Important Whisky People: The Whisky Maker
23-02-2018 By Nokulunga Msibi

We continue to celebrate the important people behind our favourite drink. We started with the cooper, master of the barrel. This time, we are honouring the whisky makers, both the master distiller and master blender. Help us raise a dram to masters of malts.

The master blender is in charge of the composition of the whisky including selecting the casks, making blends and ensuring consistency across all the batches.

“I'm quite bold, that's part of why I'm a blender” says Rachel Barrie, master blender at BenRiach Distillery Company. She told Munchies that her job is not for the faint-hearted. Rachel is the world’s first female whisky master blender. Only one of 12 whisky master blenders in the entire world. The title is quite prestigious, bestowed upon you by your peers.

Rachel Barrie BenRiach

Rachel Barrie Master Blender at The BenRiach

No formal qualifications are required to be a master blender; it is achieved through experience. But you need to have a superior nose. Renown master blender Richard Paterson of The Dalmore noses hundreds of cask samples each day. So important is his nose that he took out a £2.5 million insurance on it. Paterson told Time Magazine that his role is both an art and craft “much of it is about choosing the right combination of a cask that will “bring the beauty out” of the whisky “like a good dress,” while monitoring the complex aging process of his many malts.

Robert Paterson

The title of master blender differs from that of master distiller. A master distiller ensures the production of whisky – managing the mashing and distillation process to the time the spirit enters the casks. In smaller distilleries, one person tends to perform both duties of master distiller and master blender.

Jimmy Russell

Wild Turkey's Jimmy Russell

80 year old Jimmy Russell is a widely celebrated master distiller. Russell is known as the Budha of Bourbon. He has spent over 60 years making whiskey at Wild Turkey, the longest tenured active-master distiller in the world.

David Stewart Balvenie

David Stewart MBE

The industry is tightly knit but also features healthy competition. David Stewart is malt master at Grants & Sons. Stewart is known for pioneering double maturation in the form of cask finishes for The Balvenie, having started out as a whisky stocks clerk in 1962. Andy Watts, master distiller for Three Ships in South Africa, won the Rest of the World Master Distiller/Master Blender of the Year in this year's Icons of Whisky Awards.

Angela D'Orazio

Angela D'Orazio

A typical day for master blenders involves nosing whiskies and grading them for different uses. Angela D’Orazio is responsible for Swedish whisky Mackmyra. She also creates “recipes” for new Mackmyra expressions for the future.