Talking Whisky with...

Talking Whisky with...

Michiel Wigman, Whisky Expert from Dutch Whisky Connection

In our interview series Talking Whisky with... we are talking with interesting people from the international world of whisky about their love for this special product.

How did they get into the world of whisky? What are their latest discoveries? And which whiskies have they always remembered?

We start our Talking Whisky series with none other than Michiel Wigman, who is perhaps better known in the whisky world as Mr. Springbank. His first encounter with whisky was more than 30 years ago and by now he has been fortunate enough to taste many (exclusive) whiskies. In this interview, Michiel explains how he turned his long-lasting hobby into his job, he tells the stories of some special encounters, we talk about his own Wigman whisky line, and he reveals which whisky is still on his wish list.

 

WHISKY PASSPORT MICHIEL WIGMAN

FAVORITE PRODUCER: Sestante and moon (besides wigman ;))

FAVORITE country: Scotland and japan

favorite MUSIC TO DRINK whisky TO: bob dylan, pink floyd and leonard cohen

BEST OF whiskies FAVORITES:

GLENUGIE 1968 SESTANTE

Glen Grant 1970 Duncan Taylor

Macallan 1964 

Some 25 years ago, you came into the world of whisky, first as a hobby, but now also professionally under the name Dutch Whisky Connection. At what point did you realise that this was more than 'just' a hobby?

That was when two Ikea Billy cupboards were completely full, and me and my wife at the time agreed that for every bottle I bought, she could buy a pair of shoes. Soon enough, when the shoe cabinet became too small, it dawned on me that my hobby was getting out of hand... It had always been a passion of mine, and I kept pushing the boundaries more and more. At first, it took some nerve to open a bottle of more than 100 guilders, and the hesitation was even greater to spend 500 guilders on a 1969 Springbank Local Barley. But now I wish I had bought them all... When you keep raising that bar higher and higher, you are also letting your hobby get out of hand. Having more than 100, then 500 and then eventually more than 1,000 bottles at home is no longer normal, is it? So, I don't do that anymore. For a while, it was all about the number of bottles I had, not about the quality. Fortunately, that has changed now.

With the Dutch Whisky Connection, you offer several services. Can you tell us exactly what you do, and which services are most in demand?

Well, let me tell you to keep an eye on our website, because sometime in the next two months, our new website will be launched. You will find everything about our services there.

I am proud to say that I am now entering my third year of bottling my own bottles. I have now produced two series of 6. In 2020, the Series 'They Inspired 1' and in 2021 'They Inspired 2'. Part 3 is about to start. All labels are made by the same artist who also makes the labels for The Duchess: Hans Dillesse. I am very happy with that. He makes them into beautiful pieces of art. My guide for choosing barrels is the flavours of the 60s and 70s. And if you keep looking, you will occasionally come across a barrel that is good enough and I will try to buy it. I let my taste guide those choices, not the pace or the price.

Secondly, I like to do live tastings at home and abroad. For groups of friends, or whisky clubs, but also for companies that want to liven up a serious meeting with relaxation, taste, and anecdotes. I also make an appearance at many festivals with a stand - often together with Niels Harkink - to give the general public a chance to get a taste of our whisky museum.

And finally, I should mention that I also do valuations of collections and I advise people about investing in whisky.

The third Wigman line is now being bottled. You say you choose the barrels largely according to your taste. Can you tell us a bit about the idea behind this line and how it all started?

About five years ago, after a varied career, it wasn’t as easy to get a job as I had thought. After two frustrating years of applying for jobs, I decided to stop doing that and to turn my hobby into my job. Old bottles I still had from the collection went to the Dutch Whisky Connection company. It gave me a nice start, and I still like to do that, but that alone is not enough. With my experience in taste, and with my contacts, I should be able to find and bottle my own barrels that meet my requirements, right? The problem, of course, was funding. A small barrel can easily cost a small fortune. Eureka! I wrote to almost 100 people from all over the world and asked them if they wanted to join a participation plan. It gives them the right to a bottle from each barrel of a series (often per year), but also the obligation to buy it (unless it costs more than € 250, in which case they only have the right). To my surprise, within a few weeks, enough people had signed up for me to shift the first 80 bottles; giving me a solid foundation to get started. In the second year it was 90 bottles, and now it is 110 bottles that are reserved. For me, this is the maximum amount I want to commit to in advance. Many of the people who participate have made it a condition that I continue to personally taste before buying the barrels. In other words, they are going by my taste. I think that's a great compliment, but sometimes I get scared to make the wrong choice... That's why it sometimes takes months and many dozens of rejected samples before I think a barrel is good enough.

