Meet the maker: Dr Kirstie McCallum, Senior Blender

Distell International – Black Bottle, Bunnahabhain, Deanston, Scottish Leader, and Tobermory

Dr Kirstie McCallum

Q: Where do you work?

A: I am based at Distell International’s offices in East Kilbride just outside Glasgow, where I have my main blending lab. But I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of my time at our distilleries, and also get to travel to different countries to be an ambassador for my whiskies, talking to consumers and trade from around the world.

Q: How long have you worked with Distell and how did you start?

A: I’ve worked with these brands for 11 years, starting as a blender working with the single malts and blends, looking after the core expressions of the whiskies and also working on extensions to the range and limited editions. After five years I moved into the role of global brands ambassador and had the great job of travelling the world talking about the whiskies and actually learning what the consumer wants from whisky – the different flavours and finishes people are interested in. I was then able to use the knowledge and experience I gained when I moved back into blending two years ago, as senior blender, overseeing all of Distell International’s Scotch whiskies, our new product development, managing the flavour profile of our inventory and the types of casks we are using to mature and finish our whisky.

Q: Describe the production process for Bunnahabhain?

A: Bunnahabhain is a single malt whisky produced from malted barley and water, and is double distilled with the spirit being matured in selected oak casks. Bunnahabhain is the only Islay malt to be produced using spring water; we get our water from the Margadale spring, which comes to the surface in the hills above the distillery. Bunnahabhain is the unpeated Islay; all our core expressions for Bunnahabhain – the 12, 18 and 25 year old – are unpeated, although we do also make a peated spirit for a very short period every year called Bunnahabhain Moine, which can be found in Bunnahabhain Toiteach and Ceobanach. All our Bunnahabhain expressions are non chill-filtered and natural in colour, so the consumer experiences the full natural flavours of our single malts.

Q: What’s a typical working day like?

A: There is no such thing as a typical day – every day is totally different and that’s what I love about the job. One day I can be in the warehouse selecting casks and the next day I can be out talking to consumers or working with our marketing department on development of new expressions; the variety is great.

Q: Describe Bunnahabhain.

A: There are so many Bunnahabhain expressions to choose from so here’s the basic characteristics for Bunnahabhain 12 year old: complex and rich with a nutty character and sherry influence, dried fruit and a touch of spice; subtle notes of vanilla and toffee; and a hint of the sea.

Q: What would you say sets Bunnahabhain apart?

A: All of our single malt expressions are non chill-filtered and natural in colour, showing the elegance and full natural character of each of our single malts.

Q: What one fact should bartenders know about Bunnahabhain?

A: The core range of Bunnahabhain is unpeated so not your typical Islay.

Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?

A: Experimenting with new cask types and developing new expressions.

Q: What’s your favourite way to drink Bunnahabhain?

A: I enjoy drinking Bunnahabhain with just a touch of water.

Q: What’s your career highlight so far?

A: There’s lots of highlights: seeing the world, meeting great people, getting a chance to meet one of my sporting icons at a tasting, and working with these fantastic whiskies – they are all highlights.

Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?

A: There are several people in the industry I admire, people who are true statesmen of the whisky industry – one of which being Fraser Thornton, our MD for Distell International Europe.

Q: How do you relax outside of work?

A: I’m a total motorsport fanatic and love nothing better than attending a rally or a race event; and even after all the travelling I’ve done through work there is still so much of the world left to see. You also can’t beat a good night out with good company and a nice dram.

Q: If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?

A: If I could invite anyone for a drink it would be Sir Jackie Stewart as he is such a statesman and ambassador for Scotland. I would love to sit and hear all his stories and experiences from his years in motorsport – both as a driver and world champion, team manager, and his pioneering and determined campaign for safety within motorsport. To drink it would have to be a Bunnahabhain 25 year old as it has such regal and complex flavours – a true statesman in the world of malt whiskies just like Sir Jackie himself.