Online Editor, Simon Wittenberg, catches up with Sarah Burgess to talk ‘Estate’, The Macallan’s special new single malt which contains rare spirit distilled with barley grown at Easter Elchies estate, the iconic home of the world-famous whisky in Scotland.
LM: How long have you been working at The Macallan for, and what are your career highlights to date?
SB: I started working at The Macallan in April 2017, so I’m relatively new given most people have been here for 20 plus years. Before The Macallan, I spent my working life at Diageo, and I was there for 21 years, so I’ve been in the industry for a very long time.
In terms of a career highlight, it has to be working with The Macallan, and joining at a time when there were so many amazing projects happening all at once, from the opening of the new distillery in Speyside, to the development and launch of the new Estate product.
LM: What sparked your interest in whisky, and have you always been based in Speyside?
SB: I grew up in Speyside, in a village called Aberlour, which you can actually see from The Macallan estate. Having grown up in Speyside, I, therefore, spent my childhood around distilleries, so for me, being surrounded by the whisky industry was the norm. I didn’t actually understand how special and unique it was to grow up around so many world-famous distilleries and brands. I was probably in my teens before I fully appreciated what we had in Speyside was very special.
So, when it came to getting a job, it just seemed like a sensible thing to work at the local distillery, given everyone I knew was pretty much employed in the whisky industry or was at least connected to it in some way. So I started working as a tour guide, getting paid to speak to people about whisky which was great fun, and from this, my knowledge grew and grew which has certainly led me to where I am today.
LM: How long has ‘Estate’ been in the pipeline for, and what was your personal role in creating it?
SB: As with all new products, Estate has been in the pipeline for years. It started with the idea to do something to celebrate the stunning Macallan estate and the barley which we’ve been growing for years and years. Using the estate as the inspiration, we have been able to create a product which we believe celebrates this through smells and aromas the consumer will experience. In terms of my specific role, I was responsible for selecting the casks that went together to create Estate.
LM: What can whisky lovers expect in terms of the aromas and finish?
SB: This special whisky delivers a subtle hint of citrus which balances the traditional sherried richness. The result is a complex single malt whisky with an extraordinarily long finish, and warm, comforting and homely notes of cinnamon. The palate is soft and warming with wood spice, opening into a dry oak flavour spiked with candied raisin and fresh fig. This moves into a sweet fresh orange and delicate fresh citrus, and finally finishes with a sweet citrus twist.
LM: The Macallan Estate is presented in an elegant gift box. What inspired the design?
SB: The Macallan Estate is presented in an elegant gift box featuring landscape-inspired designs, and it takes the lead from the natural stones found on The Macallan estate, with an inlay of slate. Inside, aerial photography showcases the estate’s shimmering barley fields on the banks of the beautiful River Spey.
LM: How did you decide which markets it is sold in?
SB: The Macallan is well-loved throughout the world, which inevitably means it is challenging to meet this demand, so we work on a product by product basis and base this on consumer and business needs.
LM: What’s next from The Macallan and what are you currently working on?
SB: The whisky mastery team nose and sample every single cask that leaves The Macallan Estate to ensure it meets their exacting standards which keeps them incredibly busy. In terms of new releases, we work on shaping our portfolio many years in advance and there are a number of exciting projects currently underway.
LM: Are there any particular whiskies that stand out for you, and do you get inspiration from other Master Distillers across the industry?
SB: I enjoy trying other whiskies, understanding what else is out there on the market, and what flavour profiles others are producing. My inspiration certainly comes from the people involved in the whisky-making process, those who are passionate about creating perfect combinations and flavours. Having worked at a number of distilleries throughout my career, it’s these people and the experiences I’ve had which have inspired me.
LM: What are your personal luxuries?
SB: Alongside whisky, I’m very fond of designer handbags and art. This is probably where I spend my money and a lot of my time, staring at a painting or a bag. In terms of a favourite artist, my husband got me a painting for Christmas by an artist called Darren Mundy who created a piece which is very special to me. It’s a painting of a beautiful distillery which of course brings two of my passions together.
LM: Thank you for your time Sarah, and it has been a pleasure talking to you.