 

The third Wigman line is now being bottled. You say you choose the barrels largely according to your taste. Can you tell us a bit about the idea behind this line and how it all started?

About five years ago, after a varied career, it wasn’t as easy to get a job as I had thought. After two frustrating years of applying for jobs, I decided to stop doing that and to turn my hobby into my job. Old bottles I still had from the collection went to the Dutch Whisky Connection company. It gave me a nice start, and I still like to do that, but that alone is not enough. With my experience in taste, and with my contacts, I should be able to find and bottle my own barrels that meet my requirements, right? The problem, of course, was funding. A small barrel can easily cost a small fortune. Eureka! I wrote to almost 100 people from all over the world and asked them if they wanted to join a participation plan. It gives them the right to a bottle from each barrel of a series (often per year), but also the obligation to buy it (unless it costs more than € 250, in which case they only have the right). To my surprise, within a few weeks, enough people had signed up for me to shift the first 80 bottles; giving me a solid foundation to get started. In the second year it was 90 bottles, and now it is 110 bottles that are reserved. For me, this is the maximum amount I want to commit to in advance. Many of the people who participate have made it a condition that I continue to personally taste before buying the barrels. In other words, they are going by my taste. I think that's a great compliment, but sometimes I get scared to make the wrong choice... That's why it sometimes takes months and many dozens of rejected samples before I think a barrel is good enough.

The whisky market is changing a lot. Today, many whisky labels and barrels - mainly from Japanese and Scottish distilleries - are bought for investment rather than consumption. What do you think of this change and does it affect your work in any way?

Well, it happens and now it is just part of life, whatever I may think of it. Ultimately, I think whisky is made for drinking, but I understand that a bottle you bought for €300 and increased to 5x its value, won't just be opened. That certainly affects everything that goes on in the whisky world.

Ordinary bottles are also becoming more and more expensive. The old ones are too expensive and so they are not suitable to open at festivals. That is why we now regularly offer more expensive bottles per 1cl, to maintain accessibility to some extent. But, for example, paying €100,- for 2 cl is too crazy. Fortunately, nowadays there are also great whiskies that are much more affordable than the "old stuff", so to speak.

For me, it just means it takes longer to find something. In general - even without investors - prices go up fast enough. Most barrels are not even tasted anymore before they get bought and sold to the liquor store. They will sell anyway, is the motto. And while that may be true, I myself refuse to participate in it. I must have tasted it myself first, but unfortunately in many places you don’t get to taste anymore. In short: keep tasting a lot at festivals (because we’re allowed again) and at tastings. And also, buy what you like, based on your taste.

On the Dutch Whisky Connection website, you say that apart from whisky, drinks like Grappa, Brandy and Armagnac are also worth their while. Is there a world as big as the whisky world for these drinks, or will there be in years to come?

I believe that the world of whisky is very big compared to those of other drinks, but I might be biased, of course. The world of cocktails, beer and wine might well be much bigger… But certainly not nicer!

But it’s a good question. For me, it’s all about the taste and that can also come from something other than whisky. That's why I started a separate series called 'precious moments'. The first was a fantastic cognac, the second a very nice Caroni rum and the third is a phenomenal cask strength jenever from Rutte. I’d love an Armagnac next, and more rum! Or maybe a grappa or a calvados... All wonderful drinks, as long as you find the right one. I learned that from the whisky world. Every distillery has excellent barrels, but there is also dredge. So, you can never say that a distillery is all “tasty” or “not tasty”. It depends on the barrel. This also applies to these other types of drinks. I didn't like grappa at all, and only knew it as that bland drink you got for free after a meal at mediocre Italian restaurants. It was Hans Dillesse who once gave me a glass that blew me away. Ever since then, I know which old grappa to look for. The same goes for rum. There was a time when I only knew white and yellow rum, which makes you reek of alcohol for days and so, is not good to drink. Nowadays, there are very nice rums available, and the Netherlands is slowly catching up on the rum market. While neighbouring countries have long been into rum, the Netherlands made a slow start, but that is changing now. Take for example The Duchess' really great series; very drinkable, many are actually tasty! Just like good cask strength Armagnac. Rum and Armagnac will never replace whisky, but they do offer an alternative at a much more favourable price…

With so many years of experience, I assume you have seen a lot in this whisky world. What is the most remarkable thing you have ever experienced during your career?

