In Conversation With: Ulf Buxrud

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Ulf Buxrud is a prominent whisky collector, connoisseur and writer of more than five decades. He is most well-known in the whisky world for authoring his definitive book on the Rare Malts Selection in 2016: Rare Malts: Facts, Figures and Taste. An important figure and personality in the industry, he is one of the famous Malt Maniacs and also contributed to the very first issue of The Malt Whisky Year Book.

Buxrud has been collecting whisky since the 1970s, the first of which was a bottle of Port Ellen.

 

What whiskies do you collect and why?

In general I am looking for whiskies made before the indirect heating became the trade standard. They carry unique flavors often rooted in irregular firing of the pot stills.

 

Besides that, I collect series which amuse me for different reasons.

 

What is the most memorable whisky you’ve ever tasted?

The Black and White’ whisky I ’sampled’ as a teen (15) at the British Club in Abadan/ Persia (now Iran), I spent the summer recess of 1957 on a tanker which brought me back and forth to Sweden that summer.

 

This was Ulf’s first contact with whisky and his fondness for the spirit was instant and life lasting. For many years, his libation was traditional whisky blends served either with soda water or an ice cube. It wasn't until around 1970 that he became closely acquainted with single malts having been converted by a certain Speysider, The Macallan. 

 

What are some of the most prized bottles in your collection?

A Macallan 1951 which was presented to me as a birthday present by Willy the legendary Master distiller at Macallan.

 

A Macallan 1942, initially a pair but one was consumed at my Mastodon tasting in London in 2002.

 

Bottle no 1 of a 45yo Karuizawa presented to me by the bottlers as a thank you for using the title page logo from my Japanese whisky book as label.

 

A Bowmore Black Label Final edition 1964 found on dusty shelf in Scotland 1995. I’ll stop here. The list could be longer.

 

By the early 1980's Buxrud was overwhelmed with his burgeoning single malt collection and decided to systematically explore his accumulation of whiskies. Previously experienced in wine, he transferred his skillset and tasting techniques from this industry and applied the methods to studying his growing whisky collection. 

By the end of the decade, Buxrud had developed a unique tasting scheme for guiding the uninitiated through the world of whisky. At first, he taught close friends and wine enthusiasts in Sweden, but then a large number of whisky enthusiasts. They all gained an understanding and knowledge of the world of whiskies under his pro bono tutorship. This activity was recognized and by that he received an invitation to join the illustrious 'Keeper of the Quaich', in 1995.

 

How has the whisky scene in Sweden evolved since you first started leading whisky tastings there?

From a nerdy cult obsession to a mass movement. Today more than 10.000+ dedicated members organized in 190+ clubs regularly sample whiskies.

 

Ulf is credited as one of the leading influencers in Scandanavia that's time spent devoted to educating and impassioning Swedes led to exploding interest on the subject. Today, Sweden is one of the top countries for the number of specialist whisky groups in relation to it's population. 

 

The first book you authored was a definitive guide to the Rare Malts Selection. Can you tell us about the time leading up to your decision to write your first book? What led you to this?

When the series was near complete and the ’collector’s obsession’ was nearly over I was looking for an extended and joyful exit. A book documenting the facts and figures I had collected during my journey came naturally.

 

Which expression from the Rare Malts Selection have you enjoyed the most?

The early Broras and the St Magdalenes

 

In addition to authoring his book on the Rare Malts Selection, Buxrud authored Japanese Whisky: Facts, Figures and Taste in 2008.

 

You are also a fan of Japanese whisky. What drew you to the whiskies produced in Japan?

A Suntory/Yamazaki distilled 1984 bottled 2006, ABV 56%, sherry cask matured.

 

You are one of very few collectors in the world to not only have acquired the entire Hanyu Card Series, but to have tasted every expression. Can you tell us about this experience?

Paradisiac, enough said

 

In January 2022, you will be publishing your third book which charts the story of Ichiro’s Malt Card Series. Can you tell us more about this?

The book is a 170-page book of coffee table size (29x29cm) and quality is near art book style. Its content encompasses the story of the Chichibu-Kikusui, Hanyu, Chichibu distilleries and the Akuto family.

 

A chapter is dedicated to the complete Playing card series and how it started. Here, each bottle is the 'objets d'art', occupying a full page. Opposite page contains my 58 tasting notes, technical descriptions and the flip side of the bottles. All 58 bottle pictures are from my own Playing Card Series collection.

 

Other sections comprise the series aftermath, auctions, rules and data, fakes and frauds. .A special chapter called Passing time, deals with experimental mixology on account of the Playing card series and summarizing tasting notes. 

 

Authors often refer to “literary pilgrimages”, have you gone on any memorable whisky pilgrimages to support you in writing your books?

With my wife, touring Japan a couple of weeks per visit, documenting the birth and growth of the Japanese whisky wonder. My wife acting as secretary, photographer and travel companion.

 

What’s your most memorable experience in your +50 years in whisky?

My 60 years Mastodon tasting in London 2002. 

In April 2002, Ulf Buxrud organised the ‘Mastodon’ tasting in London for 35 guests. I’m not surprised it is Ulf’s most memorable experience, as the evening featured 53 versions of The Macallan from both Buxrud’s personal collection and cask samples from The Macallan distillery. A Highland Park 1953 was also opened to toast the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. The event was described by Whisky Magazine as “Without a hint of exaggeration, this was the most remarkable tasting of The Macallan ever staged.”.