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Staff Interview: Gordon Mcdougall

Gordon at the end of his shift at our sister distillery Mitchell's Glengyle



Gordon Mcdougall

Distillery Worker


When we caught up with Gordon he was nearing the end of his shift at Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery - he talk to us about his time with the company, the hardest parts of his job and the benefits of enrolling in the Springbank Whisky School.


Hi Gordon, thanks for speaking with us today. Can we start by talking about how long you have been with the company?


I have been here about 18 years


And have you always done your current job?


Believe it or not I started as a gopher - I was Gordon the gopher. It was my job to fetch bottles, go for the morning rolls, get materials ready for other people. I spent a short time doing that and then I was a bottling hall assistant, so I spent about 5 years in the bottling hall. Then I got the opportunity to fill in as relief for distilling, malting and mashing. Pretty much since then I have been doing this job.


It’s just at the end of your shift, so what have you been up to all day?


Today has actually been a quiet day because we are just starting up again (distilling at Glengyle). So I came in first thing this morning, we are ready to do a mash so I gave John (Wareham - read his interview now) a hand with the mash and a little while after that we did a couple of minor repairs that needed done. Then the stills finally started to produce some alcohol so we directed that to the right place.


It’s been the first day of distilling this year at Glengyle, will this be a typical day or do you expect work to change as things progress?


I expect it to get a little bit busier. We start off with one still, there is only one still running at the moment, so tomorrow I should come in a little more gung-ho.


What’s the difference between working at Glengyle and working at Springbank on a day like today? How would your job be different?


At Springbank I would be running between different buildings all the time, it’s as if things has just been added together throughout the years at Springbank so everything is in different places. Here at Glengyle it’s superb as everything is in the one place.


What other things do you do on a typical day?


Some days we would go down and help with warehousing, we do cask fillings at the end of every week, we do our own millings. We alternate every week between distilling and mashing so that we can keep our hand in with both of the jobs.


Visitors tour Springbank and Glengyle all the time, what impression do you think people get of your job here?


Tours give people a basic understanding of what we are trying to do but I am not too sure people think about our individual jobs in particular, though a lot of people do come in and wish they had our job! It’s a dream job for a lot of people. I think when people come to our Whisky School that is when people eventually feel different and notice what we do.


In case any of our readers are interested in doing the Whisky School in the future, describe what the experience is like for pupils: are they worked really hard or is it more of a holiday?


A bit of both really, you have the option when you come here because you can work as hard as you want or do as little as you want. We are already here doing the job so if you want to help us, then, great! You can do my job if you like!


We see pupils at the end of a day, drenched in sweat having never worked that hard in their lives, completely exhausted, then at the end of the week they say it’s been a great experience and they have loved every second, it must have something going for it?


I think having the opportunity to taste a lot of different whiskies while they are here may have something to do with that! That makes a big difference too. Some guys arrive like machines and are really quite keen to get involved while others take more photographs and ask questions about the process.


What do you think then about the ethos of our distilleries and the way in which we go about making whisky - in a manner that most other places don’t?


I’ve not visited many other distilleries but the very few I have been at, things do seem a lot more automated with things being done for you and they (the staff) are able to spend more time polishing things and making them nice and clean whereas with our job being quite hands-on we don’t get as much time as we would like to do that. As for the ethos of the company, I think it’s superb. It does make my job a little more difficult but it being sustainable is important.


What is the most challenging part of your job?


Staying awake on a night shift! The good thing about not being on a night shift is that, during the day, you can break up the day a bit as there are other little things you can busy yourself with. When you are on night shift it is just you and your shift partner. A lot of the time, when it comes to distilling, you are waiting for boils to finish, or waiting for other things, so you spend a heck of a lot of time just waiting around for things - and that’s when you do get a chance to polish things and sweep up but you can only do that so much.


When I first started the job, I found the malting to be the hardest part, like when you are in emptying the kiln - it’s very hot and physically demanding. You are throwing about 12 or 13 tonnes and pushing it from one end of a room to another. The kiln may only have been off for 1 hour so could still be almost 60 degrees when you go inside. You do acclimate a little bit after a while. Unfortunately, due to training other people I don’t get the chance to do that physical part of the job at the moment and I am beginning to miss it.


Can you expand on that, what is it you have been doing recently then?


At the moment, we need relief staff because we are getting busier so we need people who can do my job when I am not here. We are trying to train enough people to cover our jobs which can sometimes mean taking a step back and letting them do it themselves.


Which is actually a good place to finish this chat as it brings us back to where we started, because part of the reason we are busier is because of the work we are doing here at Glengyle.


Thanks for reading this interview - we shall return with another staff interview soon.