Interview with Sarah Burgess, Whisky Maker,The Macallan

Master of Malt - Sarah Burgess

CONTENT: Yiew KaI Jie

DFS Group (DFS), the world’s leading luxury travel retailer, in partnership with Changi Airport Group, hosted its eighth annual Masters of Wines and Spirits event in Singapore last March. The most celebrated and prestigious event in the industry, Masters of Wines and Spirits showcased a curation of 140 of the rarest and finest whiskies, wines, Cognac and Champagne from around the world, all under one roof.

We had the opportunity to sit down and interview Sarah Burgess of The Macallan, she is one of the key members of the brand’s whisky mastery team with more than 20 years in the whisky industry.

Luxe Society Asia: Sarah could you tell us a little bit more about your role with the Macallan?

Sarah Burgess: So my rule with Macallan is whiskey making, and within Macallan, we have a whiskey mastery team that consists of our master distiller Nick Savage and three whiskey makers, Steven Brimner, Paul Wogan and myself. So what we do every single day is to oversee Macallan and select their product destination. So we could be working on 25-year-old or 30 or else we are nosing whiskey for what we think is a 12-year-old. We find something extra special that was there for exceptionally single casks, or some of our other products because each cask tells us where it belongs because of the intensity of character, the depth of colour, and the range that we have within the colour is thrown up.

Luxe Society Asia: Thank you so much. What was the first glass or the first drum of whiskey that you ever tasted?

Sarah Burgess: There’s no way that I can remember my very first whiskey. It was in Speyside surrounded by the highest concentration of distilleries in Scotland, so dealing from the smelling whiskey, and I believe that whiskey is made up of moments, and if you are going to share some of my favourite whiskey movements, then I can easily do that, I’ve got…

Luxe Society Asia: So they are plenty.

Sarah Burgess: There are loads and loads of them. And one specifically around Macallan has got to be just last year in May when we opened the distillery, being the launch event, Macallan was hand selected for the distillery were able to taste that whiskey, it was a phenomenal experience.

Luxe Society Asia: Amazing. What got you involved in the whiskey industry?

Sarah Burgess: I think that goes back to being brought up in Speyside, so I thought when I was growing that it was normal to be surrounded by distilleries, and that everywhere in the world was like that. It probably wasn’t until I got a bit older and started to travel and go to different places I was like – so where are the distilleries here? There’s none. And so it wasn’t really quite a natural thing. If I wanted to leave home, whiskey was the best place for me to start working. I realised that I had a great passion for it.

Luxe Society Asia: And so, it’s been a year since we saw you lost at the last year’s DFS Masters of Wines and Spirits. So how have things changed for the Macallan, what’s happened in the last year?

Sarah Burgess: Well, 2018 for Macallan is one of the biggest years in Macallan’s history. So we’ve opened our new distillery, production is running through there, the visitor experience is open, it’s a distillery like no other. It is an amazing piece of architecture. I mean, you can see from the film that’s playing behind how the distillery actually looks from the exterior and also the interior is truly an amazing piece of architecture, an engineering feat and it’s really wonderful.

Luxe Society Asia: Is it tough being one of the few women in a male-dominated industry?

Sarah Burgess: I do know what it’s like to be a man, so I really don’t know.

Luxe Society Asia: There are a few. I mean, there’s more and more woman in the industry.

Sarah Burgess: Absolutely. There are women involved in whiskey since this start of whiskey, so within Macallan’s history, Macallan was run by John Harbinson for a number of years and the distillery just further up the road, Cardy distillery was pioneered by Helen Cummins, done by Elizabeth Cummins. And I think there’s a perception out there that it is male-dominated and there are many men, and while that perception still exists, I’m quite happy to talk about women in the whiskey industry. But hopefully, some people realise that it’s quite balanced. I think about the whiskey making team, Macallan is perfect split 50-50, by no means is it male-dominated.

Luxe Society Asia: What do you think is the next biggest trend for the whiskey world?

Sarah Burgess: I don’t know if there is such a thing as I’ve trained within whiskey, you know we’ve been producing whiskey in the Macallan for nearly 200 years across Scotland for even longer than that. So I think what we see specifically with Macallan is a very high-quality product, an aspirational product, and I think that we will start to see more and more people going through their whiskey journeys with us trained. People start to drink whiskey, and they see where they can go. I mean, look at the 72-year-old if that’s not an aspirational product, then I don’t know what is.

Luxe Society Asia: Are distilleries able to keep up with the rising worldwide demand for whiskey?

Sarah Burgess: That’s kind of why we built our new distillery, so yeah, I’d say. As everyone as equipped as us, I’m not sure, but we’re ready.

Macallan

Luxe Society Asia: What’s the biggest challenge that Macallan faces at the moment?

Sarah Burgess: Because Macallan is such a quality product, because it is in such high demand, the product is on allocation, and in some ways that will always be an issue, because we will always make sure that we are bringing our quality products and we will never ever – we will never anything over that’s not very high in quality. So I guess, it will stop certain limitation right now.

Luxe Society Asia: Sure, that kind of leads into the next question. So can we expect more limited releases from the Macallan limited series, concept series?

Sarah Burgess: If I tell you though, this is probably the last interview that I’d ever do…

Luxe Society Asia: We will just have to wait and see…

Sarah Burgess: Yeah, I think wait and see is probably the best thing, but I think, looking at what we’ve done with Macallan, I guess, all I can say is watch the space and wait.

Luxe Society Asia: Last question. What is your personal favourite bottle of whiskey?

Sarah Burgess: I have to pick one?

Luxe Society Asia: Narrow it down maybe a really memorable one.

Sarah Burgess: Something I’ve made or something that I like to drink?

Luxe Society Asia: Anything.

Sarah Burgess: I think probably one of the whiskeys that we’re going to taste today, and that is the Genesis because it was one of the first whiskeys that I made and I put a huge amount of thought into making that particular whiskey. That makes it sound like I don’t put thought into all of them, but that one because it was a special project and I thought how can I create a whiskey that will do justice to the new distillery build. So I selected five individual casks that represented each of the five mounds of the distillery, and each of those casks were selected to create an overall complex flavour that would provide a reflection of each of the parts in the production process. We have a sweet one that has got elements of cereal and banana notes for the mashing process, like fruits coming through for fermentation and two different ones for the distillation process. So at Macallan, we do have this fruity cereal flavour, an overarching Macallan is very famous for as a relationship with Spain and our exceptional shared costs, so obviously that flavour needed to be made as well. And so combining these five to create a layered, complex flavour, I was really very, very proud of the creation and obviously very proud then of the overall demand for that product.

The full 2019 Masters of Wines and Spirits Collection is now available for purchase at Singapore’s Changi Airport. A smaller, curated collection will be available later in year at T Galleria by DFS in Hong Kong and Macau.

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