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Scots whisky maker returns to Speyside roots to develop perfect malt

She is from what is considered to be one of the heartlands of Scottish whisky and grew up surrounded by distilleries but had never actually been in one.

Diane Stuart, from Speyside, had been studying forensic science at university but for a summer job at the age of 20, she became a tour guide in one of the local distilleries.

However, what was meant to be a brief summer job lay the foundations for a career which has now seen her became a whisky maker at The Macallan. She has also come full circle as she is now based at the company’s Speyside location.

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“I grew up in Speyside and had been studying at Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen, when I came home for the summer I thought I might do something different. A friend had told me how much she enjoyed working as a tour guide in a distillery and I thought I’ll give that a try. Distilleries were right on my doorstep, but I had never been in one or know much about the whisky making process,” Ms Stuart said.

“From the outset I loved the job from talking to people about it to sharing the knowledge of how we make our whisky. In this area, you get people coming who are locally or nationally and international visitors who want to know more about what we do. It was a great job and very social.”


Diane Stuart joined The Macallan team in February 2022

Diane Stuart joined The Macallan team in February 2022


It was towards the end of her summer job when she due to return to the world of forensic science that could her led her into crime solving and analytics, that an opportunity came up.

“My supervisor asked what was it that I studied – was it crime and blood analysis? I explained there was a lot of science behind it and a lot about analytical techniques and she said that sounds like things we do in the whisky industry and that there were labs nearby and wondered if I would be interested in having a look. It seemed to be about the techniques I had learned at university and applying them in a different way. I ended up doing work experience and became involved with whisky lab work. That was the foundation which led to me getting my first professional job as an analytical scientist at The Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI) in Edinburgh.”

During her time at SWRI, she became a sensory panellist and subsequently took responsibility for managing the day-to-day activities of the sensory panel, which then further developed into a greater involvement in flavour research.

“Every new person who joined the team was tested for their sensory capability and that is when I first had my nose tested,” she added. “It’s not just about smell, the test also incorporates your ability to describe things. I passed and moved from analytics to research into fermentation and distillation part of the process and a big part of that is understanding the flavour changes.”


The Macallan was one of the first distillers in Scotland to be legally licensed


The 35-year-old, who gained The Institute of Brewing and Distilling’s Diploma in Distilling and a Postgraduate Certificate in Sensory Science from the University of Nottingham, moved to Edrington in 2017 as a Trainee Blender, relishing the opportunity to apply her technical knowledge in a production role, and the following year was promoted to Assistant Blender.

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During this time, she worked as part of the wider sample room team assessing and approving whisky for use in vattings, nosing casks, assessing new make spirit, and trouble shooting of production issues. In 2020 Ms Stuart was promoted to Master Blender for Naked Malt, taking on responsibility for all elements of liquid delivery, including cask laydown, blend make-up and quality.

Her move to The Macallan as Whisky Maker in the Whisky Mastery Team earlier this year was an exciting and thrilling time for her.


Diane Stuart joined The Macallan team in February 2022

Diane Stuart joined The Macallan team in February 2022


Founded in 1824, by Alexander Reid on a plateau above the river Spey in north-east Scotland, the distillery is surrounded by a 485 acre estate with Easter Elchies House at its heart. The Macallan was one of the first distillers in Scotland to be legally licensed.

“Day to day I can be working on a variety of things,” she added. “At the moment I am working on vatting, [combining multiple barrels of whisky together in order to achieve a consistent flavour] for our double casked 12 -year-old. What we are making at the bench in December we would be looking at bottling in March. We are looking at every single cask of whisky that goes in to any of the products that we make.

“That’s where The Macallan and the whisky master team focus on quality and the attention to detail. We sample 100ml bottles taken from different casks. We add small amount of water to the whisky to bring the strength down from cask strength which can be above 60 per cent to 20 to 25 %. We are nosing hundreds of samples every day. If we were to be sampling those at high strength you would completely fatigue your nose very quickly. The majority of what we do is on the nose, we do tasting also. We are looking to make sure that the quality of the whisky we see in that glass is representative of what is going to be in each of those casks. I can be looking at 700 samples for this particular vatting.

“We have to make sure that the sampling aligns with flavour but also colour. We don’t add anything to our whisky to give it its colour that comes from the maturation process itself. Mixing and blending those whiskies together means we also have to get the colour right or we go back to the start.”


Macallan was founded in 1824 by Alexander Reid on a plateau above the river Spey in north-east Scotland

Macallan was founded in 1824 by Alexander Reid on a plateau above the river Spey in north-east Scotland


Ms Stuart says she does take time to step back and think about what has been created when they interact with customers.

“For me when we are doing a tasting and you hear their feedback about how excited they are to find out more about how it is made is the time that I love,” she added. “To see them enjoying our whisky is a special moment.”

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