“It’s often the case with whisky that those you love relate to important moments in your life.” – Sarah Burgess
Sarah Burgess is the senior site manager at Glenkinchie distillery in East Lothian. She has worked in the whisky industry for 15 years and been at Glenkinchie since October, having previously been employed at Clynelish and Cardhu distilleries. Here she discusses her thoughts on women in the industry, why she loves her job and how she’ll never forget a dram at Caol Ila.
How did you get involved in the world of whisky?
I like to talk quite a lot and there were guide jobs advertised at Cardhu distillery. I thought it would be good dealing with people on holiday. I loved the job and wanted to work permanently for Diageo; that was 15 years ago and here I am today.
What dram made you passionate about the drink?
I can’t think of a particular moment, it was the industry as a whole. Cardhu will always be very special to me because it was the first place I started at. But I love Clynelish because that’s where I’ve just come from and that’s where I had my son. And from a more personal point that is why I would choose those; it’s often the case with whisky that those you love relate to important moments in your life.
As senior site manager, what are some of your day to day duties at the distillery?
I deal with everything form customs requirements, to health and safety and making sure we’re making a good quality product at the right volumes. It’s got a great mix of the practical day to day aspects of the distillery, to the people development through to health and safety, and making sure people come here at the start of the day and leave safely is really important to me.
What is your favourite part of what you do?
In this job you couldn’t say, ‘This is a normal day,’ because so many different things will happen and the variety makes it so interesting. Because of the variety of this role it’s my favourite.
What achievement are you most proud of in your career?
I studied part time for a business management degree with Robert Gordon University so I was working full time and traveling two nights a week to Aberdeen. In my final year I was in Brora, so it was six hour return journey. It was very challenging but so rewarding. And, it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in your career, you’ll always have something to balance. I’m now balancing trying to be a mum and a distillery manager.
Do you feel more women should or could be involved in the whisky industry?
I don’t think it’s such a big deal. There are increasing numbers of women in all industries and there are less barriers. But women have been involved in whisky since the beginning in Scotland. It’s not anything new and revolutionary although the numbers are increasing which is fantastic. Diageo just won [the Opportunity Now Excellence in Practice award from Business in the Community] for having the most women on the board. We’re lucky to work in an organisation like that.
How do you feel the whisky industry is developing?
It’s an exciting time to be in the whisky industry just now. We’re sitting at a time where sales projections are being achieved, so we’re looking to squeeze all of our sites and increase production where we can. But, equally everyone protects their product so much and quality is so important so if we produced too much volume of insufficient quality that’s worse for us than not producing enough. If you don’t make the right liquid there’s no point in carrying on.
What is your favourite memory of whisky drinking?
One of the best whisky drinking memories I’ll ever have was being on Islay. I was at Caol Ila. I went around there and then sat up in the manager’s office, which overlooks the Sound of Jura, drinking a dram of Caol Ila. It was amazing and every time I drink it I think of that moment.