The longest-serving member of the team at Balblair’s Edderton distillery is toasting four decades’ dedication to perfecting the art of making single malt Scotch whisky.
Martin Macdonald, distillery operator, started his career in 1979 aged just 17 when James Callaghan was Prime Minister and Blondie – Heart of Glass was number one in the UK singles chart.
In the 40 years that followed, he has seen production at Balblair and the whisky industry as a whole go from strength to strength. While some of the processes have changed, Balblair remains true to its roots.
For the last four decades, Martin has also volunteered within the local community. He has given 16 years of service to his local fire service and was also involved in the offshore response after the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion in the early 1990s. Martin and group of 30 others from the north of Scotland enrolled themselves in a variety of courses, so they could help make offshore working safer.
Martin said: ‘I really can’t believe where the time’s gone. So much has changed over the last 40 years, but the character and the spirit of Balblair has remained constant.
‘There’s a photo of the team outside the distillery from the time I started. It’s strange to think that there’s just a few of us left from the group of lads in the ‘70s with the long hair and flared jeans. I never used to enjoy whisky – I would give my dad my monthly allowance back then, but I grew to love it.
‘The fashions, the market and the whisky making process have changed for the better over the years – I’m incredibly fortunate to have been a part of it. Even with all of the change that has taken place, Balblair’s roots haven’t been forgotten, but celebrated and refined.
‘The kiln, the grate floor and the barns are all still the same – the history of Balblair is still there. We got to see the distillery move into the future with the revamp in 1981 which was fascinating, seeing the harmony of technology and man-power.’
A particular highlight for Martin was finally giving his daughter a bottle of his favourite Balblair expression – the 1997, incidentally the year of her birth – last year to mark her 21st birthday.
In 2012, the distillery rose to fame when it played a central role in Ken Loach’s film, Angel’s Share. Martin recalled: ‘I was on night shift the month they were filming at the distillery, so I missed out on my moment of fame. Joking aside, it really was such an enjoyable and exciting time for all of us, playing a part in a leading motion picture – certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity.’
Martin’s not the only member of the team at Balblair with considerable experience. Some of his fellow distillers have whisky careers spanning multiple decades under their belt.
Martin joked: ‘It’s a privilege working with such a great group of people. Every one of us has got more than a decade of distillery life behind us. A few of the guys are still to complete what we call their apprenticeships, where they hit the 25-year mark – I wind them up saying they can’t call themselves fully-fledged until they do!
‘The team is highly experienced, and we get on like a house on fire – probably because we are all family-orientated, and Balblair has certainly become that for us all.’
While Martin is marking a milestone, he’s not done yet and sees himself at Balblair for years to come.
In recognition of Martin’s service, the distillery hosted a celebratory lunch and presented him with a 40-year-old bottle of whisky.