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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Annie Hayes

The fundamentals of five key whisky flavours

As whisky bars go, London’s Black Rock is pretty out there. The team filled a three-tonne tree trunk with whisky and installed it in the basement. They built a whisky…

As whisky bars go, London’s Black Rock is pretty out there. The team filled a three-tonne tree trunk with whisky and installed it in the basement. They built a whisky vending machine. Now, they’re fitting out London’s first whisky hotel for January 2020. Their mission? To make the liquid accessible to everybody. We talk flavour fundamentals with co-founder Matthew Hastings as the team fling open the doors to their brand new blending suite…

“Flavour is absolutely paramount to everything we do,” says Hastings, as he welcomes our group in Black Rock’s light and airy blending room. “It makes learning about whisky significantly easier than trying to learn about regions and different styles and exceptions to rules. It’s convoluted. Great if you’re really into whisky, but if you just want to enjoy a dram you don’t necessarily need to know all of that.”

Black Rock

Just some of the enormous range of whiskies to choose from Black Rock

As such, each bottle in Black Rock’s 250+ bottle library is grouped by flavour (rather than region) and labelled with the price, so you know how much a dram will set you back before you order. “We’re removing barriers to entry,” he continues. “No one wants to get stung. It might be that you can afford a £20 dram, but you might not have wanted to spend that on this occasion. Having to have that conversation is not hospitality.”

There’s also the brand spanking new blending suite, where you can blend your very own bottle of whisky so long as you book ahead. After a welcome drink comprising one of Black Rock’s signature whisky highballs – a Smokey Cokey in our case – you’ll delve into the origins of blended whisky and explore the team’s flavour-forward approach through a vertical single malt tasting comprising sweet, fruit, fragrant, spice and smoke.

“While we arrange by flavour, there are certain rules that tend to hold fast,” Hastings says, “so most of ‘smoke’ is still Islay whisky, most of ‘sweet’ is full of bourbon, most of ‘spice’ is full of rye. But there are obviously outliers. Bunnahabhain is an Islay whisky that’s never been peated in its life, there’s no smoke in it whatsoever.”

whisky blending at Black Rock

Young people love whisky blending

Advice worth remembering, because after you’ve soaked up as much knowledge as possible from Hastings and co, it’s time to blend your own 500ml bottle. And once you’ve settled on the exact specifications, the team will record the recipe on Black Rock’s blending room file so you can re-order it whenever you like.

Whatever your personal whisky preferences, it might help to know which part of the distilling process those notes emerge from. Here, Hastings runs you through the fundamentals of five flavour groups…

Sweet

Here you’ll mostly find grain whiskies, along with single malts that display lighter characteristics, says Hastings – for example Auchentoshan, which triple-distills. “You need a little bit of sweet because it helps carry flavours – even if you’re not after a particularly sweet dram, it just helps to mellow things. You need at least 1ml otherwise it’ll be a blended malt, and those have to be bottled in Scotland. The amount you use will change the intensity of the final spirit.”

Fragrance

The majority of the fragrant notes found in whisky come from the specific shapes and angles within the still, Hastings advises, which are unique to each distillery. “If you want to make a light, fragrant, floral-style whisky, you want to increase reflux – which is essentially the vapour falling back down into the still and distilling again – as much as possible,” he explains. “Generally, if you want a lighter whisky you’ll have relatively long stills because you’re making it travel further. Jura has the second tallest stills in Scotland and it produces a very light style of whisky.”

Your finished whisky at Black Rock

Your finished whisky at Black Rock

Fruit

By contrast, there are a number of ways to introduce fruit flavours. “You’ve got pretty much the entire production process to play with,” says Hastings, “starting with the yeast strain and fermentation period. Generally, longer fermentations produce more tropical fruit flavours.”
More prominent, though, is the influence of cask ageing and finishing. “Different types of oak from different continents and regions will also produce different flavours,” he adds. “And then there’s the fill – a sherry cask will produce a radically different flavour to a Port cask. Different types of sherry, being the world’s most diverse wine, will produce different flavours on top of that. Whisky in fino will be fresh and apple-y, Pedro Ximenez will give raisins and chocolate.”

Spice

Spice tends to be produced either at the end of the distillation process – decreasing reflux means heavier, thicker flavours, which tend to be spicy – or in the casks, Hastings says. “Different casks can help develop those spicy flavours,” he says. “Casks that have had more than one fill tend to produce spicier qualities, because you’re getting past the initial sweet vanillins you see in newer wood and any residual liquid from a first fill sherry or a first-fill bourbon cask.”

Smoke

The peating process occurs right at the beginning of the process, when you’re essentially smoking the malted barley dry. The smokiness of a whisky is measured in ‘phenolic parts per million’ (known as PPM), which starts high and decreases rapidly throughout the rest of the distillation process. “You’ll lose some in the mashing stage, distillation loses a tonne depending on the type of stills, and then during maturation – especially in older whiskies – you’re constantly losing smoke,” Hastings explains.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Hard Seltzer

Those who live outside of the US might not be familiar with the concept of a Hard Seltzer. The trend is certainly yet to catch on among us Brits. To…

Those who live outside of the US might not be familiar with the concept of a Hard Seltzer. The trend is certainly yet to catch on among us Brits. To gain a little industry insight, we stirred down the popular Stateside serve at a J&B Rare masterclass with Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch drinks experts Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison…

A whisky highball on steroids. That’s my first impression of America’s beloved Hard Seltzer, which has exploded in popularity both as a bar serve and in bottled form. Seltzer drinks – “effectively naturally-flavoured sparkling water,” Harrison explains – are absolutely booming across the pond, and their boozy iterations are set to become a US$2.5 billion category by 2021, according to an estimate shared with Business Insider.

If you hadn’t already guessed, the Hard Seltzer is flavoured water “with an added element of alcohol,” Harrison continues, “often whisky, so it’s essentially a Highball but with flavoured water.” Despite runaway success overseas, in Blighty, the term has most of us scratching our heads (hard soft drink doesn’t quite have the same ring to it), which is ironic, really, since the serve in its simplest form was initially made with liquid from the UK. 

Well, sort of. In The Mixicologist, Or, How to Mix All Kinds of Fancy Drinks, penned by Chris F. Lawlor in 1895, there are two recipes, says Harrison. “The first calls for British Isles whisky, likely Irish whiskey at the time, lengthened with soda water,” he explains. “In terms of measurements, [Lawlor] simply says, ‘Let your guests help themselves to the amount of whisky they like, and top the rest up with water’. There is also another recipe for a B&S (Brandy and Soda), where he calls for a ‘pony’, which would’ve been about 28ml. And that kick-started this refreshing club soda-style drink.”

