Welcome to My GreatDrams, a series on GreatDrams where I feature a different person from the whisky world. They might be blenders, distillers, marketeers, ambassadors, brand owners and others. The premise is simple; they answer five questions so we can get to know them better.
This week it is the turn of Kirsteen Campbell, Master Blender, Cutty Sark & The Famous Grouse.
I guess it would be handy for readers to understand what your role and day to day responsibilities are and how you split time between Cutty Sark and The Famous Grouse?
My role is really varied. I split my time equally across both brands and have similar daily tasks for both.
One of the key tasks that I would generally undertake on a daily basis is the blending, and monitoring of the quality and consistency. As a team we can be nosing up to 600 malts every day, and so that is a key part of the job.
I’m also very much involved in the development of new products for the brands, and that includes working closely with distilleries on their new make spirits to ensure we have a high quality product to work with from the very beginning, and we remain involved through the cask maturation process through to the final production.
Another key part of my job as Master Blender is my brand education role, where I will visit different markets to deliver tastings and blending masterclasses. I meet a real range of people in this part of the job. In August we did my first ‘live chat’ for The Famous Grouse on our YouTube and Facebook channels where I answered questions about the brand, so that was also good fun!
You have quite an interesting history within the industry, can you give GreatDrams readers an overview of your career journey to date?
It started with my degree – I studied Nutrition and Food Science at The Caledonian, and then after that I landed my first role as a Quality Analyst at Diageo in 2001. That was a lab-based job, and I was there for three and a half years, monitoring the quality of new make whisky, vodka, gin and rum.
It was in this first role I realised that I had a pretty good sense of smell, and I became part of the ‘nosing team’ trained to be able to recognise minute differences in the spirits coming through the lab.
In 2004 I took a new job at the Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI) in Edinburgh. I joined the processing team, and my job was to research different distilling techniques that would enable whisky makers to produce new flavours.
Whilst I was there I also completed a Diploma in Distilling (at the Institute of Brewing and Distilling) which I was awarded in 2007.
In the same year I joined The Edrington Group as a Whisky Quality Technologist where I was lucky enough to be mentored first by John Ramsay, and more recently Gordon Motion. I became CuttySark Master Blender in 2011, and then in 2015 I took on the role of The Famous Grouse Master Blender.
How has it been taking the baton on from Gordon Motion? What were the steps and handover process?
I’ve worked alongside Gordon Motion for eight years now, and so it is a very gradual process where over time you able to learn what we are looking for in The Famous Grouse blends, and how to consistently achieve the correct balance of grain and malted whiskies to achieve each of the signature flavours.
Can you please talk about what both CuttySark and The Famous Grouse means to you and what you think it means to consumers around the world?
I’m immensely proud to work with both of these famous whisky brands. They both have fascinating histories, and it’s a real privilege to be given the responsibility to ensure the high quality of both of these blends is maintained.
From travelling around the different markets and meeting customers directly you get a real sense of the connection that people have with our whiskies – they are very loyal and love to be able to find out more about the blends, both in terms of how they are made, and also to learn more about the history behind them.
Recently I met one of our oldest fans – Jack Reynolds. He’d just turned 104 and he still enjoys a dram of The Famous Grouse every day!
What of your work with The Edrington Group are you most proud of and why?
I do enjoy the challenge of creating a new blend, and to date I’ve created some great expressions for CuttySark, including the 25 year old Tam o’Shanter blend and the CuttySark 33 year old which I’m really proud of. I’m really looking forward to work on more new products over the coming years.
How important is packaging in consumers’ decision making? What do you love about the brands you own’s look and feel?
Packaging is increasingly important, and our customers expect very higher levels of quality from our brands – they need to look just as good as they taste!