Dr Kirstie McCallum (41), born in Glasgow, was one of the first women to become a whisky maker, a career she embarked on by accident. An analytical chemist by training, she is now the roving global brand ambassador for several award-winning Scotch whiskies, from the very select single malts such as Bunnahabhain, Tobermory and Ledaig, to blended whisky brands, Black Bottle and Scottish Leader.
When she earned her doctorate from Glasgow Caledonian University at the end of 1999, she initially planned to become involved in the pharmaceutical industry. However, when she was offered a short-term contract at a grain whisky distillery, she had unexpectedly found her ideal job. Falling in love with Scotch whisky and all its traditions and history she began her apprenticeship at Port Dundas Distillery in Glasgow, where she worked in the laboratory as a member of the technical team.
It was here that she was exposed to the sensory evaluation of spirits. It wasn’t long before she expanded her knowledge with a move to Chivas Brothers, where she was tasked with looking after whisky and rum, from blending to quality control at the company’s blending plant in Dalmuir (Glasgow). Within a year she was promoted to development chemist and laboratory manage. This took her to the heart of Scotland’s Speyside region. It was an ideal position from which to develop her conversancy with malt whiskies.
Then it was back to work across the entire spirits spectrum for a two-year spell, but this time as a scientist for Allied Distillers.
She joined Burn Stewart Distillers, now part of the Distell Group, a blender in 2007. One of only a handful of female blenders in the industry, she was fortunate to work alongside master blender Ian MacMillan. Under his mentorship, she learned about hand-selecting casks for single malts; became involved in looking after existing blended brands; and working on new blends, brand extensions and limited additions for the single malt ranges.
Armed with her impressive whisky-making skills, McCallum recently moved into an ambassadorial role. She now travels to leading markets across the world, educating trade and whisky enthusiasts in the nuances of Scotch whiskies, using the rich Scotch whisky portfolio of Distell as her examples. Whisky pairing with food is a highlight for her.
One of her favourite combinations is whisky and chocolate, especially Bunnahabhain 18-year-old with orange and clove-infused truffles. Another favourite is Bunnahabhain 25-year-old with toffee apple cheesecake, bramble compote, caramel salted ice cream and toffee sauce. The recipe comes from Scottish Michelin Star chef Geoffrey Smeddle. She has recently collaborated with him in developing a signature menu to complement the full range of Bunnahabhain range of single malts.
Her visit to South Africa in February this year was her first. Other recent destinations include Russia, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the US.
An avid racing enthusiast, McCallum loves motor rallies. She lives in Glasgow.