Hard seltzer

Hard Seltzer, easy to make

Among the first to tackle the trend was Scotland’s J&B Rare. Made with 42 different whiskies, the blend was created first and foremost for club soda-style drinks, says Ridley. “If you were going out for dinner or having a lavish dinner party, you want to spoil your palate for all these fantastic wines that you were going to be drinking. At the time, people weren’t drinking single malt, largely speaking they were very peaty, smoky, heavyweight whiskies. The idea was to create eminently lighter, more delicate, and more refined.”

Such was its success in the UK, parent company Justerini & Brooks rebranded the bottling J&B Rare and took it to America just in time to toast the end of Prohibition. US drinkers loved it, and soon the brand found a real foothold in New York and Las Vegas, becoming a firm favourite among The Rat Pack – particularly Dean Martin. The Highball spread to Japan, where it became a striking vessel for the nation’s light, delicate whisky style and was adopted as a cultural icon., Japan’s bartenders refined the signature serve with crystal-clear ice and delicate glassware, paving the way for the modern Highball you find on menus in bars around the world today.

But I digress. Back to the Hard Seltzer serve. You don’t need a fridge full of flavoured soda to execute your own perfect version of the drink. In fact, Ridley and Harrison recommend giving the dodgy artificial-tasting stuff a wide berth in favour of making your own flavoured sparkling water seltzer at home. It’s easy enough – just infuse fruits, vegetables and other tidbits with sparkling water in one of those lovely glass barrels with the tap attached. 

Hard Seltzer

You can buy ready-made flavoured water, or make your own

Flavour-wise, you could go for a refreshing cucumber and mint combination, spice things up with ginger, apple, and cinnamon, or keep things simple with a classic lemon and lime. However, if you don’t fancy making your own and would rather stockpile the bottled stuff, a handful of health-conscious flavoured sparkling water brands are starting to crop up in the UK, for example No1 Rosemary Water (which has also started branching out with fizzy versions of other tasty herbs like fennel).

You’ll also need bitters, preferably fruit-flavoured – peach, orange, lemon, rhubarb, plum, grapefruit, whatever you’re feeling – and a handful of tasty garnishes to really set the drink off: lemon zest, rosemary, cherry, or mint, for example. Ready to jump on the Hard Seltzer trend? Here’s the recipe for the Rosemary Hard Seltzer to get you started:

25ml J&B Rare 
125ml No.1 Sparkling Rosemary Water

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add J&B Rare and top with Sparkling Rosemary Water. Stir slowly and garnish with a fresh sprig of rosemary. Could not be simpler.

 

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Adventure bottled: Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Great British Rum

From pirates to the Royal Navy, rum has long been associated with the spirit of adventure. All things considered, no one is better placed to break ground in English rum…

From pirates to the Royal Navy, rum has long been associated with the spirit of adventure. All things considered, no one is better placed to break ground in English rum than British expedition leader Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Allow us to regale you with the tale of his daring Great British Rum – rather than age the liquid in a barrel, the barrel is put in the still… 

As CVs go, Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ one is pretty damn impressive. Named the world’s greatest living explorer by the Guinness Book of Records, the author, poet, former military man and endurance record holder is the first person to have visited both the North and South Poles travelling only on the surface, crossing the Antarctic and Arctic Oceans. 

In 2009, aged 65, Fiennes climbed the summit of Mount Everest; the oldest Brit to achieve this feat. In fact, he’s climbed the highest mountain on three of the world’s continents, and aims to do so on the remaining four, too. In 2003, he ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents (despite a heart attack that left him in a coma for three days and double heart bypass operation four months prior). And now, he has his very own rum.

Sir Ranulph with Dr John Waters

The idea for Great British Rum has its roots in the late seventies during the Transglobe Expedition, which saw a team, led by Fiennes, circumnavigate the world on its polar axis using only surface transport back in the late Seventies. The trip took seven years to plan and saw the hardy crew cover some 52,000 miles in three years – so huge was the undertaking, no one has repeated the route since. 

To keep spirits high, crew mate Oliver Shepherd devised a plan inspired by the ‘happy hour’ commonplace in military messes. Every day at 17.30, everyone on the ship would congregate in his room and toast the expedition with something tasty – more often than not, rum. In January this year, as a nod to this special memory, Fiennes partnered with the folks at English Spirit distillery to tread new ground in rum. And the resulting liquid is as pioneering as the adventure it stems from.

“It’s bringing back, into this format, memories of an expeditionary type from 50 years plus,” says Fiennes. “The Brits have been at the forefront, not just because of colonialism, of exploring remote areas and getting there first, and to me there’s 50 years of doing just that. Going beyond the limits, that’s really what it’s all about, Some of my moments of joy at completing sometimes 10 years of work – getting to the ship, living instead of dying – have been celebrated with rum.” 

Lovely colour, John

Instead of ageing Great British Rum in a barrel, master distiller Dr John Walters has put the barrel in the still, having sourced wood from the locations of Fiennes’ favourite adventures – Sequoia from Canada, Pine from Norway and Date Palm from Oman – to add during distillation. First, though, the process starts with 100% pure sugar cane molasses from Venezuela, which are fermented with a bespoke yeast for 10 to 14 days. 

The wash is distilled three times in a 200-litre copper pot still, with the three bespoke woods introduced during the final run. Those woods will have their own amount in the recipe, their own time in the still, their own unique shape and their own level of bespoke charring, Dr Walters explains. Then, the rum goes through a micro-oxygenation step that involves cascading distillate through the wood, which gives the rum its golden colour. 

“Ten years ago we bought a variety of different barrels from different places and the first thing we did was break them up to understand how they’re put together – their chemistry, their charring, the rate at which they can bind alcohol, the rate at which they would allow oxygen to migrate through them and other bits and bobs,” he says. “We got a vague understanding – the chemistry is very complicated – about pairing woods with spirits, and so we were able to buy certain woods looking for different chemical subsets to help provide the characteristics we wanted to embellish our rum with.”

