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Talking whisky with Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman

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A scientist by training, Brian Kinsman became Glenfiddich’s Malt Master in December 2009, and is responsible for fulfilling William Grant’s adventurous ambition of creating ‘the best dram in the valley’. He is the sixth Malt Master since Glenfiddich first flowed from the distillery stills on Christmas day almost more than 125 years ago.

As Malt Master, Brian is in charge of the time-honoured Glenfiddich whisky making tradition; from careful cask selection and overseeing the marrying process – a Glenfiddich speciality which ensures consistency in the quality – to the maturation process within the Dufftown warehouses, where every new year imparts different qualities to the liquid.

Born in West Lothian in 1972, Brian studied chemistry at The University of St Andrews, where he met his wife, Lisa.  He graduated in 1994 with a first class honours degree and, whilst no formal qualification is required to be Malt Master, his scientific background and pioneering outlook helps him understand the character of a whisky, the effect of maturation and the possibilities a maturing whisky may have.

Brian joined William Grant & Sons in 1997, attracted by the tradition, skill and craftsmanship at the world’s most awarded and distinguished distillery. Eight years ago he became apprentice to David Stewart, Scotland’s longest serving Malt Master and one of the industry’s most loved and respected craftsmen, embarking on a complex journey of learning about the art of single malt Scotch whisky craftsmanship, which traditionally can take up to a decade to complete. Working alongside David for eight years, Brian learned his craft and inherited an unrivalled passion for whisky and a deep respect not only for tradition and time-honoured techniques, but for pioneering new ways to make exceptional single malt Scotch whisky

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What’s your personal relationship with whisky: first sipped, noticeable milestones in your malted journey, any favourite product/production country/distillery/flavour profile?

I have been aware of whisky all of my life through family (my father, uncles and grandfather were all whisky drinkers) and also because I was a piper there was always whisky at piping events.  However, it wasn’t really until I went to University in St Andrews that I started to pay more attention to the flavours and diversity of whisky that was available.  When I joined William Grant & Sons in 1997 I had no significant knowledge about the category other than that of a “interested consumer”.  Today I enjoy exploring flavours from around the World but my favourite remains Speyside malts

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New distilleries have been spreading all over the world like mushrooms, how do you think Glenfiddich is standing out within this highly-competitive environment? How do you adapt to new emerging trends (locally-sourced ingredients, organic, premiumisation, younger consumers…)? Do you see the rise of micro distilleries as a threat or an opportunity?

It is definitely an opportunity, so long as the new distillers stay true to the production methods and maintaining quality to the highest standards then more diversity in the Whisky World can only be a good thing.  At Glenfiddich we continually strive to maintain the very highest standards in our distillation and maturation to ensure each expression remains consistent batch to batch.

We put in a huge amount of effort making sure the distillery spirit quality and character is maintained as this is essential to making sure the various expressions will have a consistent nose and taste for the decades to come.  In addition  to that we are continually experimenting to try to discover and create new expressions and flavours.  The latest release of Glenfiddich Experimental Series is a result of some of this work.

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If you had to choose ONE product from the Glenfiddich range, which one would it be and why?

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old : the balance of the distinctive fruity notes of Glenfiddich and the richness of the oak in this particular expression is perfect for my palate.

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Craft distilling still hasn’t any official/legal definition, if you were to come-up with one, what would it be? How would you define “craft”? And do you consider Glenfiddich as such?

I think all of Scotch Whisky is Craft in that it is a premium product being produced to very high standards within a tight legal definition that protects the integrity of the raw materials, production methods and consumer messaging.  I think it is very difficult to define Craft but my view is it has nothing to do with size and everything to do with quality and integrity.

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Glenfiddich has been at the avant-garde of different trends within the whisky world: What do you think will be the next “big thing” in the industry over the next few years?

If only I knew! It feels like there is a continuing move to premium products across all the sectors so that is likely to be the base of the next big thing

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How do you see the future for Glenfiddich? How do you picture the distillery/brand in 5/10 years time? Any crazy dream you’d like to achieve (at a personal or professional level)?

At Glenfiddich we want to continue to grow, to maintain our reputation for quality across the World and to have more people enjoy the products we release.  Professionally I don’t have any burning ambitions other than to maintain the fantastic work everyone at the distillery does.



Pic sources: luxurysafes, joshua-s

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