They say that you will always remember your first official whisky tasting – I’d be inclined to agree – and mine was quite the experience. Joining David C. Stewart MBE, Balvenie malt master and his newly announced protégé, Kelsey McKechnie, alongside a select few enthusiasts and experts for an evening to celebrate ‘A Moment in Time’.
The festivities began – and eventually ended – at the Stafford Hotel in St James, London, providing the perfect setting for speculation to begin on what the evening ahead would hold. First up was a boat trip along the Thames, with an unexpected destination awaiting us.
An hour later, feeling warmed by the evening sun and a dram of The Balvenie Caribbean Cask, we arrived at the Greenwich Observatory, to celebrate the beginning of a new era for the brand. Now this was an experience in a tasting like no other, specifically crafted to celebrate a taste of the DoubleWood collection, in what is its 25th year, while looking up to the night sky over the distillery in Dufftown.
But of course, the main reason we had all been brought together was yet to be officially revealed and the excitement surrounding it was palpable.
The announcement from David – who is currently celebrating his 56th year in the industry – signalled a moment of change for Balvenie, with the appointment of apprentice malt master, Kelsey.
The chemistry between the two was clear to see and continued to be a delight to witness the next morning, while sat in the American Bar of the Stafford Hotel with the duo.
“We’ve spent the past few weeks having to keep it a secret, I would see David in the canteen and pretend I didn’t know him,” laughed Kelsey. “It’s great to be able to relax and enjoy it now.”
“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” continued David. “Both myself and master blender, Brian Kinsman had worked closely with Kelsey and she was the obvious choice for the role, with the perfect training and experience in the company.”
Despite two very different introductions to the industry, the two have a unified mindset when it comes to the direction of Balvenie.
“My background is in biomedical sciences, however, I quickly realised that was not where my passion laid and went on to gain a masters in distilling and brewing,” Kelsey explained. “This role is something I’ve dreamed of and always wanted to be able to do, I love nosing, tasting and being involved in the blending team.
“Everyone at the distillery and the William Grant family as a whole, has such a huge sense of pride in their work and that brings with it a lot of responsibility as well as excitement about what’s to come.”
During the past eight years, David has worked solely on The Balvenie brand, refreshing the entire range. “I am immensely proud to have held this position in such a great family company and now I have a wonderful opportunity to support Kelsey in the beginning of her journey,” he added.
Of course, with such a vast amount of knowledge to hand over to his apprentice, the two face no mean feat when it comes to ensuring nothing is lost
“I have so much to learn, but I am in an incredibly fortunate position,” affirmed Kelsey. “David doesn’t realise just how much of his expertise he passes on to me when we are working side by side, it really is wonderful.”
The two will continue to work together with their shared innovative spirit for the next few years, until a natural point presents itself for the reins to be completely passed across to Kelsey.
David continued, “I will gradually let Kelsey do more and more, which will allow me to take a back seat. I’m looking forward to working together and working ahead on products over the coming years, we both like to have three or four projects on the go as nothing happens quickly and we have to be prepared.”
During the previous evening, we had been given an insight into the innovative capabilities of this pairing. If we had ever needed proof that the right decision had been made, it was found in that glass, that we may or may not see on shelves in the future.
One thing is for sure, as the Balvenie DoubleWood enters a new chapter and the new apprentice malt master steps into the limelight, the brand has a lot to be excited about.
“So far, it has been an amazing experience,” added Kelsey. “We’re working away on lots of little experiments and innovations in the background, anything that tickles our fancy really and I’m truly excited to see what will come of them.”
Celebrating Kelsey's new role