Great British Rum

That’s a Great British Rum

The result? Given tasting notes of orange, caramel and spiced Christmas cake on the nose, a hint of tobacco and vanilla on the palate, followed by a mix of milk and dark chocolate and golden liquorice. Very British flavours indeed. If there was just one thing about your rum that you could share with everyone, I ask Fiennes, what would it be? The memories associated with the specific types of wood, he says, pointing to an experience in British Columbia back in 1971. 

“We did the first ever water journey from their northern border, 2,000 miles through the Rockies along nine interlocking rough rivers as part of the country’s centenary,” he explains. “At one point, I ended up by myself in mosquito-laden woods and started smelling burning wood. Now, if you’re in the middle of a forest with no way out and you smell burning wood you’re in trouble. I remember the smell of that wood was delicious, but frightening. And when you taste the wood from those same pines in the rum, you’ll bring amazing memories back to us.”

Great British Rum will be landing at Master of Malt soon. Check the New Arrivals page for more information.

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Introducing Glasshouse Whisky: Blended Scotch, but not as you know it

The bartending trio behind Langstane Liquor Company have reverse-engineered the Whisky Highball and bottled the ultimate blended Scotch for the base. We sipped a Glasshouse Whisky and Soda with co-founder…

The bartending trio behind Langstane Liquor Company have reverse-engineered the Whisky Highball and bottled the ultimate blended Scotch for the base. We sipped a Glasshouse Whisky and Soda with co-founder Alex Lawrence – who you might also recognise as global head of bar operations for Mr Lyan Group – to find out more… 

“Fruity, bright, banging,” says Lawrence. “That’s the gist of it”. And honestly, we have to agree. If there are three words that best describe Glasshouse – the second spirit from Scottish trio Alex Lawrence, Ben Iravani and Josh Rennie, following on from Porter’s Gin – fruity, bright and banging are, well, bang on the money.

That’s because it was developed with the whisky Highball in mind, “All the big brands are doing whisky Highballs now, but no one’s actually sat down and gone, ‘I’m going to make a whisky for that drink’,” Lawrence says. “It’s just convenient that it’s nice. So that’s what we set out to do – we set out to make a highball, and this is just one component of it. I find that really exciting.”

Alex Lawrence

It’s only Alex Lawrence!

So, what’s in the bottle? Glasshouse is a blended malt whisky made from 100% malted barley. Just two whiskies make up the bottling: one column still distillate and one pot still distillate from Highland distillery Loch Lomond, both aged in American oak. The resulting blend is bottled non-chill filtered at 46% ABV. 

“We’re not going for ultra-nuanced, multi-layered whisky,” says Lawrence. “I don’t know how to do complicated blending. I’m a bartender. I put two things in a glass and it tastes great, and that’s what we’ve done here. The only thing we did play with was the ABV – at 46%, it’s a little punchier, but it needs that for it to be flavourful and lengthened [in a highball]. ”

On the nose, given aromas including bobbing apples and breakfast cereal. On the palate, pear drops and malt, with Toffee Crisp on the finish. That’s as far as the tastings notes go. But then, Glasshouse isn’t meant to be a geeky brand, Lawrence says, or even a complete product. That it tastes phenomenal sipped neat was a happy coincidence. “When I was blending and tasting it was always with soda water, never by itself,” he says. 

The name Glasshouse is inspired by the Victorian glasshouses within which exotic fruits, like pineapples, were grown in Scotland back in the 1800s – a nod to the tropical fruit flavour notes found in the whisky. The colour scheme is modern and fresh; a contemporary blend of green and pink hues – an intentional sidestep from the overt boujiness* of single malt marketing. 

Glasshouse whisky

Glasshouse is a whisky designed to be mixed

“The pantone of the brand isn’t traditional,” says Lawrence. “It’s designed to be a little bit disruptive, but not in an aggravating manner. Put it this way, I’m not sure all the old guard of whisky are going to love this brand. But ultimately it’s not for whisky drinkers – it’s for more people that are gathering in a certain way. 

“With that single malt that sits on your shelf, you have to wait for a special occasion,” he continues. “When you go to a party or a barbeque you want to take something fresh and bright that feels nuanced and grown-up but not packed with sugar. It shouldn’t feel precious, it shouldn’t feel un-consumable.”

At just under £30 a bottle, Glasshouse is intended to be consumed in a more disposable manner than a single malt. In fact, that’s the entire point of it. Ultimately, this is about democratising the Highball; making it easy to enjoy an uncomplicated, unfussy, super tasty drink so you can focus on more important stuff, like catching up with your mates. You don’t need fancy ice or elaborate glassware for that, as Lawrence points out.

“There’s so much to think about when you order a drink now,” he says. “It’s good because people are more discerning, but at the same time, you have a 10-step process to get a gin and tonic. Are you joking? Just put a lime in it, pal. And listen, I’m from that world – I still make cocktails, I still work in cocktail bars. But at the end of the day, I just want to sit down with some soda water and some whisky and have fun with my pals.”

*Young person’s term meaning snobbish or stuck-up.

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Five minutes with… Sandie van Doorne, creative and communications director at Lucas Bols

Dating back to 1575, Amsterdam-based Lucas Bols has earned its place in the history books as the world’s oldest distilled spirits brand. Here, creative and communications director Sandie van Doorne…

Dating back to 1575, Amsterdam-based Lucas Bols has earned its place in the history books as the world’s oldest distilled spirits brand. Here, creative and communications director Sandie van Doorne shares insight into those early days of distilling – and the dynamic company’s future plans…

With more than 400 years of distilling know-how under its belt, and recipes that have been handed down over centuries, Lucas Bols is one of the oldest Dutch companies still active today – a remarkable feat, you’ll agree. But the company has not stood the test of time by sitting still or resting on its laurels. 

While the processes of distillation, percolating and macerating are practised as they have been for the last four centuries, Lucas Bols has its sights set firmly on the future, working closely with bartenders across the globe to develop new products and flavours as well as exploring and adapting old recipes according to the latest cocktail trends.

We sat down with Sandie van Doorne, creative and communications director at Lucas Bols, to find out more about the past, present, and future of the Dutch spirits-maker…

Sandie

It’s Sandie van Doorne!

MoM: Thanks so much for chatting with us, Sandie! First of all, could you explain a little about your job and how long you have been in the role?

Van Doorne: I’ve been with the company since 1999 and in this role since 2006, which was the year our CEO, our CFO and myself completed a management buyout. We came back to Amsterdam and re-established ourselves in The Netherlands again after a couple of years of the company being in French hands. It was then that I stepped into the role of creative and communications director to tell the beautiful story of over four centuries of craftsmanship and history of Lucas Bols, and make sure that we are innovative and that whatever we do in the market is special – and giving tender loving care to this company and these beautiful brands. 

