This is an interview with a friend, a Swede (in Scotland this is a neep). I first met Ingvar when we shared a table at awhisky event in Helsinki many moons ago. We seemed to hit it off right away and have met every year since. He started coming on tour with some pals of his (photo above – the usual suspects) researching the following year book. Now he comes alone, him and I, driving around, meeting distillery people and sharing good times. He is back in May 2020, right after his brother comes on tour with us – May is usually the “Swedish month” and no exception next year. Annoyingly, he is only two years younger than me but looks ten! Here is a wee chat with him … don’t forget my samples of drams!
What gave you the idea to publish a yearbook about whisky? (I know the answer, but readers maybe won’t).
My first whisky trip to Scotland was in summer 1980. I toured Speyside with a friend and we went to Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Strathisla and Glenfarclas. I was instantly hooked and malt whisky became a hobby of mine. Many years later, after having worked in different areas but mainly publishing, I was in a position where I wanted to do something different in terms of work. I noticed that there was a huge amount of Yearbooks on the market, targeting every conceivable topic (dogs, cars, guns etc) but nothing about whisky. Finding myself in need of such a book and with a background in publishing I decided to go about and publish one myself, hoping that there would be other whisky enthusiasts struggling to get a summarized, yearly update on the whisky market. And thankfully there were.
How did you start with these high profile writers for the book? Charlie Maclean included. Especially on the first book, you must have been a novice then.
I was a novice in the sense that I did not know any of the famous gurus of the whisky world. I called a guy named Ulf Buxrud, a famous collector of Macallan, who happened to live in my town. I knew that he had helped start up a number of whisky clubs in Sweden and he was also a Keeper of the Quaich. I told him about my idea of doing a Yearbook and asked if he could help me with some contacts. We had lunch and the day after I could send emails to people like Michael Jackson, Charlie Maclean and Helen Arthur, asking them if the would be willing to help me get this Yearbook idea started by writing articles for the first edition. I´ll always be grateful to Ulf for opening the doors to the whisky illuminati. In the following years, these great writers have become personal friends.
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2020 edition is a revised book with new information on more than 400 whisky distilleries from all over the world., I know, I was with you last year for some of the research, how do you ensure you get the latest info?
Actually, the number of distilleries in the latest edition is not “more than 400” but precisely 591! The vast majority of these new distilleries have been established in countries outside of Scotland. This year, I actually went back to my first edition of the Yearbook (written in 2005) to see the development of distilleries in certain countries over the years. In 2005 I had a combined number of malt whisky distilleries in USA, Canada, Australia, England, France and Germany of 16. In the latest edition that number had risen to 292! And in Scotland, 33 new distilleries have opened between 2000 and 2019 and don´t get me started on Ireland! Obviously there is a need for a Malt Whisky Yearbook me thinks.
How long does it take to complete the book each year?
Usually I start working on the next edition of the Yearbook in early February and then it is published beginning of October. Having said that, my research for every Yearbook is an ongoing thing. I always make notes when I stumble on something new worth writing about.
Stupid question really, but you know me by now, how do you select the cover image?
Not a stupid question – have been asked that a lot. Usually I fancy very detailed pictures (inside of a cask, a bung or a small part of a still) just to make it stand out from most of the other whisky books where a glass of whisky on a black background is the cover (I know, I’ve done that myself once because it´s actually quite cool).
Each year you select a different region, next year is Speyside, do you personally have a favourite region to visit?
I love Speyside because it´s very convenient if you wish to visit a number of distilleries in a short period of time – they are everywhere! I also adore doing a combined trip to the western parts where you can visit some of the isles, add a few mainland distilleries and also get some fantastic views of an amazing landscape. Having said that, going north of Inverness is also rewarding with, admittedly, fewer distilleries but breath taking views. Extending the trip to Orkney makes it a stunning journey!
What other books have you written/published?
So far I have published 21 books on whisky (six of them in Swedish) but have also managed to do three books on birds – another hobby of mine.
You live in Malmö, Sweden, how different/similar to Scotland is it? (I keep threatening to visit, one day).
Malmö (the southern tip of Sweden, opposite Copenhagen) is quite different from the highlands but I suppose it could remind you of the lowlands. A rural countryside with fields of barley, wheat and sugar beets. The weather is quite similar with mild, rainy winters (and occasionally snow) but probably a bit warmer in the summer compared to Scotland.
