Like many great things, whiskey takes patience and time. Often, this is a notion that goes well beyond the barrel––since 1846, Dewar’s has named just seven Master Blenders, and each has spent the entirety of their tenure honing their craft day after day. Master Distiller Stephanie Macleod can attest to the long road that led to her becoming the brand’s latest Master Blender (and her recent accolade from the 2019 International Whisky Competition, which named her Master Blender of the Year), two honors that were bestowed upon her after over two decades of dedication to the Dewar’s portfolio. Here, Macleod shares an inside look at her career path and what lies ahead for 2020 and beyond.
You’ve been with Dewar’s since 1998 and are now one of the very few Master Blenders in the brand’s history. What does that mean to you?
Yes, indeed I am the 7th Master Blender for Dewar’s and it is an honor to curate and create the whiskies for such a prestigious, award winning brand, which inspires loyalty worldwide. It is a job that I love and it has been made even more special by being recognized as Master Blender of the Year 2019 by the International Whisky Competition.
What has your journey been like from the beginning of your career at Dewar’s to now?
My career has been both challenging and exciting. There’s much excitement in creating new blends and new expressions, visiting global markets, meeting our amazing whisky advocates and of our course, our Dewar’s appreciators. The challenges of meeting the demands of maintaining our existing portfolio, but also of creating new expressions.
In your time as a sensory analyst at University of Strathclyde before joining the company, you studied the maturation of whisky. What were some of your most important or interesting takeaways?
My work at the University of Strathclyde was pivotal in my decision to pursue the whisky industry as a career. Prior to joining, I had no knowledge of whisky and truly believed that I didn’t like whisky. However, once I began to learn more about it and explored the chemical structure versus the sensory attributes. it was fascinating to me. What really struck me was how important it is to have good quality casks, and that is something that has always remained with me.
How have your findings influenced your approach to blending, if at all?
My approach to blending has been shaped by a number of factors, and my research background is a fundamental one, in that it has allowed me to introduce research principles into the way I conduct experiments and lead projects, for example. But mostly, my approach has been shaped by our whisky drinkers, the House Style of Dewar’s and it’s rich heritage, ensuring that we have a rich inventory of malt and grain scotch whiskies to make certain the flavor our consumers’ love is preserved through good stock management and a sound cask policy.
Continuing our rich inventory of scotch whiskies also means that we can innovate on key elements of our character. So, for example, the Dewar’s Double Double range is a set of three Blended Scotch whiskies – 21, 27 and 32-Years-Old. I wanted each age expression to showcase a different aspect of the Dewar’s house style. The 21-Year-Old reveals the elegant fruity and vanilla notes of Dewar’s, the 27-Year-Old exposes the citrus and honey notes, while the 32-Year-Old explores the mysterious smoky character of Dewar’s.
We always ‘Double Age,’ which means that after we blend our malts and grains together to form the Blended Scotch whisky, we take the blend and fill it back into casks with no maturation potential for an additional period of maturation. This allows the disparate flavour profiles of the individual spirits to interact with one another, creating a greater perception of smoothness. This is what we do for all our marks. But for the Double Double range, we wanted to create the smoothest blend yet.
While creating the Double Double range, I tapped into the archives. A.J. Cameron, our first Master Blender, would take the malts by their region, blend them and then double age them, or ‘marry’ them as it’s traditionally known, and finally blend them together. We adopted that concept, and for each variant, we blended the malts together, then blended the grains together and double each blend for one month. We then blended the malts and grains together and double aged the blended scotch whiskies for one month. Finally, as the 4th step, we took each blended scotch whisky and filled each age into a different type of sherry casks. The 21-Year-Old was finished in Oloroso Sherry, the 27-Year-Old was finished in Palo Cortado, and the 32-Year-Old was finished in Pedro Ximenez casks.
The Dewar’s Cask Finish Series is exploring the versatility of our blends through different cask finishes. Although the climates of Scotland and the Caribbean couldn’t be more different, the combination of Dewar’s 8-Year-Old has more expressions to come, so watch this space.
We’re also very encouraged by the positive reactions the Double Double series has received. A few expressions took gold at the recent International Whisky Competition, while our Double Double 21-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky was named the best scotch whisky in the Whisky Advocate’s annual Top 20 list. Its reception is incredibly motivating, pushing us to continue creating exciting new, unexpected offerings within the category.
Any fun upcoming things or initiatives at Dewar’s that you can share with us?
We’re extremely encouraged by the success surrounding our Caribbean Smooth launch this year, and we are excited to continue introducing more cask-finished blended whiskies annually as we aim to create a robust series. While we are still putting the final touches on our latest innovations, I’m looking forward to the cask finish we will be introducing in 2020.