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…
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.
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.