“I believe the industry can only benefit from having women involved, in the same way as the wine industry has over the past decade.” – Rachel Barrie
Rachel Barrie is the Master Blender at Morrison Bowmore, a position she has held since late 2011. She was previously in the same role at Glenmorangie and has over 21 years of experience in the industry. In this interview she talks about her longtime love of whisky, what makes her proud and what memory of whisky drinking burns strongly in her mind.
What got you into the world of whisky?
My grandma, my father, studying science at university and a good dose of serendipity. My first taste was my grandma’s hot toddy at age 7, in small sips for medicinal purposes. My father enjoys a good malt whisky and always had a selection at home for me to try. At university I enjoyed single malt as my ‘special treat’ whilst studying, and a few months after graduating, serendipity played its part with a ‘rare find’ of a job as a research scientist at The Scotch Whisky Research Institute. There my passion for and knowledge of whisky flourished preparing me for the world of whisky making.
What dram changed you into a whisky drinker?
In my adult life, I’ve always been a whisky drinker, so I didn’t need to be converted ! Every dram changes me a little bit.
What do you enjoy most about the industry?
The variety, the people and the whisky of course!
On the variety side, on a single day I could be nosing casks for Bowmore 12 year old, conducting a tasting, interpreting HPLC analysis on malt peating levels, creating a new Auchentoshan whisky, writing tasting notes, speaking to whisky aficionados about Glen Garioch, training staff at our distilleries or attending an industry event.
Then the people – I’m constantly making new friends (and reuniting with old ones) in the whisky world; whisky brings people together like no other spirit; novices and connoisseurs, young and old. There’s nothing quite like converting a novice to malt whisky, and seeing the delight and surprise in their eyes as they say ‘is this really whisky? But it’s delicious’.
And finally, the whisky. I am privileged to work with the most wonderful and complex spirit in the world.
What is your favourite part of making whisky?
My favourite part is discovering phenomenal casks in our warehouses and creating new expressions for whisky lovers around the world to enjoy.
What achievement are you most proud of in your whisky career?
Being promoted to Master Blender in 2003 and creating several award-winning whiskies over the years. I’ve worked hard but also been extremely lucky – I know thousands of whisky lovers across the globe would love to do my job!
Do you feel more women should or could be involved in the industry?
I absolutely feel that more women should be involved. More women (and indeed men) are getting interested in and developing a taste for whisky…. attending whisky festivals and ordering single malt at the bar. As interest has gathered pace, we need passionate, knowledgeable and experienced people (men and women) to educate and encourage those who are just discovering whisky.
I believe the industry can only benefit from having women involved, in the same way as the wine industry has over the past decade.
How has the industry changed since you’ve been involved?
The industry has certainly grown over the past 21 years ! When I began, there were only a small number of players selling single malt whisky in any volume; the vast majority of the industry focus was on blends. Since I’ve been involved, there has been an increased focus on the quality of ingredients (especially oak cask quality) and understanding and appreciating aroma and taste; new ideas have created new taste experiences; and the industry has increased its focus on education, bringing the malt whisky experience to the world (as well as bringing the world to visit Scotland’s distilleries!).
Saying all this, the distillery processes remain virtually unchanged over the centuries, true to tradition and steeped in the heritage of our predecessors with distillery workers being the guardians of quality and distillery character.
Why would you encourage someone to try whisky?
Because it’s delicious! I believe everyone can find a whisky to suit their palate, based on the flavours they enjoy in food, be they sweet or savoury, rich or light. Whisky offers an amazing aroma and taste profile unparalleled by any other distilled spirit. For example, if you enjoy wholesome malty flavours, then the Highland single malt Glen Garioch should satisfy your tastebuds; and for those who love savoury saltiness and smoky barbequed food (with a balanced sweetness), then Bowmore single Islay malt is for you.
Why would you recommend someone try moving into the whisky world?
So many reasons …..the whisky world is both fascinating and fun, you never stop learning, you make lots of friends and global sales are rising. Whisky is the finest and most complex spirit in the world, celebrated in over 200 countries and has been made in Scotland for centuries.
And I think, most of all, if you want to have pride and passion in your job (especially if you’re a whisky lover), you simply cannot beat working in the wonderful world of whisky.
What is your favourite memory of whisky drinking?
I have so many amazing memories at home with friends and family and abroad with new drinkers and aficionados – it’s almost as difficult to pick one memory as it is one whisky!
But since you’ve asked me for one, it would have to be back home in rural Aberdeenshire with my husband and family at harvest time, climbing to the top of the ‘Mither Tap’ of Bennachie (a hill I’ve climbed about a hundred times) and enjoying a dram or two of Glen Garioch 12 years old whilst spotting friends’ farms dotted about fields of barley, the distillery in Oldmeldrum, and fondly remembering childhood memories with the sense of adventure and happiness of growing up there.