MoM: What’s 2019 been like for Bols – what are some of the highlights so far?

SvD: The work that we’re doing on low-alcohol cocktails and the revival of using liqueurs as a base spirit. It’s something we started working on about two years ago, and we’ve really seen this picking up in 2019. When you pair, for example, Bols Cucumber liqueur with tonic, it’s a classic low-alcohol Gin and Tonic alternative. Sometimes you want a really flavourful drink with an alcohol bite but without the alcohol effect – when you take a liqueur that has the natural flavours of a fruit or a botanical and mix that with tonic or soda, or, for example, Bols Watermelon with bitter lemon, it’s a fantastic drink. You have an adult drink without having a high alcohol content.

MoM: Lucas Bols has a long and storied history – could you talk about how the family business first set up and what those early days of distilling might’ve looked like?

SvD: In 1575 – I still think it’s amazing that we go back that far – the Bols family established on the outskirts of Amsterdam, which at that point was very small. Where the distillery would have been is now in the centre, because the city emerged around it. They started by distilling liqueurs for medicinal purposes and festive occasions, and later, in 1664, they also started making genever. Genever had been around for a long time for medicinal purposes, but in the 17th century it became popular with the wider population and there became a recreational demand for it. The Bols family, who were very good at distilling, picked up on this and started making genever and it became the second pillar of their company, next to liqueurs. The company is named after the grandson of the family, Lucas Bols, because he transformed this small distillery into an international company. 

Lightbulb moment at Bols

Innovative cocktails are a big part of Bols’ business

MoM: Amazing! How did Lucas Bols turn the business into a global brand?

SvD: In 1700 he became a majority shareholder in The Dutch East India Trading Company, and with that, he received exclusive rights to all the new herbs and spices coming into Amsterdam, which was the centre of the world for trading at the time. With those herbs and spices Lucas Bols was able to create over 300 different liqueur recipes and started the international distribution of the brand, which today is in over 110 countries. So he really made what was a small distillery into a big company with a wide product range and an international footprint. After he died in 1719, the Bols family carried on for about another 100 years until the last male heir died in 1816. The widow and her two daughters sold the company off. It has always remained the Lucas Bols company because she made the buyer sign a promissory note saying that the name would be forever used on the product. By doing that, she created the world’s oldest distilled spirits brand. 

MoM: Could you talk about Dutch drinking culture and how it has changed over the years?

SvD: In the 17th century, people were drinking beer and genever a lot, and they have stayed with us for a long time. Genever is still the biggest spirits category in the Netherlands – the aged genevers especially are in favour, and a lot of people like to pair them with a nice craft beer which we call a ‘headbutt’ or kopstoot. Beer and genever share a lot of the same ingredients, with the grains and the hops, so they go very nicely together. And then in the last decade or so we’ve seen strong cocktail development in the Netherlands. We opened the Bols Bartending Academy in 2006, where we train about 3,000 bartenders every year, and we really see the growth of cocktail-making and cocktail drinking and of course the Gin & Tonic trend has helped that a lot as well. 

MoM: Today, Bols has more than 20 brands in its portfolio, including Damrak Gin, Galliano and Passoã. What’s the main challenge for you when creating a global strategy?

SvD: Bols is the main brand that we focus on, so the hard part is that you want to give tender loving care to all the other brands in our portfolio. But the upside is that since we are distributed in over 110 countries, having all these different brands gives us the opportunity to really match every market with a different product, because they all have different needs – especially the emerging markets. 

Bols Amsterdam

Traditional methods and modern technology sit side-by-side at Bols

MoM: On the flipside, what’s the most fun aspect of the company?

SvD: We are a small player in a huge market, and that is so much fun. We’re a small team, so we are able to do things how we like to do them, and do them in a different and special way. That’s why we created the House of Bols Cocktail and Genever Experience and the Bols Bartending Academy, that’s why have the opportunity to bring genever back around the world. It’s very difficult to bring a category back and it’s a huge and long project that takes investment but we can do this because we are agile and flexible.

MoM: Finally, on a personal note – on a Friday night, what’s your go-to drink or cocktail?

SvD: Definitely the Amsterdam Mule, which is ginger beer and Bols Genever. Ginger beer mixes really well with genever because of the maltiness; the ginger goes very well with that.

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Five minutes with… Dr Kirstie McCallum, head of whisky creation at Glen Moray

At the end of October, Glen Moray announced industry legend Dr Kirstie McCallum as its head of whisky creation – a brand new role that encompasses the Speyside distillery’s production operation…

At the end of October, Glen Moray announced industry legend Dr Kirstie McCallum as its head of whisky creation – a brand new role that encompasses the Speyside distillery’s production operation and its vast existing stocks. We caught up with Dr McCallum as she acquaints herself with an eye-watering number of casks..

As a senior blender at Distell International, for the last three years McCallum has been responsible for Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory as well as the company’s blended whiskies (think Three Ships, Scottish Leader, Black Bottle…). A cracking CV, you’ll agree. Her new role sees her take the reins from master distiller Graham Coull, who oversaw the expansion of the distillery in 2012.

The appointment is huge news for the Elgin-based distillery, which celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2017, and the team are understandably stoked. “We are very much looking forward to this next chapter in the long history of Glen Moray and look forward to learning from Kirstie’s extensive knowledge and experience across a wide spectrum of the industry,” Glen Turner general manager, Ian McLaren, said in a press release.

Glen Turner isn’t a typo, by the way. It’s the operations company for the wider La Martiniquaise-Bardinet whisky portfolio – Glen Moray’s parent company – located in Bathgate near Edinburgh. In fact, as part of her new role, McCallum is at the helm of their blended whisky portfolio, which includes Cutty Sark, Label 5 and Sir Edward’s. Here’s what she’s been up to so far…

Glen Moray

Perks of the the job

MoM: Huge congrats on the role, Kirstie! Tell us, where did it all start for you – how long have you been distilling and blending, and what made you choose it as a career?

Kirstie McCallum: Coming up to 20 years now, I’m a chemist by qualification and when I left university I was offered a temporary position in a distillery. I fell in love with the industry and I’ve not left since.

MoM: We can understand why – working in whisky sounds like the dream! What’s your favourite part of the job?

