6 June 2024

130th Whisky Insiders Interview - Calum Rae

Holyrood Distillery
Distillery Manager

How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I have been working in the industry since 2015, when I started as a temporary packaging assistant. This was my first window into the spirits industry. From there I moved on to becoming a tour guide before returning to packaging and warehousing. I was then given the opportunity to become an assistant brewer which is where my real passion was discovered. This was my first experience in flavour creation and learning about the creative alchemical world of brewing and distilling.

After this brief introduction I was given the opportunity to join the team at Bonnington to help set-up and commission the distillery. Then the chance came to jump over to Holyrood Distillery. This was hugely exciting as I was aware of the experimental distilling methods and couldn't wait to be a part of it!
What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
My biggest career highlight so far has been the release of our first flagship single malt whisky, Arrival. The feeling of finally having whisky on the shelf was a proud moment for the whole team and it was a really special project to be a part of. Arrival was also very well received and I have been overjoyed with some of the feedback from those who were able to get their hands on some!
Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
My memory is a bit hazy on this, but I think it would have been a sip of my grandad's Bells when I was quite young or a hot toddy made by my granny.
What does whisky mean to you?
Whisky means so much to me. It has become a very important part of my life and has led me to many places and life situations that I would have never dreamed of. It has also allowed me to meet some of the best and most important people of my life and I think this is the core of Whisky. It brings people together and creates common ground. Acting as a bridge between cultures and generations. Every good story starts with "Remember when we had that bottle of..."
Where would you like to see yourself in five year's time?
Hopefully where I am already! I think Holyrood distillery is one of the most exciting distilleries to be a part of and I hope to be able to continue to learn all that I can and continue to shape the story of Holyrood through the pursuit of great tasting whisky and creating an inclusive industry.
What was your last dram?
My last dram was our second flagship single malt Embra. This whisky was designed to be the gateway to the world of peated whiskies and really sums up what I want to do at Holyrood. With three different barley varieties and seven different types of yeast this is a whisky that is both exciting for the seasoned drinker but also very accessible. 
Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
My favourite pairing would be a strong mature cheddar, black pepper oatcakes and a tart chutney. Combined with sweet smoky whisky, it's a flavour explosion! 
What's your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
On the west coast in a caravan just as the sun is setting. Wood burner on, dog at my feet, Radio 6 in the background. Nothing beats it!
What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
My hope is to continue to see the demographic of people creating and enjoying whisky change. More women and non-binary representation and engagement as well as the shift in age groups enjoying whisky. I firmly believe whisky should be for everyone and hope to continue to see this evolve. As for the liquid itself, I would love to see some of what we are doing at Holyrood filter out into the wider world of Scotch whisky. A focus on flavour above all, charting a new future for whisky while respecting and cherishing the legacy of those that have come before us.
What's the one dram you couldn't live without?
Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old. It was as my first real love in whisky and is always great for any occasion!

Many thanks to Calum Rae. Who will be our next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!

* Photo Credit: Holyrood Distillery