Hedonism Meets... Kelsey McKechnie
Situated in Dufftown, Scotland, the Balvenie distillery is a Speyside single malt Scotch whisky distillery with international renown. The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky is produced by William Grant & Sons Ltd, an award-winning independent family-owned distiller founded by William Grant in 1886 and today run by his direct descendants. Each single malt expression has a very individual taste, but is rich, luxuriously smooth and underpinned by the distinctively honeyed character of The Balvenie.
Hedonism caught up with Balvenie Malt Master, Kelsey McKechnie, who in 2018, was appointed Apprentice Malt Master at the age of 26 – becoming one of the youngest women in the world to achieve this rarest of jobs.
“It’s important to keep these crafts alive to make sure the quality of Balvenie remains the same for the next generations to come”
What is unique about the whisky making process at Balvenie?
At Balvenie, we pride ourselves on our five rare crafts; from growing our own barley, the floor maltings, our coppersmiths, the cooperage and passing sensory skills on to create consistency in our blends in Maltmasters. It’s important to keep these crafts alive to make sure the quality of Balvenie remains the same for the next generations to come.
How has it been to be one of the youngest women in the world to be appointed Apprentice Malt Master? How did you get started out on such an illustrious career?
It has been a fast few years, I have been very fortunate to learn the art of blending from David Stewart and Brian Kinsman, David’s first apprentice. I started working in the laboratory where I started nosing and carrying out analysis on the spirit. After moving around the sites a position opened up in Whisky Stocks, I applied and I started working with Brian and David on a daily basis.
What is a typical work day for you at William Grant & Sons as a Malt Master?
A typical day (pre-covid) would be in the Blending Room, this is where we receive all of our routine samples for nosing, lots of new make spirit (before the spirit has been filled into cask), maturing and bottling samples to make sure the quality is perfect.
What changes would you like to see that could make the industry more accessible to women setting out on their careers?
I look forward to there being more and more women working within the industry and enjoying the spirit. I think having more women working in this industry will inevitably attract more women to peruse a career within Scotch.
Looking at the industry more broadly, what would you like to see more of in Scottish whisky?
I look forward to more innovation, we are always working behind the scenes to create something a little bit different, I look forward to hopefully releasing more of these innovations in the future.
Here at Hedonism we are excited to stock several bottles from your ‘Red Rose’ range. Could you tell us a little about what lead to the creation of these whiskies?
The Second Red Rose is the story of David Stewart and the creation of two extraordinary red roses. Inspired by the history of Balvenie castle, this story celebrates the story of the rose, the desire of our visitors for a distillery exclusive and the romance in creating a new whisky. The Second Red Rose is finished in Australian Shiraz casks, for an elegant dram brimming with notes of fresh, ripe fruits and delicate spice.
We’d love to hear a bit about how 2022 is panning out. What releases are you currently working on? Can you tell us a little about the blending process for these?
We are working on more Balvenie Stories variants that we will be releasing and some long term innovations that are bubbling away. The blending process for new innovations is quite similar to quality checking all of our long term finishes, with the exception of a touch more sampling. We draw more samples to make sure the spirit is finished for just the right amount of time.
“Tradition is very important, it’s how we maintain the quality of our spirit, but it is a balancing act as we also want to innovate where we can.”
How important is tradition and/or innovation for Balvenie? Are there any challenges posed?
Tradition is very important, it’s how we maintain the quality of our spirit, but it is a balancing act as we also want to innovate where we can. We don’t want to create anything that people don’t recognise as Balvenie so it is about playing within our own limits to create something new.
Which is your ‘go to’ whisky from the Balvenie range and why?
My go to would have to be a 14yo Caribbean Cask, I love the whole process of making the final spirit – from seasoning the bourbon barrels with our own rum to creating the finished Balvenie spirit.