Hmm... That's actually a whole series of events that can be summarised in one word: encounters. Whether that is with a very elderly man who, to his surprise, gets a glass from his birth year of the late thirties and who is trembling with delight. Or a young couple with nothing to spend, making an hours-long journey with me through the wonderful world of whisky flavours. But also, an autistic boy who - even literally – perked up after a glass of 1954 Macallan. They are all great encounters. Like a distillery manager you have to pick up from the floor after too many glasses of Guinness. Or a distillery employee with whom you happily drink half a bottle of Springbank 12 Years 57.1% and get to hear the best stories. Entering a festival in Hong Kong and hearing all sorts of strangers say 'there's Mr. Springbank'. That's bizarre and I never thought of myself that way, but cool, right? And also, the many dinners at the festivals and the large group of international friends you make there. One big family who loves to hug. I won’t mention or expound on some unpleasant experiences, such as forgeries, as they are nothing compared to the enormous joy of all of those other things I just said.

You have travelled a lot, tasted a lot, and visited various festivals. Which whisky has stayed with you during your career and why?

Oh dear, that question is impossible… There is never just one! I will just name a few. The 1971 Longmorn Scott's Selection (57.8%), Glen Grant G.M 1961 (57%), Miltonduff 1966 Spinola and old Springbank 12 years (57.1%). All four because of the perfect balance and fabulous complexity of the old-style sherry whisky. In addition, Longmorn Cask Serie G.M 1969 (multiple versions), Bowmore 1966 Whiskyfreunden Essenheim and Glenglassaugh 1967 Silent Stills are a few examples of the perfect bourbon cask whiskies with tropical fruit and vanilla. What all these whiskies have in common is that I have very fond memories of drinking them with friends.

Apart from the whisky that has always stayed with you, you’ve probably also tasted something that was less than satisfying. What was the most disappointing bottle ever?

I always say that if you've ever had any Loch Dhu in your glass, you should immediately throw that glass away. Does that say enough?

As a great whisky lover, you have probably amassed a unique collection over the years. What is the most special bottle in your collection and when will you open it?

I once had a large collection of Springbank, but I don't collect anymore. I now only buy what I really like and of course the bottles that I sell, so a limited stock. However, I think I might open up a Bowmore Bycentenary, a nice old Senstante Ardbeg or a 1966 Longmorn when I'm in a good mood with friends.

"Entering a festival in Hong Kong and hearing all sorts of strangers say 'there's Mr. Springbank'."

Distilleries are opening in more and more countries, for example in the Netherlands. Is there a producer or bottler you've recently discovered that you'd like to share with our readers?

Actually, I don't like countries that are now also going to produce whisky on a massive scale - besides Scotland. Except for Ireland, Canada, and Japan because they have been doing so for a long time. Yet, it would be unfair to the distilleries that do make beautiful products. Within the Netherlands, I am thinking of Erik Legters, of distillery De Bronckhorst, who has just received a nice international award for a beautiful product from the Achterhoek (a region in the north-eastern part of the Netherlands). As well, many a bottle of Zuidam is palatable, of course!

You are also known for your wide network and personal friendships with icons from the whisky world. Can you tell us something about that?

Well, it grew naturally over 30 years... As long as you realise that the entire whisky world is based on the principle of rooting for each other and not just looking for short-term profit. This fact is challenged by the growing number of whisky investors in the past 5 years, but for me it is still essential. Sharing tips, meeting each other, and sharing beautiful stories over a good glass. That’s really what it's all about for me!

To build a good collection, you need to pay attention to several factors. What is your advice for whisky enthusiasts who are starting a collection?

Don’t do it… that's the best advice! Buy only what you like. Taste the whisky several times within 24 hours and not one immediately after another. Each tasting will be different. Whisky is emotion. Leave it for a while and then taste again. And finally, taste again the next morning at 11 am, that’s when your taste buds are at their best. If you still think the whisky is great: go straight to the liquor store and buy two more bottles! Because by the time the first bottle is empty, it will have already sold out. But if you do want to collect, at any rate buy what you like. It really doesn't have to be whatever has the highest score on whisky base. Follow and acquire your own taste, that's what it's all about!

Finally, every whisky enthusiast has the burning desire to drink or own a particular whisky. Which whisky would this be for you?

I am very satisfied with all that I have been able to drink when it was still somewhat affordable. I have been able to take in many divine drams. Of course, there are many more whiskies that I have not tasted. Deep down, I would like to have a sip of the legendary Bowmore Bouquet.

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