Dr Kirstie McCallum joined the Speyside distillery in October 2019 and has worked in the whisky business for over two decades. Simon Wittenberg caught up with her to find out what’s in store for Glen Moray in these more challenging times.
LM: What are your career highlights to date?
KM: There are so many highlights! I’ve had the privilege of working with some fantastic whiskies and brands, meeting so many different people and visiting so many places during my 20 years in the industry. I’ve had a chance to go to destinations I would never have dreamed of visiting.
One single highlight which stands out to me above the rest is being privileged enough to have been nominated and selected to become a “Keeper of The Quaich”, an exclusive and international society that recognises those that have shown outstanding commitment to the Scotch Whisky industry.
LM: Have you always been a fan of whisky?
KM: Yes, I’ve always enjoyed a whisky, a characteristic I’ve inherited from my father who was a big whisky fan, so you can imagine how happy he was when I started work in the industry. My initial foray into whisky was as a student and it was usually in long drinks, a nice whisky and coke, or ginger ale. Today I still enjoy whisky as a long drink, or in cocktails or on its own. I think I’ve become more and more of a whisky fan over the years, and I’m a big believer in whisky being for everyone. There’s no set way to drink it; do what you want, and the important point is to enjoy it.
LM: You have a PhD in analytical chemistry from Glasgow Caledonian University. Does that come in handy for your current role?
KM: The majority of a blender’s role is to nose and taste, but chemistry does go hand in hand with it. We can use chemistry to fingerprint whiskies or support what we find on the nose and palate. It also helps with understanding the distilling process and how different factors affect the spirit produced. Saying that, the nose and palate are still the most important parts of being a blender.
LM: Whilst the world is effectively “on hold” due to the Coronavirus, what are your main areas of focus at the moment?
KM: During the lockdown, I’ve been doing some experimentation on different types of casks and finishes. I’ve also had the chance to take a more in-depth look at the Glen Moray inventory, really getting to know what we have maturing in the warehouse, looking at the effects different types of wood have on the spirit, and rooting out any hidden gems in our warehouses. I’ve come across some absolutely stunning whiskies, which I can’t wait to share with Glen Moray drinkers.
It’s also given me a chance to look at the other important side of my role – stock and inventory management. This means making sure we have enough whisky in the right casks to produce all our different expressions, not only this year but in years to come. But that’s not as exciting as discovering fantastic whisky!
LM: What sets Glen Moray apart from other Scottish single malts?
KM: For me, Glen Moray is a single malt that is accessible to everyone on their journey through Scotch Whisky. We have something for people coming into the world of single malts in the Classic Range: whiskies with different finishes which allows the consumer to discover the flavours and characters of different casks. From there, you can continue the journey through our Heritage Range of aged expressions with different cask maturations and finishes. We also have the Curiosity Range, which is something a little different, and is definitely one for the whisky enthusiast.
Glen Moray has always been known for cask experimentation, and the Curiosity Range really brings that to life. The next release is due out in June, and let’s just say if I could have hidden all the whisky and kept it for myself I would have. This is definitely one of our hidden gems.
LM: How are you looking to evolve the Glen Moray portfolio going forward?
KM: I want to continue with cask experimentation and pushing beyond the Glen Moray that we’ve seen until now. But I want to ensure that our core range is accessible to everyone, no matter where you are on your whisky journey.
It’s a stunningly versatile whisky. A quintessential Speyside character in some ways, which moulds itself beautifully during maturation taking on beautiful sweet oak characteristics with fruits of the forest notes, and a real creaminess with just a tiny touch of oiliness at the back. It’s a spirit that finishes beautifully in a variety of different types of cask. I’ve already laid down spirit in a few cask types not usually seen at Glen Moray, and I can’t wait to see the results in a few years’ time.
LM: Do you have any personal favourites from the range?
KM: I absolutely love the 18 Year Old from our Heritage Range. It’s a lovely dram, exclusively matured in American oak ex-bourbon casks. The bourbon influence really allows the character of the Glen Moray spirit to come to the fore, with the cask influence adding a beautiful rich vanilla and caramel note, with hints of rich sweet oak, slight citrus notes and a beautiful soft bourbon wood spice at the finish. It’s also non-chill filtered and bottled at a slightly higher strength of 47.3%, retaining all the natural oils of the whisky and giving a rounded texture which allows you to savour the whisky with all its flavours – just as it was in the cask.
LM: The 25 Year Old Port Cask Finish, limited to only 2,700 bottles, was launched in December. What has the reaction been like?
KM: So far, the reaction to the 25 Year Old Port Cask finish has been extremely positive. At Glen Moray, we have some fantastic port wood available to us for finishing and maturing our whiskies, and the casks used for this edition are an example of some of these casks. It’s a big-hitting whisky with a complex balance of flavours – dried fruit, toffee, pears, exotic spice, and a rich oakiness. For me, this is fantastic after-dinner whisky.
LM: Glen Moray participated in the recent Lockdown Whisky Festival. Do you think “shows” like these will become a more frequent event as the world becomes more virtual during and following COVID-19?
KM: Until we get back to normal, whatever the new normal looks like, I think we will see more and more of these events. Whisky is a social drink, it’s about talking to people, it’s about making friends, sharing opinions and thoughts, and for the whisky community, it’s a great way for everyone to stay in touch and find out what’s going on. Although, having said that, I’m very much a people person and can’t wait to be able to meet up with some of my whisky friends and fellow whisky fans to enjoy a nice dram together.
LM: What are your personal luxuries in life outside of the world of whisky?
KM: My personal luxuries in life are nice holidays. I’m a massive travel fan and I love going to new places, meeting new people, staying at nice hotels, sightseeing, learning about different cultures, and of course spending a few days relaxing at a pool with a good book and a nice cocktail (a whisky cocktail of course).
One of my favourite destinations is the United States, and I’ve visited quite a few different states, although my favourite will always be Florida. I also love Finland, and usually try to visit every couple of years. The countryside is beautiful, and the people are fantastic. Spain is also a favourite – I love the food!
LM: Thank you for your time, and it has been a pleasure talking to you.
Glen Moray – Where and How?
For more information on Glen Moray, visit www.glenmoray.com.
Read more interviews in our dedicated section here.