When Dutch artist Hans Dillesse joined his friends in collecting whisky, he took a less-travelled path, indulging a passion for the exuberant fruit of Speyside single malt Longmorn. Angus MacRaild talked to him about rising prices – and whether great whisky can be considered as ‘art’.
Who are you and what do you do?
‘My name is Hans Dillesse and I am a Dutch artist and art teacher.’
What whisky do you collect and why?
‘When I got into whisky, my friends were collecting Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Springbank, expensive stuff in those days already. Besides, everybody seemed to collect those brands. I wanted something else.
‘Then I got to try a fantastic Longmorn, and the Longmorns I already knew were very much to my liking as well. So from then on I focused on Longmorn. They have very seldom disappointed me.’
How did you get into whisky collecting?
‘Friends of mine were collecting whisky. I liked whisky and wanted to buy some for “later” because, by then, I already realised that the kind of whiskies I liked would be unaffordable by the time I wanted to retire. And, before you know it, you have “a collection” and you’re being called “a collector”.’
How has being a collector impacted the rest of your life?
‘I got new friendships, I got to know the beautiful light and landscapes of Scotland. As a painter, that has influenced my work, of course. And it got me into label designing.’
Lots of Longmorn: Like it or not, Dillesse’s collection has now become an investment too
What do you think makes a good whisky label and, from the ones you’ve made, what are your favourites?
‘From the practical point of view, a label must draw your attention by the picture or the design. All the essential information must be seen in a wink of the eye.
‘There are some labels where there’s too much text or in a font that is too small – very hard to find the information you want. For instance, the name of the distillery on some labels is very hard to find, and that is info most people want to know straightaway.
‘From the artistic point of view, a label must draw your attention as an object you want to have in your cupboard to show off. It doesn’t matter if the design is more pictorial or text-based.
‘Of the labels I did, I’m still proud of the “Highland Games” label for Full Proof, where the naughty young Japanese girl beats the Scots at their own games. Recently I also did a couple of rum labels for The Duchess and Eiling Lim that I am also fond of.’
Can the greatest whiskies be considered ‘art’?
‘Absolutely! Everything that is created with passion and craftsmanship can be art. But you can only look at it that way if you forget the commercial aspect of the product.’
Distillery art: Dillesse’s reproduction of the silent Parkmore distillery in Dufftown, Speyside
Do today’s high prices change the way you think about your collection? Do you see it more as an investment?
‘Because of the high prices I do not see it as an investment, it is an investment. Unfortunately you cannot look at it otherwise.
‘I started collecting because I wanted to be able to enjoy those kinds of whiskies later in life when I am retired – they are for drinking. But with these prices it does become more and more difficult to open a bottle.’
Many of the old Longmorns are legendary for their exuberant fruitiness. What do you think was the reason for such a remarkable flavour profile?
‘Would it really have been their goal to make the whisky that fruity? If it has been so successful, then why don’t they do it any more? We all know the discussions on the difference between “the old stuff” and the modern-style whiskies.
‘Is the modern style exactly what they want to produce? I think so much depends on things in production that are out of control. Much is still a coincidence, isn’t it? And then there are the economic factors that govern much of whisky production today…’
Highland Games: Dillesse is proud of this Hanyu label, designed for Dutch bottler Full Proof
What are your favourite Longmorns?
‘Dangerous question – prices will go up again… The one that made me choose to collect Longmorn in the first place was the dark Sherry Longmorn-Glenlivet 1971 Scott’s Selection at 57.8%. Of the fruity ones, I love the Longmorn 1972 for the Münchner Whisky Festival (57.3%).’
What would be your favourite everyday drinking whiskies?
‘That would be a Longmorn 15 Year Old cream label, a Tamdhu 10 Year Old (43%, official bottling for Cinzano Italy, 1980s) or similar-style whiskies. And if I fancy a peaty one, I still like the official Lagavulin 16 Year Old.’
What are your favourite bottles in your collection?
‘Longmorn 30 Year Old 1972, (50.2%, bottled 2003 by Kingsbury Celtic for Japan, cask #1100); Longmorn 39 Year Old 1969 Celtic label (58.9%, bottled 2009 by Gordon & MacPhail for The Mash Tun and KasK, Tokyo); and Longmorn 1972 for the Münchner Whisky Festival 57.3%.’
And what would be your ‘Holy Grail’ bottle to find?
‘Longmorn-Glenlivet 1939 by Mayor, Sworder & Co Ltd, at 67 proof.’
Finally, what has been the best whisky experience of your life so far?
‘So far and by far, the Islay Odyssey! Not only because of the whiskies, but the atmosphere, the friendship and the best oysters I had in my life with a 1966 Jura Cadenhead dumpy in front of Jura distillery… totally magical!’