Women in Luxury | Kelsey McKechnie, The Balvenie Apprentice Malt Master

“The biggest piece of advice I have been given, is to be patient. It’s not naturally a strength of mine, however in whisky nothing happens overnight. I’ve always been taught to give the whisky more than enough time in a cask to make sure the quality is absolutely perfect before sending to bottling.”

What does a day in the life of an apprentice malt master look like? Here Kelsey shares her career story with us – how she found herself working at The Balevnie, the best piece of advice she’s been given, and what she does from day to day – it involves a lot of ‘nosing’, read on to find out more.

Tell us a bit about your company and role?

William Grant & Sons was founded by William Grant in 1887. Today, the global business is run by the fifth generation of William Grant’s family and distils some of the world’s most sought after Scotch whiskies including Glenfiddich, the world’s most awarded single malt Scotch whisky and The Balvenie, the most handcrafted single malt.

My main responsibility as apprentice malt master is delivering excellence and consistency in each bottle of The Balvenie, whilst also ensuring each spirit housed at our distillery in Dufftown, Scotland is maturing in the desired direction. I also support The Balvenie malt master, David Stewart MBE, with the distillery’s important work in whisky innovation, sampling and assessing the expressions of the future.

What’s your typical day as apprentice malt master?

My typical day includes a lot of nosing – smelling each spirit sample to ensure the quality and consistency of each product is perfect, as well as the cask selection and blend creation. We work with our stocks team to ensure we have the correct wood types filled with The Balvenie ready for bottling in 5, 10 and up to 50 years’ time. It is amazing to think that spirit I nose now won’t be removed from casks for another fifty years.

How did you get into it? 

After graduating from The University of West Scotland in 2014 with a BSc in Biology and Biological Sciences, I started to think about my career options in science. I originally thought I would progress my career in clinical science, however the creativity and complex layers behind distilling immediately stood out to me.

Following my BSc I studied an MSc in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University and during this time I joined the team at William Grant & Sons as a technical graduate and whisky technologist. It was here that I studied the art and science of spirits and whisky making.

I have been working with William Grant & Sons for four years, initially starting in the lab with a focus on spirits quality analysis and process. After a stint working with Lesley Gracie, creator and master distiller of Hendrick’s Gin, I found a real passion in spirits development. This passion led me to work closely with Master Blender Brian Kinsman on William Grant & Sons’ portfolio of brands, including Glenfiddich, Monkey Shoulder, Tullamore DEW and Milagro Tequila. I also gained first-hand experience working on The Balvenie, shadowing malt master, David Stewart MBE, in the development and creation of recent bottlings, including The Balvenie Peat Week Aged 14 Years (2003 Vintage), The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 25 Years and The Balvenie Fifty: Marriage 0962.

What advice do you wish you had been given or would you go back and give yourself at key points in your career?

I have been very lucky to receive a lot of advice from master blender Brian Kinsman, David’s first apprentice, and also from David Stewart MBE himself. The biggest piece of advice I have been given, is to be patient. It’s not naturally a strength of mine, however in whisky nothing happens overnight. I’ve always been taught to give the whisky more than enough time in a cask to make sure the quality is absolutely perfect before sending to bottling.

www.thebalvenie.com