25 May 2021

108th Whisky Insiders Interview - Kirstie McCallum

Halewood Artisanal Spirits

Master Blender


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I’ve been working in the industry now for over 20 years, in a wide variety of roles. Mostly technical and blending, and as a global brand ambassador.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
There have been so many highlights, in so many diverse areas. From getting the chance to taste some fantastic whiskies, to seeing some of the drams I’ve helped develop becoming award winning. Also visiting places I never thought I would visit, carrying out tastings for my sporting icons, and then last year being awarded the Blender of the Year by the Spirits Business.
Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
I can’t remember what my first dram of blended whisky was as it’s one of my favourite drinks and I’ve been drinking it since I was a student, but I remember my first dram of single malt being Tobermory, at the distillery back when I was a student. I was over on Mull for a weekend with some friends and we decided to go on a distillery tour, I went home with a couple of bottles, who was to know that 20 odd years later I would become the master blender for the distillery. 
What does whisky mean to you?
To me whisky means friendship, it means people coming together, something warming and inviting on a cold winter’s night. It also means home, Scotland, history and tradition. Something reassuring, a constant and something connected to people and memories.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
Hopefully still doing what I’m doing, I really never want to change. I love what I do, I love whiskies of all types and as long as the industry will have me, I’ll be here. If I leave it will be kicking and screaming!
My new role at Halewood is giving me the ideal environment to learn and expand, and giving me lots of different areas to play in. We’ve got our Welsh distillery Aber Falls, the first distillery in north Wales to produce whisky in 100 years.
It’s really exciting to be involved in the development of a new distillery. We recently launched our inaugural whisky which seems to have been well accepted, and there’s a further whisky to be launched in September this year. Great liquid for a 3 Year Old, the maturation really blew me away!
Then we have our Irish brands the Pogues, Peaky Blinders and Gelstons, which is a new area for me to be dipping my toes in. I absolutely love the Gelstons single pot still finished in Pinot Noir casks, and the story of the casks coming from Sam Neil (the actor) vineyard in New Zealand is fantastic, I just hope I get the chance to meet him some day, I’m a bit of a fan, and not just Jurassic park.
Then we have the territory I’m most familiar with our John Crabbies Scotch Whisky, which I’m working on a development plan for. It’s very different being on the other side now, although we have our own distillery Bonnington in Edinburgh, it will be a couple of years until we have our own scotch whisky, so at the moment we are mainly independent bottlers, which is a bit of a change for me.
What was your last dram?
My last dram was a Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask. It’s one of my guilty pleasures and a lovely dram to sit and relax with. At the moment I’ve got a good few bottles open in the cupboard, so it’s taking quite a while to choose of an evening.
Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?

The simple ones are the best - whisky and chocolate, two of my biggest passions brought together, with smoky whisky and strong cheese coming a very close second.
What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
Depends on my mood, I love sharing a dram with people in a bar chatting away, but I also like sitting on my own with a dram just taking some me time. Perhaps one of my favourite places of all times for enjoying a dram was sitting at the pier in Bunnahabhain (on a good day) I don’t think there is anywhere that’s matched that view or that atmosphere for me.  Although I’d have to say the setting at Aber Falls with the Snowdonian mountains on one side and the Menai Straits on the other runs it a very close second.   
What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?

I think we will continue to see a move toward whiskies accessibility, both single malts and blends, you can already see there’s a shift to people enjoying whisky how they want to enjoy it with no prejudice whether straight, in cocktails or highballs. The more this opens up the more accessible whisky will become to everyone.
I also think you might see an increase in the area of whisky based spirit drinks using different flavours with whisky and over the next few years after the change in the Scotch whisky regulations, I think you may see a real mix of interesting cask finishes and maturations appearing. I think it’s a great time to be involved with whisky or whiskey, and I can’t wait to see and be involved with some the innovations that will happen in the next few years.
What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?

I can’t think of one dram I couldn’t live without. I’ve got so many favourites, it would be impossible to choose!
Many thanks to Kirstie McCallum. Who will be our next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!