Master blender, Billy Leighton encapsulates the Jameson aesthetic in a sentence, and as a leading figure within the whiskey brand’s family, he certainly has an anecdote to tell.
With almost a decade of experience as master blender behind him, Billy’s first experience harks back to his days as a trainee accountant, before being given the opportunity to move into production. Under a new title of vatting manager, Billy prepared the whiskey for bottling. As the years went by, this role grew, eventually encompassing blending, warehousing, maturation and expanding further into distilling.
An exhaustive familiarity with the Irish Distiller’s stocks means Billy now knows all the products available to him. Far from being wrapped up in a white coat and confined to the lab sniffing and tasting samples, it’s Billy’s job to manage the stock and forecast future demands. So perhaps accountancy wasn’t the most unlikely beginning for this blender after all.
The affection Billy has for his craft spills out in conversation. Catch him on the topic of the complex taste and textures of Jameson Irish Whiskey, and his thoughtful answers recall that of a man truly dedicated to the Jameson cause.
Bushmills Irish Whiskey
Helen has a nose in a million – a nose that truly understands all the intricate notes, aromas and flavours of whiskey. It is a gift and plays such an important part in crafting the Bushmills Irish Whiskey premium blends and aged single malts.
With a Master’s Degree in Science, Helen began her career in the small laboratory at The Old Bushmills Distillery and today, after 25 years, she is steeped in the art of whiskey-making and blending, and she is immensely proud of the worldwide appreciation of Bushmills triple-distilled Irish whiskey.
Helen describes the process of sampling and choosing whiskeys as a sensory journey of sight, smell and taste and she revels in helping new blends, most recently the new rum cask reserve, part of The Steamship Collection – the Global Travel Retail exclusive range of rare cask-matured Bushmills single malt Irish whiskeys.
Helen nurtures her casks and spends time in the warehouses to ‘awaken the sleeping spirits’ – her description of sampling - in order to make her decisions on composition.
The Macallan, Edrington Group
The legacy Ken Grier leaves behind after his 20 years at the Edrington Group is frankly astonishing.
Starting his marketing career with cider, frozen pizza and Lego, he swiftly got to work across the Edrington brands, establishing himself as a visionary and creative marketer. His impact across several brands includes: leading the team who introduced the Famous Grouse malt range into Taiwan – enabling Edrington to provide a strong distribution platform which allowed Macallan to sweep in and dominate for 10 years; developing the early days of Highland Park in 2005/06; and working with the team to develop The Famous Grouse Experience in Crieff, which won a BAFTA award and was considered ahead if its time.
Ken will be widely known for his work on Macallan, and the list of projects during his 20 years on the brand is astonishing. In 2002/03 he introduced Fine & Rare Macallan; he took the decision to move The Macallan away from being 100 per cent sherry cask led to introduce the Fine Oak Series, which initially catapulted Macallan into the top four single malts in the world.
As one of a handful of female master blenders in the world, Rachel Barrie is creating some of the world’s finest single malt whiskies. With more than 26 years of experience, Rachel joined the Brown-Forman family in March 2017 as master blender for The GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh distilleries.
Rachel has been in the industry for 26 years. She first worked as a research scientist at the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, optimising flavour character in distillation and maturation. She moved into production at The Glenmorangie Company, working on Glenmorangie, Ardbeg and Glen Moray single malts, becoming master blender in 2003.
During this time she also managed the stocks for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, giving her a deeper insight into a great many more distilleries. She moved to Morrison Bowmore Distillers in 2011, where she developed the whiskies for Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch single malts, also working latterly with Laphroaig and Ardmore.
When not deciding on the composition of blended spirits, Rachel plays the piano, reads, cooks and loves the outdoors. She and her husband have a collection of vintage motorbikes.