Diane Stuart: Master blender, Naked Malt
Q: Where do you work?
A: Our blending and bottling site at Great Western Road, Glasgow.
Q: How long have you worked there and how did you start?
A: I joined Edrington in May 2017 and have had responsibility for the Naked liquid since January 2020.
Q: Describe the production process.
A: Naked Malt is a blended malt whisky. We blend together some of Scotland’s finest single malt whiskies, before extra maturing in first fill Oloroso sherry casks (we call them Naked casks!) for at least six months. By extra maturing Naked Malt in these casks, we deliver enviable quality and intensity of flavour in the contemporary whisky category.
Q: What’s a typical day like?
A: One of the great things about being a blender is that there are rarely two days the same! Working as part of the wider sample room team I’m involved in many aspects of liquid quality. The first job of every day is to assess and approve water for use on site at our blending and bottling facility. Other Naked-specific tasks I might then move on to include assessing casks of single malt for inclusion in the Naked Malt blend, nosing empty first-fill casks for Naked’s extra maturation, assessing Naked liquid once it has been finished in our ‘Naked’ casks, approving samples for bottling, or monitoring our stock levels to ensure we always have enough Naked Malt for the consumer!
As part of the wider team, I also support with tasks such as assessing the new make spirit from our distilleries, approving other products for bottling, troubleshooting production issues, recruitment and training of panellists on our company sensory panel, providing training on liquid quality and how we make Scotch whisky, and lastly providing cover to other members of the whisky making team.
Q: Please provide brief tasting notes for your products.
A: The finished Naked Malt blend features hints of buttery toffee and sweet spice on the nose, notes of vanilla, stewed fruit and raisins on the palate with a rich and sherried spice finish. We strike this balance in Naked Malt’s signature flavour by using a combination of American and European oak sherry casks, and we get those sweet, fruity flavours from the American casks with the richer, dried fruit and spicy notes coming from the European casks.
Q: What would you say sets your product apart?
A: Our ‘Live Naked’ ethos. I love that we look at things differently and give people the freedom to do things their way, without the constraints of conventional thinking. We don’t ask you to know anything about whisky but equally, we will teach you if you want to know. Naked doesn’t ask you to be anyone you’re not, or drink your whisky in any way that isn’t how you want to drink it.
Q: What one fact should bartenders know about your brand?
A: Naked Malt is an exceptionally versatile whisky. The lovely balanced flavour we get in our whisky is a result of the extra maturation in American and European first fill sherry casks… it’s why we hero them in our new bottle design! These casks create a lovely rounded character that works well as a sipping whisky, in long drinks or mixed up in a cocktail.
Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?
A: It’s really exciting to see new concepts come to life. Particularly for me, the coming together of the liquid element, that we’re pretty central to, and the brands and packaging side. In the sample room, liquid usually comes to us in clear sample bottles that are very simply labelled; to see the story of that product come to life through packaging and brand material is fantastic! Obviously nosing and tasting whisky is a perk of the job too!
Q: What’s your favourite way to drink your brand?
A: Neat or incorporated into a cocktail, Naked Malt is a versatile liquid and can be enjoyed in so many ways. It depends on the occasion but if I had to choose, I’d have it in a cocktail. The Naked Apple Sour is delicious… shaking it with basil brings a delicious flavour that works so well with the whisky!
Q: What’s your career highlight so far?
A: Being given the responsibility for Naked Malt liquid. Being at a fairly early stage in my career, I feel very privileged to have been handed the responsibility for maintaining the liquid credentials of Naked Malt, particularly given that Naked Malt is a fairly new brand in the whisky category. I hope I can help the brand to grow and enlist new consumers into the category.
Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?
A: I’m very lucky to work with a group of individuals who have worked in the Scotch whisky industry for many years, including Gordon Motion, Kirsteen Campbell and Craig Owen. I’m inspired by their love of the job and all the effort they put into what they do. In addition, the experience and knowledge they have shared and the support they have offered me is absolutely second to none.
Q: How do you relax outside of work?
A: I love to escape the city. Growing up in a small village in Speyside, the hustle and bustle of city life sometimes moves a little too quickly for me! Nothing beats pulling on my wellies and heading out into the country to get some fresh air!
Q: If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?
A: This last year has meant I’ve spent a lot of time away from family and friends back in Speyside, so all I want to do now is see them all again. Right now I’d give anything to meet one of my closest friends Emma down at the beach and sit on the sand under a blanket with an Espresso Martini in hand… we’re on a mission to try and find the best one out there!