The most difficult part of a Malt Master’s job is keeping an eye on and fine tuning maturing whisky to keep the liquid tasting the same, time after time.
“During my 57 years in the business, I’ve done a lot of travelling, but my favourite place is still the sampling room,” says David Stewart, MBE, our Balvenie Malt Master.
“I’ve probably nosed more than 400,000 finished samples, cask samples and single barrels over the years. I’ve had a hand in – or should I say nose – blending our full range of The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Grant’s expressions.”
As the longest serving Malt Master in the Scotch whisky industry, David’s built his career on technical ability and a willingness to take creative risks.
His pioneering techniques have transformed the industry’s whisky production methods. In the 1980s he invented cask finishing with our Balvenie Classic range, which were cask finishes matured in American oak and finished off in European oak.
And a decade later, he masterminded the Solera technique that makes our Glenfiddich 15 year old so special. Today, virtually every whisky distillery in the world has cask-finished expressions in their portfolio.
“I’ve always been given the freedom to innovate,” he explains.
“Wood is really the key. Over the years, we’ve experimented with everything from American oak bourbon barrels and European Oak sherry butts to wine, Madeira, port and rum casks.
"The results merge the whisky with the characteristics of the cask, which is always exciting to explore. And while they may not always be the result you were expecting, as long as you’re putting the spirit into good quality casks then you can be confident about what eventually goes into the bottle.”
“Still, the most difficult part of a Malt Master’s job is keeping an eye on and fine tuning maturing whisky to keep the liquid tasting the same, time after time,” he adds.
“A person with a favourite whisky needs to know that it’ll be exactly the same from bottle to bottle. This can be a challenge with different casks of whisky maturing in different warehouses, where the conditions are varied.”
Which is where David’s experience comes in.
Not only is David a Master Blender, he’s also a master of patience. “Nothing happens quickly when trying to create a new whisky or trying different finishes with different wood types,” he adds.
Training to become a Malt Master takes time, which is why, according to David, one of the key qualities in an apprentice is patience.
David started working with us in 1962 at the age of just 17. During a 12-year apprenticeship, he mastered the complex skills required to create the very finest single malt whisky.
David’s combination of knowledge and experience built up over the decades have earned him numerous accolades. They include an Icon of Whisky, a Master of the Quaich, the Grand Prix of Gastronomy, and an MBE for his services and innovations to the Scotch whisky industry.
While he's cut back his workload to spend a bit more time with his family, David says there’s no shortage of projects to get excited about.
“Our warehouse is filled with experiments that may or may not become another expression,” he explains. “And of the ones that do go to market, it’ll be years until you see any of them in a bottle.”
Which is where the need to be patient comes in.