Trying to understand the world of alcohol can make a newbie feel like they are walking into no man’s land without a map in hand. But it doesn’t have to be so intimidating. Terminology in spirits can be confusing, especially if we are talking whisky. For instance, did you know whisky is always spelled with an “e” unless it’s Scotch whisky? There are a few important details every alcohol lover should know, like the difference between whisky, scotch, and single malt; if mixing whisky with an aerated drink is sacrilege; how you need to make your drink, and drink your drink, and lots more.

To help us figure out these baffling questions, we got in touch with Kelsey McKechnie, Apprentice Malt Master at Balvenie Distillery at William Grant & Sons. In 2014, Kelsey started working as a Technical Graduate at the Girvan Distillery laboratory. Four years later, she was appointed Apprentice Malt Master – becoming one of the youngest women in the world to achieve this rarest of jobs.

How and when did you realise you had an interest in whiskies? 

I began working at William Grant & Sons laboratory in Girvan. From there I really began developing my interest in whisky production and flavour creation. It was, and still is one of the best parts of whisky blending, learning how we can produce different flavours throughout production.

What’s your approach to blending? 

My approach to blending is very similar to David Stewart MBE, and subsequently Brian Kinsman’s style, Brian is David’s first apprentice and Glenfiddich’s Malt Master. It is important to make sure not to rush the process. In whisky nothing happens overnight; so we have to make sure we have the spirit in the correct wood required well in advance of bottling, often this can be years beforehand.

How important is using the right glassware and ice for cocktails? 

In the sample room, we are very particular about the glasses we use for nosing. It is important that once we have reduced the alcoholic strength of the spirit we are nosing with water, we leave the spirit to build up in the headspace of the glass to allow for easy assessment. Typically, we use tulip nosing glasses as the shape is perfect for smelling the whisky.

What are some of the things that you keep in mind when creating blends for India? Do you believe your blends are more suited to the Indian and Asian palate? 

When we create blends, we don’t necessarily create products for specific regions. Of course, there are some markets whereby specific flavour profiles are more popular. In the sample room, we focus on creating quality and consistency in every batch.

For the beginner, could you tell us the difference between single malt, Scotch, and whisky?

Single Malt refers to Scotch Whisky that has been produced from 100 percent malted barley on pot stills.

Scotch can refer to grain, blend, or single malt, which varies in the raw material used and often the distillation process. Grain whisky can be produced from any type of grain and is often distilled on a column still. A blend is a combination of malt and grain whisky. All Scotch spirits are produced in Scotland too.

Is there a right way to drink whisky? 

I don’t think there is a correct way to drink whisky; anyway you like is best. Although, I don’t know if I would add anything to a Balvenie 50-year-old; some things are better left untouched.

Is it a sin to mix soft drinks with your whisky?

I don’t think it is a sin. However you like is the best route.

How is each whisky from the brand different from another?

The spirits in the William Grant portfolio vary quite drastically from one another — not only in their final taste but in the production of these spirits, the casks used to create flavour and the length of time they are finished, and how the final blend is put together. The ability to work on a large range of spirits with different flavours has allowed me to learn and develop my sensory palate.

How does the colour tell you about the quality of whisky?

The natural colour of whisky is a great indication of how well the casks are performing and giving flavour to the spirit. During finishing, we can see cases where the colour of the spirit is light, but the nose and taste of the spirit is great; it can be a great indication of spirit performance, but sensory is always the best means of assessment.

 (Featured Image Credits: Special arrangement)