“There are so many single malts out there that you will find one that suits you. They are all made in such different processes and with such passion that once you have the whisky bug it is hard to escape.” – Gillian Macdonald
Gillian Macdonald is the head of analytics and whisky creation at Glenmorangie. She was previously the distiller at Penderyn – the only Welsh whisky company, where she worked from 2004 until 2012, after completing a degree in chemistry from Cardiff University & travelling the world for a year.
In this whisky women interview (from her time at Penderyn) she speaks about life in the industry, why whisky inspires her and why she would encourage people to try the fine spirit.
When did you first start drinking whisky?
I would say, certainly, for malt whiskies, in 2004 when I started my job. I started with Penderyn then as my palate developed and I needed to find out more about other whiskies I moved on to try different single malts.
What drew you to getting into whisky?
My chemistry degree propelled me into this current role. I graduated in 2002 and, after a year out travelling, I was looking for a job when I saw the advert for my role at Penderyn and I jumped at the opportunity to make the only Welsh whisky in the world.
What dram changed your perceptions about whisky?
Prior to joining Penderyn in 2004, I had not really tried many single malts. But in my first year working here I travelled to Penderyn’s launch at Whisky Live Paris. Here I had the opportunity to try the top 50 single malts all in one room and that was a real eye opener to see the variety between them.
What is the best part of your job?
I really enjoy the nosing part as well as running tastings where people are trying Penderyn for the first time. To see their faces when they try it really makes all the hard work by the Penderyn team worthwhile. Having the opportunity to explain to people how we differ from other single malts is very satisfying.
What do you enjoy most about the industry?
It is a hugely enjoyable industry to work in. Everyone from other distilleries was very welcoming to us at the start and have continued to be our friends throughout. It always makes a good conversation too when you are introduced as a distiller – it’s slightly more exciting than a 9-5 job and people are really interested in finding out what it is you do.
Do you feel more women should or could be involved in the whisky industry?
Certainly – I see no reason at all why women should even see being one as an obstacle! It is a fantastic industry to work in.
Where is your favourite place to drink whisky?
After a walk on a wild, windy day at the top of a mountain – warms you up a treat.
Why would you encourage someone to start drinking whisky?
There are so many single malts out there that you will find one that suits you. They are all made in such different processes and with such passion that once you have the whisky bug it is hard to escape. You will find that – dependent on your mood, environment and what company you are keeping – there will be a malt to match.
What is your best memory of whisky drinking?
At my wedding, at the end of the night.
What makes you a “Whisky Woman”?
The fact I distill the spirit that goes onto become whisky on a daily basis and am surrounded by thousands of maturing casks each day kind of means I am a whisky woman.