The longest serving malt master in the whisky industry now has a new apprentice.
Glasgow’s Kelsey McKechnie will officially take up the role as The Balvenie’s apprentice malt master, having been a Technical Graduate and Whisky Technologist at William Grant & Sons since August 2014, to work with the respected David Stewart MBE.
The 25-year-old will learn her craft under the watchful eye of David, and as apprentice malt master, Kelsey’s main responsibilities will include ensuring excellence and consistency in each bottle of The Balvenie, while also maintaining that spirit housed at the distillery in Dufftown is maturing in the desired direction.
She will also play an active role in assisting David with the distillery’s important work in whisky innovation, sampling, assessing and launching expressions of the future.
David – who mentored Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman for eight years and was an apprentice himself for 12 years under former master blender Hamish Robertson – will continue his tenure as The Balvenie Malt Master while mentoring Kelsey.
Having spent 56 years in the industry, David is well qualified to comment on how Kelsey’s attributes will set her in good stead for a future in whisky.
David said: ‘It’s hard to underplay the significance of this announcement – the appointment to apprentice malt master represents a once in a lifetime opportunity for anyone working in the whisky industry.
‘To achieve this at just 25 years old is testament to Kelsey’s abilities. She is a precious talent; with a real flair for distillation, a dedication to her craft and a self-assurance and poise that completely belies her young age.
‘She has also shown that she has an expert palate and skill for nosing and assessing whisky, which combined with her natural abilities and academic background made her the ideal candidate to be my apprentice.
‘I very much look forward to mentoring Kelsey as she continues her journey into a world of distilling and maturing whisky.’
Kelsey added: ‘It goes without saying that it’s both an incredible honour and a privilege to be announced as The Balvenie’s new apprentice malt master.
‘Over the past four years, the team at William Grant & Sons have provided me with a wealth of support, guidance and knowledge on all things spirits, and I look forward to continuing my journey and development under David’s tutelage.’
Kelsey began her journey to becoming apprentice malt master by studying Biology and Biological Sciences at the University of the West of Scotland. Having completed her studies in 2014 and with a fascination for the technique and skill behind spirit distillation, Kelsey applied her knowledge of clinical sciences to further study, with an Msc in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, which she graduates from this year.
While studying, Kelsey began working at William Grant & Sons as a Technical Graduate and Whisky Technologist, with a focus on spirit quality and development.
During this period, Kelsey started gaining experience learning the art and science behind crafting The Balvenie, as she shadowed David in the development and creation of recent bottlings such as The Balvenie Peat Week Aged 14 Years (2002 and 2003 Vintage), The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 25 Years and The Balvenie Fifty: Marriage 0962.
Her experience isn’t confined to just The Balvenie though, as Kelsey spent a significant amount of time working with Master Blender Brian Kinsman on spirit development for William Grant & Sons’ portfolio of brands, including Glenfiddich, Monkey Shoulder, Tullamore DEW and Milagro Tequila.
She concluded: ‘One thing I really love about nosing and tasting different whiskies is the memories it immediately invokes. I’ll always remember the first sip of The Balvenie whisky I tasted.
‘It was up at the distillery and just the smell alone took me straight back to spending time with my family, in particular with my Grandfather. Every bottle makes me think of something different and although I’m a scientist by trade, I really enjoy the emotional response that whisky can bring.’