KMcC: It has to be the creating process. Blending is my main love, looking at different casks, different flavours, putting things together. You know the character you’re looking for, and you have an idea of what your inventory is, so it’s about deciding what to use out of those stocks to get there. And when you get something that tastes absolutely amazing and you go about sharing it with everybody. I like the fact that what you produce goes out [into the world], people drink it and they can tell you what they think of it. 

MoM: You’ve taken on the newly-created role of head of whisky creation. What does that mean on a day-to-day basis?

KMcC: Right now I’m going through the inventory to see what treats we have in cask – what kinds of whiskies, what the characters are, looking at how we could go forward, different editions, bits and pieces like that. I’m like a kid in a sweet shop running around taking samples and trying things. 

Kirstie McCallum

Kirstie McCallum tasting casks, only another 729,999 to go

Mom: Glen Moray has released some interesting cask finishes in the past – what can you tell us about the inventory?

KMcC: We’re very fortunate that we have got a lot of good wood, and a lot of good casks maturing in the warehouses. I’m pretty sure there’s more than 30,000 [casks] up at Glen Moray, and at Bathgate we’ve got over 700,000, so there’s a lot. Graham has done a lot of experimental casks in the past which are sitting there just waiting to be found, and we’ve got some absolutely beautiful bourbon and sherry casks too. 

MoM: Graham was Glen Moray’s master distiller for 14 years, which is a long time to be laying down liquid. How do you hope to put your own stamp on production?

KMcC: I’ve got a few ideas, but I should probably talk to Glen Moray about them first!

MoM: The suspense! We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, what’s on the agenda for 2020 – what projects are you working towards?

KMcC: We’re working on quite a few things at the moment – different expressions for Glen Moray, but also looking at what we can do with all the brands. How we can extend them and make them bigger and better.

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Get acquainted with genever, the grandfather of gin

The cocktail renaissance may well be in full swing, but it’s forgotten one of the spirits that started it all: genever. We took a trip to Amsterdam for a lesson…

The cocktail renaissance may well be in full swing, but it’s forgotten one of the spirits that started it all: genever. We took a trip to Amsterdam for a lesson in Dutch courage from Lucas Bols, the world’s oldest distilled spirits brand…

Traditionally drunk neat, this juniper-flavoured malt spirit played a starring role in early cocktail history. In fact, by the 19th century, one in four cocktails were made with genever (or ‘Dutch courage’). The father of American mixology Jerry Thomas favoured the spirit, frequently referring to “Hollands gin” in his books. He even named a drink in its honour – the Improved Holland Gin Cocktail. 

Today Bols Genever is made according to the original 1820 recipe that Thomas and co found so compelling all those years ago, but the company’s history goes back further. Its very first genever was bottled back in 1664 – almost 100 years, if you can believe it, after the business was founded back in 1575. Despite centuries of rich history it’s gin, not genever, that has stolen the junipery limelight (at least for now). And yet without genever, there would be no gin.

When Dutchman William of Orange married Mary, daughter of James II of England, (the couple ruled England, Scotland and Ireland jointly) in the 17th century, he brought genever to England explains Sandie van Doorne, executive director at Lucas Bols. Distilleries in London wanted to start producing it, but at the time, they didn’t know how to recreate the most fundamental element of genever – malt spirit. “Instead they just created alcohol with juniper berries and named it after genever, calling it gin,” she says.

Bols + beer = head butt

Bols + beer = headbutt

Bols’ malt spirit is made with three different grains – rye, wheat and corn (all malted, naturally), explains Piet van Leijenhorst, master distiller at Lucas Bols. “We do a long fermentation and distill it three times, then we marry it for six to eight weeks – during that time, the flavours are balancing with each other,” he says. “Then you make a distillation of this malt spirit with juniper berries. Other botanicals can be used to make a more complex taste and each producer has their own ideas about which botanicals to use. But the malt spirit and the juniper berry distillate is the base of all genevers.”

Historically, genever was made with malt spirit and just a handful of botanicals – mostly, van Leijenhorst says, because the column still didn’t yet exist, and as such, neither did neutral grain spirit – but today, many producers aren’t shy about adding flavour in this way. All Lucas Bols’ genevers are malt-spirit led as a nod to the past, in fact back in 2017 the team launched Bols Genever 100% Malt Spirit, described as “genever in its purest form”.

While genever has long been part of Dutch drinking culture, the malt-based spirit had fallen out of favour. Now, however, native drinkers are embracing their national spirit once more. “We see a new group of younger consumers who are taking up genever again,” says van Doorne. “People are going back to local traditions, local products, local brands. Genever is still the biggest spirits category in the Netherlands – the aged genevers especially are in favour.”

As for how to drink it – traditionally, the spirit is served in a tulip glass. “In Amsterdam there are bars that have a very low counter; you have a tulip glass filled completely to the brim with genever and you have to slurp it,” says van Leijenhorst. There’s also the kopstoot (‘headbutt’ in English) which is a beer served with genever; basically a Dutch Boilermaker. No matter the style of said genever – whether it’s heavy on the malt spirit, heavy on the botanicals, or even barrel aged – they all have a corresponding craft beer pairing. And of course, there are cocktails – below, you’ll find two to try at home. Proost!

Lightbulb moment at Bols

A Redlight Negoni with very literal serving suggestion

Red Light Negroni

Named after the Lucas Bols Distillery, which is situated just around the corner from Amsterdam’s red light district. Served, fittingly, in a lightbulb. “The genever gives additional complexity but also makes it very smooth and grounds the whole drink,” explains van Doorne. 

30ml Bols Genever Original
30ml Galliano L’Aperitivo
30ml Sweet vermouth

Pour all the ingredients over ice and stir. Garnish with an orange twist.

Amsterdam Mule

A malty and refreshing twist on the classic vodka-based Moscow Mule.

45ml Bols Genever Original
15ml Fresh lime juice
Top up with ginger beer
Dash of Angostura bitters 

Fill the glass with ice and pour in 45ml Bols Genever Original. Top up with ginger beer, some fresh lime juice and a dash Angostura bitters. Garnish with the squeezed lime.

