As part of a regular interview feature, Joel Harrision speaks to some of whisky's leading lights and others working in the industry. He asks a number of set questions each issue, as well as drilling down to find the true spirit of the person, and their passion for the product.
Kirsteen, tell us, what does your job entail and where are you based?
I'm the Master Blender for Cutty Sark and The Famous Grouse at The Edrington Group.
How long have you been doing that particular job?
The official release for the Famous Grouse position was on 15 March 2016, which was very exciting. I have been Master Blender for Cutty Sark for the last five years and I've worked with Edrington for the last eight years and in the industry for fifteen years in total.
Where were you before working for Edrington?
I worked for the Scotch Whisky Research Institute in Edinburgh, and after that I was with Diageo at Cameronbridge Distillery.
How does it feel to not have to wear a white coat all the time?
I actually don't miss the white coat, I have to say. It's great to have that link with the science and the art of whisky blending. We work very closely as a team on the quality of liquid and the blending.
What does that job entail on a daily basis?
There are no two days the same, and that is what I love about the job. The variety is great. Obviously, there is the day-to-day blending for quality and consistency but added to that there is the new product development. This is where we are asked to provide new products for the portfolios, and we work closely with the distilleries on their new-make spirit side of things. This is about making sure the quality is there from the new- make, through to the cask maturation and beyond. My job also includes tastings, brand education and going out to markets on occasions.
You're now the custodian of some really important blends. Is that quite a daunting thing to pick up that particular baton?
First of all, it's an absolute honour and I'm very proud of both Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse. I've worked alongside Gordon Motion for the last eight years, so I know these brands well but there is still a lot to learn about stock management and that sort of thing, but I'm loving every moment of it!
In terms of stock management, what does your job entail?
I forecast the laying down of stocks of new-make spirit for future releases, as well as the cask types these spirits go into.
Tell us about some of the new products you've been involved in creating.
Most of my work on new product development has been on Cutty Sark. I created the 25 Years Old Tam O'Shanter, the Cutty Sark 33 Years Old, Cutty Sark Prohibition and Cutty Sark Storm. With Grouse I'm the custodian for the existing portfolio, but in the near future I hope to be involved in creating new expressions for them as well.
If you could work at any distillery in Scotland for a day, where would it be and why?
I'd have to say Highland Park, as I love going to Orkney. I love the distillery, the people and you have the added bonus of the malting as well, which is fairly unique these days. I've had a go at turning the barley, which was fantastic. I love Highland Park Distillery.
If you could go anywhere in the world to see a different spirit being made, where would you like to go?
This is tricky as the choice is endless! But I've got three probably. The first is rum and this is a realistic one for me, as we have Brugal as part of the portfolio here at Edrington, I'd love to go out and see the process first hand. Secondly, Japanese distilleries. I have complete respect for what they do out there. I have been to Japan, but I didn't get a chance to visit any, sadly. The other one that comes to mind is actually the Tasmanian distilleries. I spent a bit of time in Australia between studying and working. Unfortunately I was unable to visit any distilleries whilst there, so I'd love to go back as they're making some phenomenal stuff at the moment.
Finally, how do you like to drink your whisky. Are you a neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail person?
Now, the answer I would give is that it depends on the occasion. At the moment I'm having a pre-dinner drink, nice and refreshing, of Famous Grouse and ginger ale but after dinner I might have a whisky just with a measure of water, to relax.