Celebrating International Women’s Day with Kelsey McKechnie and The Balvenie Stories
In 2018, then 26-year old Kelsey was appointed The Balvenie’s Apprentice Malt Master – becoming one of the youngest women in the world to achieve this rarest of jobs. This International Women’s Day, she joins Inverarity Morton to talk science, stories and drams.
Why is your brand so special? Give us your best cocktail party pitch.
The Balvenie Brand is so special because it is about real people and real stories. Balvenie is family owned and it feels like it, there is a huge sense of pride for anyone who is involved in making each one of our variants.
How did you get to where you are now?
I started working in the lab at William Grant and Sons distilleries in the Lowlands, I was able to learn so much about spirit production whilst training my sensory palate to pick up flavours in the spirit. I moved around a few different sites before finally moving into the blending team lead by William Grant and Sons Master Blender, Brian Kinsman. After a few years of learning how to create specific flavours in each of our variants, Brian and David Stewart (Balvenie’s Malt Master) recommended me for the role of David’s apprentice.
So far, it has been fast paced and a lot of fun.
What has been your greatest learning in this job?
My greatest learning has been that although there can seem to be a lot of pressure, managing stocks and the quality of an already fantastic brand, it doesn’t help to think about the magnitude of everything; we need not think about what can go wrong but make sure we do everything we can right.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received along the way?
The greatest piece of advice I have been given is to be patient. It is not typically in my nature so over the past few years I have learned that in whisky nothing happens overnight so we have to take our time and make sure the spirit has enough time to develop the specific flavours from each cask.
What has been the most edifying moment of your working life to date?
I was at a launch event for Balvenie Stories a few years ago and I can remember speaking to a couple who had
visited the distillery. They had spoken about Balvenie as though they were there yesterday, naming the visitor team and reminiscing how much they enjoy having their friends and family around to enjoy a dram. I can remember thinking how enthusiastic they were about Balvenie and it really put into perspective how lucky
I have been to be involved in a brand everyone feels so passionate about.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing with your life?
If I weren’t in my current position, I would be working in a medical lab. I started working in the lab years ago, if I am honest I didn’t realise becoming a Malt Master was an option.
Name your ultimate dinner party guests and what would you serve them to eat and to drink? David Attenborough, Judy Dench and Michelle Roux Jr. I was actually lucky enough to meet Michelle Roux Jr. a few years ago whilst working on a Balvenie project, it was brilliant and definitely something I won’t forget. Food wise, I love Thai food so a Massaman Curry and a few drams of 21YO Portwood afterwards.
If a film was made of your life, who would play you and why?
I am not sure my life would make a film (not yet anyway), but maybe one day someone like Jennifer Lawrence, she doesn’t take herself too seriously.
What would you order as your desert island drink? My desert island drink doesn’t have a name at the moment; it’s new from Balvenie’s Stories Range, coming later this year, and it is delicious.
What is your one guilty pleasure, or are there more than one?
There are definitely a few. I love food and if I could, I would eat out for every meal. A weekend breakfast out is my new favourite thing to do; it is definitely the best way to start the day!