 

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Future flavour

Whether it’s with curious kit, unorthodox botanicals or futuristic thinking, new world spirits producers have harnessed the latest technology to create liquids that taste anything but traditional… For the tastemakers…

Whether it’s with curious kit, unorthodox botanicals or futuristic thinking, new world spirits producers have harnessed the latest technology to create liquids that taste anything but traditional…

For the tastemakers of tomorrow, flavour comes first. Join us as we take a peek through the looking glass to uncover the weird and wonderful, the unfathomable and the unnamable – from Willy Wonka-esque “world’s first” bottlings to space-age production and maturation methods…

Empirical Spirits

Empirical Spirits

Leading the charge of this rebellion is Copenhagen’s Empirical Spirits, helmed by Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, alumni of renowned restaurant Noma. Using a base spirit made using biodynamic barley, koji, and Belgian Saison yeast, the duo approach ingredients in a way only world-class chefs know how. Oysters are a botanical. Roasted chicken skin, wild roses, too. But don’t get your wires crossed, this isn’t about the shock factor. Empirical isn’t a fad or a gimmick – it’s a flavour company.

If you only try one product, make it… Charlene McGee Blend 

Juniper berries are smoked with their own wood, lightly crushed, macerated, and distilled at low temperatures before the resulting liquid is matured in oloroso casks. Flavour-wise, expect fresh juniper, fruity blackberries, and fragrant juniper sap that gives way to a smooth, smoky finish.

Comte de Grasse

Comte De Grasse

In the heart of Grasse – the so-called “fragrance capital of the world” – you’ll find French distiller Comte de Grasse, which set out to “start with creating flavours rather than with raw ingredients”. Headed up by master scientist and innovator Marie-Anne Contamin, the team uses lots of clever perfume tech (think ultrasonic maceration, cold vacuum distillation and CO2 supercritical extraction) to extract and preserve targeted flavours from each botanical without damaging the molecule.

If you only try one product, make it… 44°N

Named for the geographic coordinates of Grasse, 44° is a veritable ‘who’s who’ of Côte D’Azur’s botanicals, with cade, bitter orange, verbena, everlasting, rose, alexanders, samphire, honey, juniper, angelica, coriander, lemon, orris, everlasting, lavender, mimosa, rose, grapefruit, jasmine, patchouli and pepper Sichuan.

Sweetdram

Sweetdram co-founders Daniel Fisher and Andrew MacLeod have been producing “progressive, flavour-driven spirits” on a custom-made copper pot still at their Edinburgh distillery since 2014. The duo met at university some three years earlier while studying for their master’s degrees in brewing and distilling and resolved to focus on flavour rather than established categories or trends. Exhibit A: Scotch single malt and grain casks blended and infused with botanicals and local honey. Exhibit B: Caribbean rums distilled with grains of paradise, lapsang souchong and smoked figs.

If you only try one product, make it… Escubac

Exhibit C, if you like. A spicy, citrusy, juniper-free botanical spirit – caraway, cardamom, nutmeg, bitter orange, orange, lemon, cloves, orris, coriander, cubeb, cinnamon among them – distilled and then infused with raisins, vanilla and saffron. 

Amass Spirits 

Billed as “the world’s first nomadic distillery”, Amass collaborates with independent craft spirit makers from around the world to release spirits with an authentic sense of place. Working to a “grower to glass” philosophy and creative by native distillers, each bottling (there are two in the series so far – Los Angeles and Copenhagen) seeks to capture the natural terroir and landscape that surrounds its production in flavour form.

If you only try one product, make it… Copenhagen Vodka

Said to be inspired by the city’s long summer evenings and longer winter nights. Marigold, chamomile and lemon zest are distilled on a traditional aquavit still as a nod to Scandinavia’s rich drinking history, creating “a heart with subtle layers of flowers folded around fresh, hand-grated citrus”. Delightful.

Lost Spirits Distillery

The team at LA’s Lost Spirits Distillery create high-ester rums and heavily peated malt whiskies, but not as you’ve ever tasted them before. In 2015, co-founder Bryan Davis developed a reactor that could flash-age his spirits, mimicking the flavour achieved by 20 years of maturation in just six to eight days. Yes, really. The distillery itself – which features a boat ride, a jungle, and a floating carousel with dragons – has been described as “Disneyland for adults” on more than one occasion.

If you only try one product, make it… Lost Spirits Abomination Chapter 2 – Sayers of the Law

A heavily-peated malt spirit that has been matured in ex-bourbon casks for 12 to 18 months, before ageing in the reactor with charred American oak seasoned with late-harvest Riesling. Absolute magic.

Rebel Rabbet

It’s almost strange to think a spirits line as progressive as Rebel Rabbet could be inspired by a 103-year-old Irish whiskey mash bill recipe, but that’s the Rabbet way – whatever you’re anticipating, expect the opposite. When Matt McGivern and Dylan Bell launched the business in December 2018, they had one goal: alternative spirits “made from the grain up”. So they took ye olde recipe, fermented the mash with saison yeast, triple distilled it, and ran amok with the new make – in the best possible way.

If you only try one product, make it… Rebel Rabbet RES3: End of Austerity

A white Alba truffle, Beluga caviar and orris root ‘vodka’ described as “a flamboyant ride through the Michelin stars”. Flavour-wise, it’s every bit as intriguing and complex as it sounds, with salty maritime notes, floral parma violets, subtle spices and a dash of citrus.

 

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The rise of cask whisky investment

Curious about cask whisky investment? Don’t get your assets in a twist. No matter whether you’re sourcing direct from distillery or exploring your options through a third party, here’s everything…

Curious about cask whisky investment? Don’t get your assets in a twist. No matter whether you’re sourcing direct from distillery or exploring your options through a third party, here’s everything you need to know about buying booze by the barrel…

Owning a maturing cask of whisky might be every dram lover’s dream, but it can also be a sound investment for the future – with none of the insidious money-grabbing associated with bottle flipping. No matter whether you opt for a quarter-cask or a full-blown butt, the contents should appreciate in value over time. That’s in the current climate, this is dependent on those fickle financial markets. 

“The reason people invest in whisky is because you get a personal touch,” explains Elliot Wynn-Higgins, cask custodian at Lindores Abbey Distillery in Scotland. “You don’t tend to get the same welcome from banks or investment advisors. Whisky is a fun investment, it’s not an ISA that sweats cash – it’s a journey in spirits maturation and an ongoing project. You can even taste it.” 

The stills at Lindores Abbey

The stills at Lindores Abbey

Interest rate averages for whisky, he continues, can be higher than gold and vintage sports cars, with an average of around 6% return every year. But dollar signs aside, there are a number of motivations to invest, whether it’s marking an important milestone like a wedding or a newborn, creating your own independent whisky bottling, or fulfilling a lifelong dream to participate in whisky-making history.

