While she didn’t enjoy whisky in her youth, Stephanie MacLeod got sucked into the world of drams and barrels after working on flavour research in a university. The scotswoman soon found a job at Dewars & Sons in the general quality department, and soon rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the master blender for the whisky company. There, she established the company’s first sensorial panel, combining knowledge of her experience in food sciences, and taking an empirical approach to whisky making.
Hi Stephanie! First question that I think is on everyone’s minds: how much whisky do you drink in your line of work?
Much less than you’d think! Most of the time I just nose the whiskies, because your nose recovers from sensory fatigue much faster than your palate. I only taste the whiskies to ensure that they’re completely smooth and coat your palate beautifully–like a good chocolate.
Every master blender has a different nose and palate, how do you keep things consistent?
For every whisky, there’s a certain house style that to follow, but every master blender adds a bit of their own personality to the whisky–adding to it, and improving on it.
Is there a vault somewhere with giant bottles of different expressions that you use as a guide?
We do keep standards that go back many years, just to ensure that we’re not unintentionally moving away from the flavour profile of the brand. The recipes remain the same, but I’m not going to be here forever. You want to leave something for future blenders to refer to.
What’s going through your mind when you are creating a new blend?
I look at the market demands, and try to figure out what the consumers will want. But also importantly: would the first every Dewars’ master blender, Alexander Cameron, approve? Would he think that I was building on his legacy?
How does one become a master blender?
You need to have a love for the product–not in the sense that you like to drink all the time, but you just want to make [the whisky] better all the time, you’re never satisfied with what you just have at the moment. There is no master blender school as each company has their own way of blending and style of whisky. I have trainees now that I am training to do my job, and they’re visiting distilleries, learning about the malting proccess, and learning about how the whisky is made. It’s not just blending, they have to at least be familiar with every aspect of the business.