“There’s a whisky out there for everyone, you’ve just got to explore to find it.”
– Kirstie McCallum
Dr Kirstie McCallum is the Global Brand Ambassador for Burn Stewart. She was previously head blender at the company and the youngest one in Scotland at that time. Here she talks about how things have changed since she moved roles and why she believes gender shouldn’t matter in the world of whisky.
What got you into the world of whisky?
I got into the whisky industry by luck. I left university with my PhD in chemistry and wanted to work in the pharmaceutical industry. While looking for a job I was offered a temporary position in a grain distillery in Glasgow and I fell in love with the industry, the history and the tradition.
What whiskies first attracted you?
I have always been a whisky drinker, taking after my father who is a keen on it. To start with it was blends – mostly whisky and coke – but after joining the industry I began to explore whisky more and developed my tastes into single malts.
What do you like most about whisky?
The variety of flavours. Every whisky is different; there’s a whisky for every occasion and for everyone. It’s a drink with so much history and tradition yet it can still be very contemporary.
What do enjoy about being in this industry?
In the whisky industry you are constantly learning, always finding out something new. It’s also an industry with real tradition and history. The people involved are very passionate about what they produce. And everyone knows each other – I have developed strong friendships with some of the people I have met within the industry, both within and out of Burn Stewart. It’s also great to see the consumers’ passion for Scotch whisky and to see it being so successful across the world.
You were the youngest female blender in Scotland. How have you enjoyed moving to the brand ambassador side?
I’m still involved with the spirit side of the business, but of course not as heavily as I was. I really enjoy going out sharing my knowledge about whisky and speaking to the consumer, the people who appreciate the products we make. I love travelling, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, and I am very privileged to be getting the chance to see places I would never have visited if it wasn’t for this opportunity. In some ways I’m getting the best of both worlds.
What achievement are you most proud of in your whisky career?
I am most proud of becoming a blender and seeing new products that I have helped create in the marketplace being appreciated by the consumer.
Do you feel more women should or could be involved in the industry?
There are already lots of females involved in the whisky industry, from distillery managers, through to sales and marketing and master blenders. There are opportunities within the industry for both men and women and while, traditionally, the industry has been male dominated this is changing over time. I’m also a firm believer that gender doesn’t matter – the important thing is ability.
How do you think the industry has developed since you’ve been involved?
It’s developed in a number of different ways. There are definitely more females in the production side of the business, although as I have said previously there always were women involved in the industry. There’s a lot more consumer involvement, with all the different visitor centres and visitor experiences in the distilleries, and more interaction with the consumer through tastings and whisky festivals. There’s also greater contact between the distiller, the blender and the consumer, which is great for both sides.
Why would you encourage someone to try whisky?
Because it’s such a versatile drink. When you think of the number of whiskies out there (the blends, the single malts, all the different expressions and the different types of whisky from all over the globe) there’s a whisky out there for everyone, you’ve just got to explore to find it.
It’s also such a versatile drink, it can be drunk on its own, with ice or water, with a simple mixer, or in a more complicated cocktail. It can also be used in cooking or as an accompaniment with a meal. There’s no end of possibilities.
What is your favourite memory of whisky drinking?
My favourite memory of whisky drinking is receiving a dram of Tobermory 10yo at the end of a tour of the distillery back in around 1993. I was on a weekend break on Mull with some friends and it was the first distillery I ever visited. I never thought I would end up Blender and Global Brand Ambassador for the company who owned the distillery.