After all, maturing whisky evolves in a way that a bottle of whisky just won’t. Each cask is patently unique – even when two identical casks are filled at the same time with the same spirit, they’ll taste different. It’s a limited commodity, observes Simon Aron, co-founder of Cask Trade, “if a particular cask yields 250 bottles, after they’re gone, they’re gone, that’s it. There will never be another cask like it.” 

So with that in mind, what should a would-be investor bear in mind? “Buying at the lowest price you can is obviously the smartest, but make sure that it’s a branded facility,” says Whiskey & Wealth Club co-founder Jay Bradley. “It’s quite easy to buy whisky in Scotland and Ireland from a commercial facility – you can buy it at a decent enough price, and that’s great for blending and whatnot.” 

If if it’s return on investment you’re chasing, he says, stick with known brands. “For example, a five-year-old Macallan cask is worth more than five-year-old cask of no-name whiskey. Making sure it’s a solid distillery with a good master distiller behind it is very important as well – the more they build their brand, the more the cask of whisky will go up in value.”

Jay Bradley from Whisky and Wealth

Jay Bradley from Whisky and Wealth

And make sure you do your maths, first. “Look at your budget and your targets,” suggests Aron, who says the youngest whisky on Cask Trade’s list is three years old and comes in at £1,500, while the oldest, at the ripe old age of 50, is north of £300,000. “The budget would be personal to that individual and the target would be: do you want to see a return in three years, five years, 10 years? Do you want to buy one cask and sit on it, or would you rather a portfolio of different ages? Do you want a portfolio where you can cash in at different dates?”

Just as there are a few reasons to consider trading your hard-earned cash for amber nectar, there are several means to go about doing so. Before you commit, remember to ask about any extra costs associated with warehouse storage, insurance and bottling, including HMRC duty and VAT. Here, we run through your options…

From a distillery

Plenty of distilleries now offer their own private cask purchase programmes. The benefits are two-fold: buyers have the chance to own a piece of whisky history, while distilleries receive a cash injection – often, in the case of younger producers, precisely when their overheads are steepest and they perhaps. need it the most. 

“As a potential buyers comes to me, I suss out why they want to buy a cask,” says Wynn-Higgins. “From there, I help them select the perfect cask with their budget in mind, and they come along to fill it with me where they can. Casks typically aren’t cheap things to buy, so when we make a sale of a cask it helps us out financially very strongly. It also helps us build great customer rapport from a very early stage.” 

While the small-print surrounding your purchase will vary from producer to producer – “some distilleries won’t allow you to sell to private brokers, whereas some do,” he says – there are a few common rules. “Typically, you can’t take your cask home with you as it needs to mature in a bonded warehouse. Unless you have a rather large shed in your garden.”

Cask Trade 4

Whisky slowly maturing, with any luck, becoming more valuable

From a broker

Cask brokerage company Rare Whisky 101 essentially acts as the middle-man that links serious cask buyers with genuine cask sellers. The team screens potential interested parties to make sure they have sufficient funds to complete the acquisition process and take a 100ml sample from each cask to assess the quality according to a ten-point rating scale – providing reassurance for both the buyer and the seller. After all, maturing whisky has a time limit. For sellers, particularly those new to the world of whisky investment, prospective buyers can be hard to find.

“Many people would assume that as long as their whisky is stored in cask in a bonded warehouse, no harm can come to it,” says RW101 co-founder, David Robertson. “However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is most definitely a finite time in which to sell a cask. We recently saw a 50-year-old cask that had dropped below the legal minimum of 40% alcohol to 28% and was subsequently deemed worthless. I’d encourage any owners, even if they don’t want to sell, to get their casks regauged and sampled. Casks can also leak and become overly-woody so cask owners should ensure that their casks are checked annually.”

From an alternative investment company

Whiskey & Wealth Club (WWC) sources Irish whiskey and Scotch for investors. The distilleries sell casks of their new make spirit – usually bulk in the form of six 200-litre palates – to private investors through WWC, which stores them in a government bonded warehouse, typically for between three and five years. Investors then decide whether to bottle for themselves, sell for a profit through WWC, or allow the contents to continue maturing. 

“We’re bridging the gap financially between a distillery and a whiskey brand that wants to buy mature stock,” explains WWC co-founder and CEO Scott Sciberras. “From the distillery’s point of view, producing whisky is a very expensive business, and you don’t see a return for years down the track. And from a whisky brand’s point of view, they want to buy mature stock to bottle and sell straight away.”

With WWC’s format, everyone’s a winner. “Rather than either one of them tying the money up for maturation period, private investors bridge the gap,” Scott says. “We purchase it by litres of pure alcohol, which gives us volume to sell to our clients without the overheads of running the distillery – so we can sell it for a far cheaper price. If we purchase 20% of a distillery’s fresh new make, it gives them enough working capital to run their stills.”

Macallan cask, probably worth a bit

From a dedicated marketplace 

Put simply, Cask Trade is a marketplace for trading whisky casks. Unlike a broker, it only sells whisky casks it owns, and only whole casks – no fractional sales. “We buy casks from all sorts of different places, so distilleries, warehouses, blenders, independent bottlers, investors; casks are moving around constantly between all of those groups,” Aron explains. “Some of the distilleries will never come up for sale because they don’t sell, full stop. Everything goes into production. But most distilleries are moving stock around Scotland all the time.”

The casks are held in HMRC-bonded warehouses, which are regularly visited by Cask Trade whisky masters. The business offers regular sampling and re-gauging of casks, re-racking, estimates of bottles and strength in cask, the financial modelling of bottling, costings for bottling, labelling and shipping, and will arrange for buyers to receive samples of their whiskies and visit their barrel(s) in person. It also guarantees to buy the cask back from its clients should they decide to sell it.

“If you’re got a bottle in your hand,  it’s sealed with a cork, all the information is on the label, it’s pretty much a done deal,” says Aron. “With a cask, it’s a moving target. It needs to be checked, sampled and looked after by a safe set of hands. Because there’s no label on a cask, you need to give the details – so people can understand how many bottles it would give at 12 years, how many at 15 years, how it’s expected to taste depending on the cask type, examples of bottles that have been sold in the past. It’s much more of a journey, like buying a classic car. You need to know when it was made, how it was made, who looked after it, how it was looked after and whether it still runs well.”

