Meet Stephanie MacLeod the Master Blender of the Year 2019


Whispers from the blending room: Stephanie MacLeod, 2019’s Master Blender of the Year, discusses her relationship with Scotch

It is the sense of history associated with whisky, that makes it so fascinating. To Stephanie MacLeod, it is this quiet process that intrigues. “The whisky stays untouched, maturing quietly when notable events are taking place all around it.” The master blender with Dewar’s cannot help but lapse into the lyrical when talking about her favourite spirit.

Having created six blended scotch whiskies and 21 single malt expressions in addition to single casks and numerous small batch bottlings, Stephanie is the first woman master blender in the Scotch’s 170 year history. She fell in love with it rather late, when she was working as a research assistant at the Centre for Food Quality at Glasgow. Her relationship with whisky grew over the period she worked in the quality department of Dewar’s, having joined in 1998. She began blending only in 2006. Stephanie was recently awarded ‘Master Blender of the Year’ (2019) at the International Whisky Competition held at Las Vegas.

Few women venture into whisky and Stephanie considers it a part of her job to encourage women to break the stereotype. “Mentoring women is important, as the industry is still largely male dominated,” she says.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

How diverse is whisky?

No whisky is the same. Scotch whisky is not one homogeneous group of whiskies; each distillery produces spirit which is a unique flavour profile blend with flavours ranging from subtle to strong. It is made using the same three ingredients — water, malted barley and yeast, using approximately the same processes of milling, mashing, fermentation and distillation. And yet two distilleries located next to each other can produce flavour profiles that are completely different from each other. Adding to that, when you factor in the influence of the oak casks during maturation, the flavour intricacies are endless.

Could you explain your association with the Women of the Vine and Spirits International movement?

Deborah Brenner, founder and CEO, Women of the Vine and Spirits, is an inspiring individual. Along with her team, she has successfully created a space for women to come together and collaborate in taking risks and speaking up. She advocates for a more progressive and inclusive environment in the alcohol beverage industry.

I hold a seat on the European advisory board for this movement, and also spoke at the first European forum, where passionate speakers came together to discuss topics like the gender pay gap, the business incentive by diversity and inclusion at all levels, in all fields of the industry. I have also spoken at the Napa Valley, California conference. My role in the movement — or goal, rather — is to convince all stakeholders that the industry is an open one.

What according to you makes a fine Scotch whisky?

All whiskies begin with the same core ingredients, yet the number of years in the cask, in the right environment, with the correct fit cask — brings out all the flavour. We age and blend and then age again and blend again, to bring it extra smoothness. I always aim to create whiskies that intrigue our drinkers.

A number of barley varieties are used for the distillation of single malt Scotch whisky. Are any other types of grains used?

At Dewar’s, single malt Scotch whiskies are produced only with water, malted barley and yeast. Single grain whisky, on the other hand, can be produced from a variety of grains or cereals, with the inclusion of malted barley.

What is your personal favourite?

In the blending room, I prefer to sample neat and then watered-down whisky to 23% alcohol. The Dewar’s 15-year-old was my first whisky, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 2:48:28 AM |

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