What is the nearest whisky distillery to you?
The nearest distillery is Spirit of Hven on the island of Ven in the sound between Denmark and Sweden. Actually, we have had a summer cottage on the island for the past 40 years and our closest neighbour is Henric and Anja Molin, the owners of the distillery. Every summer I go to the distillery to have a walk around and a chat with Henric. He´s doing some amazing things not just with traditional whisky from malted barley but also rye and corn. Very innovative and exciting!
You have been a writer and publisher for twenty years, what did you do before that? (again, I know, but maybe you don’t) There is talk of a DJ, can you explain the DJRonde?
OK, let´s start with the DJ thing (although I would’t call it that. Those are your words). I did a series for six years on national radio playing English and American dance band music from the 20s and 30s. A total of 260 shows covered the likes of Bert Ambrose, Lew Stone, Jack Hylton and Nat Gonella (if anyone remembers those names). After my graduate as an MBA in economics I worked for an electrical company but left after six years to start up a chain of retail stores selling equipment for the outdoors. Meanwhile I was working in publishing, doing campaigns for tourists wanting to spend their vacation in Sweden. My business partner and I sold off the outdoor chain some twenty years ago and while I pursued the whisky writing business, Peter became a baker in Edinburgh and opened up a bakery and a chain of outlets called Peter´s Yard which became quite famous.
Working from home as I know you do, how distracted can your lab become? (Ingvar has a black Labrador)
My lab (Vilda) doesn´t distract me at all. On the contrary, she´s an integral part of the Yearbook work. She lies faithfully in her bed by my desk (like any lab would do) until it´s time to take a walk. And she keeps me from sitting too long by my computer with the risk of contracting a bad back.
I know you share a hobby (a mad one) with your brother, bird watching since the early 1970s. Do you tweet?
Haven´t got the faintest idea what you mean – there´s nothing mad about bird watching. But apart from that, you´re absolutely right. I’ve been a bird watcher since I was thirteen and I suppose you could call me a twitcher, however nowadays I don´t jump into my car to drive 200 miles in order to secure yet another new species. For the past ten years or so it´s been more about micro birding which means that you try to see as many species as you can in the surroundings of your own home town. Possibly a combination of not having that much time to go birding and trying to be environmentally friendly.
You are a fan of The Boss, when did this start?
It all started in 1980 when I attended a concert of his in Copenhagen. Have seen him live around twenty times since then and still consider him one of my three rock and roll heroes with Bob Dylan and Van Morison being the other two. Hopefully he will be in Sweden for yet another concert with the E Street Band in the near future and I´ll be there!
You are also a big fan of Star wars – you know it’s no real don’t you?
(Suggest we skip that question)
And, you love Scottish history, have you ever thought of a book on this subject?
I do love Scottish history and I actually added a small chapter about that in one of my latest books on whisky but to write an entire book on that subject I feel I need to know a lot more. Perhaps after having done another 5 or 6 trips with you, then I could do it.
Having been all over Scotland in your research, I was amazed last year when we went through Glencoe/Rannoch Moor at your reaction, is there any other location that gave you that reaction? We need drive to Applecross Ingvar!
The passage across Glencoe last year was amazing! Stunning views for at least an hour drive. I actually had the same kind of reaction the first time I went to Orkney. Yesnaby cliffs, Italian chapel and Skara Brae were fantastic. Applecross is still on my bucket list so yes, let´s go there soon.
How long do you think you will continue with the Malt Whisky Yearbook?
Very easy to answer. I´m now 62 and I´m seven years older than my wife. In Sweden we generally retire at 65 but I wouldn´t want to sit around the house in my slippers doing absolutely nothing while my wife is still working. So my plan is to carry on with the Yearbook until I´m 72 and then retire at the same time as my wife does.
What do your wife and daughter think of the whisky king and his fame? Let’s face it you are famous.
Even though they are a bit proud of what I’ve accomplished with the book (not to mention the fact that I was inducted as a Keeper of the Quaich a couple of years ago) neither of them enjoy whisky so to be honest I definitely don´t feel like a celebrity at home. I guess the same goes for Brad Pitt, George Clooney and the likes of them.
Don’t forget to send me the distilleries we are to visit in May, I need get my plans worked on. Should be less driving this year, grand! We should be calling on people we both know well, looking forward to this.
Way less driving. Will keep you posted!