Whisky People #4 – Erik Burgess

by Oliver Klimek on September 18, 2010

Fact Sheet

Name: Erik Burgess

Year of Birth: 1966

Place of Birth: Tauranga, New Zealand

Place of Residence: Blantyre, Scotland

Profession: Cost controller in a hotel

Whisky Involvement: Whisky club member

Portrait

He has no whisky website, neither has he written a book, nor is he working in a distillery. Erik Burgess is by no means someone who you might be tempted to call a whisky celebrity. But yet he is an interesting person, and this is why I decided to pick him for the Whisky People series.

Born in New Zealand, he came to the UK in 1987 to see how his parents grew up and to meet his relatives. Originally, he intended to come over only for six months, but then decided to stay in Scotland permanently. Since that time he has visited New Zealand three times.

After having gained a qualification in Travel and Tourism in the early 1990s Erik started working part-time in the licensed trade in Paisley. Since then he has worked in various roles from cellarman, barman, chargehand, bar manager to stock & cellar manager in both a head office and a bar.

Having worked at the Òran Mór in Glasgow, Erik Burgess played a significant role in developing this converted church into a premier whisky location of the city. For the past three years Erik has been working first as a food & beverage controller and now as a cost controller in a hotel.

Just like Ralfy Mitchell, Erik Burgess is a member of Glasgow’s Whisky Club.

But there is yet another reason why I wanted Erik to be part of the portrait series. In my interview questions I ask the people about a memorable whisky moment they would like to share. And Erik was responsible for one of these moments that I enjoyed myself and that I would to share with you.

A while before my visit to Scotland in May 2010 I put up a question on my Facebook page if anybody would like to meet me for a dram (or two…) in Glasgow where I intended to stay for a couple of days after my return from Islay.

Erik promptly resoponded and proposed to meet at the Òran Mór which happened to be quite close to my hotel. Soon after we met he told me about a surprising diner invitaion he just had received from one of his friends from the Whisky Club. That friend was having whisky guests from Germany overnight and spontaneously offered to extend the party for the two of us after he had learned about our meeting.

So less than an hour later I found myself in a little flat somewhere in Glasgow together with four people who I had never met before, happily dining, chatting and dramming the night away. A perfect evening c/o Facebook. Anybody still thinking that social media is just a useless waste of time?

Interview

Were you already infected by the whisky virus when you came to Scotland or did the proximity to the distilleries do the job?

My only experience with whisky prior to living in Scotland was my late father drinking Johnnie Walker Red Label (with milk at times) and Laphroiag. As a teenager I did sneak a taste of both and it did not agree with me at all.

Is there something about New Zealand that you really miss in Scotland?

It is definitely my family that I miss most in NZ although I have been warmly welcomed into Laura’s family.

Does your wife share your enthusiasm for whisky or do you have to fight for every bottle you buy?

I certainly have my wife Laura to thank for my passion for whisky. After being put off in my teenage years she had the patience to introduce me gradually! Firstly to Irish coffee using Powers Gold Label, then to the 1st single malt I ever tried properly, Isle of Jura 10yo. Ironically we stay in Jura Drive. We have a fair number of very different whiskies in our collection for both investment but mainly drinking and enjoyment. We have both distillery and independent bottlings as we both like to try different malts. On occasions we will sit down of an evening with different drams. I may have a sherried Speysider with Laura having a peaty Islay.

As a member of Glasgow’s Whisky Club you have the chance to meet whisky celebrities like Bill Mackintosh, John Lamond or Richard Paterson. How does it feel dramming with the big shots?

Being part of Glasgow’s Whisky Club has provided both of us with the opportunity of meeting many leading figures from all areas of the whisky industry. I feel privileged to be able to meet the people that make the whisky, malt men, still men, coopers, distillery guides, blenders that put the whiskies together and the ambassadors that spread the gospel of whisky. Of course, it is always a pleasure to be in esteemed company and I appreciate every minute and dram shared with those who head up and spread the good word of their brands.

You used to work at the Òran Mór in Glasgow. How were you involved whisky-wise?

Along with my assistant Andy Robertson we were tasked by Colin Beattie, the owner with making Òran Mór one of the best whisky bars in Scotland. At the time we had approximately 70 single malts and a few bourbons and blends. We set about educating ourselves by attending whisky festivals and master classes along with reading books by Michael Jackson and Jim Murray for example. With our increased knowledge we agreed what whiskies to add to the range from all regions of Scotland and around the world. In about 2 years we increased the range to well over 200 malts. We also wanted to introduce malts to the masses at affordable prices so a Malt of the Month (MOTM) promotion was introduced. Alongside the MOTM we held tasting sessions to introduce the MOTM and invited leading industry figures such as Ian Miller from Glenfiddich and Iain McCallum from Morrison Bowmore to showcase other whiskies in their core ranges. Special evenings for St. Andrew’s night and Burn’s night were held. We increased our sales of single malts from 800 to over 1300 btls in a calendar year. We sold more single malts than blended whiskies and bourbon put together. Although the MOTM sales made up the majority, sales of single malts outwith those in the MOTM increased significantly as well.

How important is the internet for your whisky pasison?

The access to forums, websites, blogs, vlogs and online whisky tastings has been very beneficial to increasing my whisky knowledge. There are so many whisky enthusiasts around the world and the internet has certainly become one of the main conduits for sharing and gaining knowledge. It has also has been very valuable in keeping in touch with and developing my worldwide whisky network.

Common Questions

1. Please share a memorable whisky moment with us. This might be a fantastic dram, someone you met or any other situation that left a deep impression in your memory.

There are so many memorable memories I could share and it’s very difficult to highlight one in particular. However I would like to go back to May 2007 when I was fortunate to visit Islay and stay at the Bowmore Cottages. The group I was with were taken on a tour of Bowmore distillery by James McTaggart (now Distillery Manager at Arran) where we had the opportunity to sample whisky (8yo 1st fill bourbon) straight from a cask in the famous No.1 Vaults below sea level.

2. What percentage of your life do you dedicate to whisky (sleep ignored)? Do you think it should be more or less, or is it just about right?

I have a well balanced life and always manage to find time for whisky. It varies on a week to week basis however a week will not go by that I wont partake of a dram. I especially enjoy the club nights and attending festivals and those weeks certainly make up for the quiet ones.

3. Your three tips for whisky novices

- Try a dram before you buy a whole bottle
- Get to a whisky festival or tasting if possible
- Enjoy every step on your whisky journey

4. Your three tips for experienced whisky lovers

- You’re never too experienced to learn more
- Share your whisky knowledge appropriately
- Enjoy every dramming experience both good and bad

5. What was the last dram you had and how did you like it?

An old favourite, Highland Park 18yo. It brought back memories of our visit to Orkney and Highland Park in January 2008 where a good dram at the end of the tour certainly warmed us up.

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