as it was like a blank canvas.


New GlenAllachie and Meikle Toir core range releases

Image by The Whisky Ardvark / GlenAllachie - New GlenAllachie core range


In 2022, GlenAllachie introduced Meikle Toir, a heavily peated Speyside malt, to expand its whisky range. GlenAllachie's core range was also given a new look in early 2023 following the launch of its peated sibling.




 

Billy Walker Honours


Master distiller Billy Walker has won multiple awards for his whiskies. As an icing on top, in February 2020, he was inducted into Whisky Magazine's prestigious Hall of Fame, just a month shy of his 75th birthday.


In 2022, Billy Walker celebrated his 50th anniversary in the whisky industry, which is a testament to his hard work and dedication. It's safe to say that those 50 years have been well-spent. To celebrate the occasion, the distillery launched three special editions: Past Edition - aged for 16 years in Mizunara Virgin Oak casks, Present Edition - aged for 16 years in Sherry Butts, and Future Edition - a 4-year-old Peated Single Malt from the distillery's first peated distillation.


GlenAllachie Billy Walker 50th anniversary Editions

Image by The GlenAllachie - GlenAllachie Billy Walker 50th anniversary Editions


 

Whisky Distilleries Billy Walker Has Helped to Revive (And Dates of Involvement)


Whisky Distilleries Billy Walker Has Helped to Revive And Dates of Involvement

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


 

Thank you for reading The Whisky Ardvark. Be sure to check out some of our other informative articles below.





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