Caskaway: Gillian Macdonald's desert island drams

Caskaway: Gillian Macdonald's desert island drams

In each edition we ask one of the industry’s great and good which drams they would take to our desert island

Caskaway | 17 Jun 2022 | Issue 175 | By Martha Crass (1)

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Gillian started working with whisky in 2004, after studying chemistry at university. She describes it as a ‘broad brush’ subject that gave her a multitude of career options – one of which was a placement as a trainee distiller for Penderyn Whisky. The distillery itself was very new at the time, having only been up and running for around three years, and it was here that she learned the basics of running a distillery, as well as nosing and tasting. There she met and was taught by the late, great Dr Jim Swan, who was Penderyn’s consultant distiller at the time; she worked under his stewardship for eight years as they carved out a path for Welsh whisky and established the Penderyn range. She landed her role at Glenmorangie in 2012 as head of analytics and whisky creation, and since then has been working on Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.

Whisky #1
Madeira Finish

I have to have a Penderyn in there, and instantly, it takes me back to standing in the warehouse with Jim and laughing. It takes me back to those sessions we used to have, whereby we’d be drawing the spirit from the cask and taking it into the little sensory room we had there. It takes me back to those days learning the craft from him, absorbing his knowledge, and learning the skills that he had. That’s led me to where I am today, so it really is quite a significant whisky in my life. It’s also approachable; it’s a really smooth-drinking spirit, and that’s one thing that people were often really surprised about.

Whisky #2
Traigh Bhan 19 Years Old

It’s a combination of spirit that’s
been matured in Oloroso and in Bourbon and then combined together, and it’s absolutely delicious. It’s also probably the most tropical one, so I was thinking this has to be the one that's the most fitting to the tropical island theme! You get the signature lime, there’s roasted tea leaves and smoked pineapple, but the smoke is there, ever-present. It’s been mellowed quite a bit by the time it’s spent in the cask and the dwelling-time in the wood. The layers of smoke just keep coming; it’s a stunning dram.

Whisky #3
12 Years Old

This is linked to a distillery visit: I went round Midleton in the mid-2000s, and I got taken around by Barry Crockett. When you taste this, you can taste the difference in the production method, that pot still distillation, which I’m interested in. Where I started off was a different distillation process to where I currently am, and now this is a different one again. It’s intriguing, seeing what those flavours are and how they all contribute and mingle together. Again, it’s a Bourbon/Oloroso combination, but with this Irish pot still distillation on top of it.

Whisky #4
Ealanta Private Edition /
Quinta Ruban

This is kind of a two-in-one, which is a bit of a cheat. I was going to go for the Ealanta – it was the first ever whisky I worked on, when I stepped through the doors of Glenmorangie. The flavour journey on the liquid is just phenomenal, but it’s practically impossible to get a bottle! So, then I thought I’ll take Quinta Reuban instead. The ruby port pipe influence at the end is just amazing. The bit I like the most about it is that mentholic freshness, which you often get in Glenmorangie Original. It’s almost like that mint chocolate combination, which is just gorgeous, with a little bit of cinnamon and nutmeg spice on top.

Whisky #5
Gillian Macdonald
Bench Blend (unofficial)

A lot of the stuff that we do on the bench blending is just a selection from maybe a number of different casks. We narrow it down to a few and then that will become a large bottling batch, which obviously is way many more casks, so there is always a slight difference between what we did, and what actually is produced. So, I would probably want to take one of my bench blends. They’re almost like prototypes; they never really see the light of day. It’s a one-off, it’s almost like your own mini bottling. There’s a whole playground of fun that we could delve into.

A brief final luxury
I’m going to go for a radio. My granddad brought us up on cricket, and we always had Test Match Special on, and it’s been one of those constant things in my life. They follow the sunshine and cricket around the world, they just have the most giggly fits ever, and they eat cake. It’s just brilliant.
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