Cask Trade 1

Testing whisky at Cask Trade

Through an auction website

As of last month, Cask Trade launched an auction website aimed at private buyers and sellers. With casks going under the hammer four times a year, auctionyourcask.com will help private owners sell their casks to independent bottlers and investors from across the globe. 

There’s a stringent application process for sellers, and all casks are regauged ready for auction with a full 700ml drawn, so bidders can try before they buy. Since there’s no commission fee, Cask Trade sellers take the full hammer price home, bar the price of the reguage. Win-win.

“It gives bottlers and other buyers the chance to get a cask that has been sitting with an investor privately somewhere,” explains Aron. “From there, they can either take it on a journey for a few more years or bottle it. It’s like wanting to buy a Tiffany bracelet from an old catalogue in the 1930s. You just won’t be able to buy it unless you find it auction – otherwise it’s going to sit in someone’s jewellery box in their house forever and ever.”

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Five minutes with… Kirsteen Campbell, master whisky maker at The Macallan

Overseeing the production of the industry’s most sought-after Scotch whisky may be a gargantuan undertaking, but with 18 years’ experience under her belt, The Macallan’s master whisky maker Kirsteen Campbell…

Overseeing the production of the industry’s most sought-after Scotch whisky may be a gargantuan undertaking, but with 18 years’ experience under her belt, The Macallan’s master whisky maker Kirsteen Campbell is more than up to the task. Here, we chat about the evolution of the newly-strengthened whisky mastery team… 

Hailing from Thurso in the windswept Highlands, Campbell’s career started in 2001 with a degree in food science and a job in a new make spirits laboratory. Fast forward almost two decades, and she’s only gone and made history as the first female Macallan master whisky maker in the brand’s 200-year history*. Surely a contender for the world’s best job.

Having worked on the likes of Cutty Sark, Naked Grouse, The Famous Grouse and The Glenrothes at parent company Edrington, Campbell has become the newest addition to The Macallan’s six-strong whisky mastery team, made up of: Stuart MacPherson, master of wood; Sarah Burgess, lead whisky maker; Polly Logan, whisky maker; Steven Bremner, whisky maker; and Russell Greig, sample room assistant.

Here, we caught up with Campbell to chat through her new role – and find out a little more about how she enjoys one of the world’s best-loved Scotch whiskies…

Macallan whisky mastery team

Not a cutting electronic group from Zurich, it’s The Macallan whisky mastery team

MoM: Huge congratulations on the new role, Kirsteen! Could you tell us a little bit about when and where your love of Scotch whisky first began? 

Campbell: My career began with a scientific background, I studied food science at Glasgow Caledonian University and, following a bit of travel, started working within a lab at a distillery –  that’s when I first began to appreciate all the complexities in Scotch whisky. I started to do a bit of sensory work as well which fascinated me, so it was really from that point onwards that my love began. From there on I moved into research at the Scotch Whisky Research Institute in Edinburgh, delving more into the science behind flavour and gravitating more and more towards the sensory side of things. Then a role came up at Edrington – it was titled whisky quality technologist which essentially was a trainee blender, so I applied for that. I was successful and joined Edrington in 2007, and that’s where my role really became about blending and flavour. I’ve just had my 12 year anniversary with Edrington. I can’t quite believe it, it’s gone by in a blink.

The Macallan is one of the most revered whisky brands in the world. From a flavour perspective, what do you think makes the whisky so beloved among fans?

It’s definitely about our exceptional oak casks. We’ve a very rigorous cask policy and even have our own master of wood, Stuart McPherson. It’s just such an important factor of Macallan – so much of the flavour of Scotch whisky comes from oak casks, so we pay huge attention to that and place huge emphasis on it. But of course we look at quality throughout every stage of the process from the new make spirit to the casks we’re bringing in. Throughout the maturation period we’re checking on the whisky to make sure it’s developing in the way that we want it to. In the sample room we check the quality of every single cask that goes into every single batch of Macallan, so we’re moving thousands of samples. Attention to detail is really important in terms of the final quality of the whiskies and our sherry casks which deliver that rich, distinguishing flavour of the entire Macallan portfolio.

Kirsteen Campbell

Campbell in front of Macallan’s space age Speyside HQ

Could you talk a little bit about the various roles within the Whisky Mastery Team and how each relates to the liquid in the bottle?

It’s very much a team approach, we’re very collaborative with each other. I’m based in Glasgow so I spend my time between our headquarters, our bottling plant and The Macallan estate. Up there we have a team of four – Sarah Burgess is the lead whisky maker, there’s also Polly Logan, Steven Bremner and Russell Greig. Between us we look specifically at the quality of the liquid while Stuart McPherson looks after the quality of our casks. We’ve got over 100 years in the industry between us – Stuart’s working in the industry for 40 years, Sarah’s 28, I’m 18, Paulie’s 15 so between us we have a breadth of experience. We work very much as a team and bring our individual experiences together to make Macallan the best it possibly can be.

The art and science of whisky making is a huge focus for The Macallan. Which aspect of the whisky-making process do you personally find the most compelling – the arty, creative side or the really technical lab-based stuff?

It’s a very interesting one for me because I am quite split on it. There’s definitely a technical, logical side to the role, you’re working with numbers a lot and liaise closely with the team in Glasgow who are more scientific, so I get involved in some of their research. Then the other side, which I do also equally enjoy, is the arty side of things, and that really comes into play for new product development (NPD) in particular. It’s really fun to get involved in creating something completely new. Some people [in the whisky mastery team] are more creative while others are more technical and that overall balance works really well.

Macallan

Some seriously fancy Macallan

Could you talk about the research and development process at the distillery – for example, does your team work closely with other departments, or as a team are you quite independent in creating new bottlings?

All aspects of our roles require collaboration and NPD is one of those. We work very closely with the marketing and packaging teams on that, it’s not something that you can do in isolation and when a new product comes out there’s a huge range of people who have been involved in that process. Everything has to come together to make a successful product – from our perspective it’s the liquid, but you also need the background story and a great pack. We’re meeting with people throughout the company on a regular basis.

When you’re winding down at home, what’s your go-to Macallan expression?

That’s a tough choice because we have a wonderful portfolio of whiskies. For me, I do enjoy Double Cask, I have to say. I love that balance of the American oak sherry – the lovely sweet, vanilla, citrus notes – balanced perfectly with rich dried fruits and spicy character from the European oak casks. It’s a beautiful marriage of the two different cask types that we use.

*Well, almost – the brand celebrates its bicentenary in 2024.

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