An Interview with Malt Master Brian Kinsman of Glenfiddich
For a recent Montage Magazine assignment, I featured masters of their industry and had the distinct honor of interviewing Brian Kinsman, Glenfiddich Scotch whisky malt master and William Grant & Sons master blender. Founded in 1886, family-owned and operated Glenfiddich is renowned for their award-winning single malt Scotch whiskies, and Malt Master Brian Kinsman brings superlative skills to his craft.
What unique skills are needed to achieve the position of a Master Whisky Blender/Malt Master? The most important skill is nosing. Everything I do is based on sensory assessment, and in a typical week I will nose hundreds of samples, from new make spirit through to finished bottles ready to go to market. In order to fine tune this sense of smell and to fully understand the profiles of all the WGS products and the history of how they have evolved over the years, I spent eight years working as the apprentice to the previous Malt Master, David Stewart.
What are you looking for when you nose and taste? The most important thing I am looking for is consistency and the key character for the particular variant being assessed at the time. In the case of new distillate, it is of paramount importance that the sensory character is exactly on target as this whisky is going to be filled into casks for decades and we are relying on it being the correct nose and taste when it comes time to be emptied to make the Glenfiddich, 12, 15, 18 or even 40-year-old expressions.
How do you maintain consistency? The key for consistency in the final bottle is taking care at every step through the life of the whisky. The new distillate needs to be spot on, the casks being filled need to be carefully selected and of the correct quality, and the maturation warehouses have to be maintained to protect the casks for the many years they mature for. Finally, once everything has aged, I hand select the casks I need to create the same taste profile for each expression. This involves making sure the natural variations from cask to cask are evened out by vatting casks together and letting them marry in oak tuns for several months.
What are three of your favorite Glenfiddich whiskies? Glenfiddich 18 year old is an expression I most enjoy late in the evening with a drop of water. I love the depth of flavour and complexity of the whisky; it evolves in the glass and is a great way to unwind.
Glenfiddich 12 year old is a classic. When I am traveling, it reminds me of home, and the vibrant fruitiness is very uplifting.
A new favourite is our latest release, a US-exclusive Bourbon Barrel Reserve 14 year old. Finished in new American oak, the whisky is packed full of oak flavour with deep oakiness and lasting sweetness. Having spent some time in the US I enjoyed the various cocktails being made with this particular Glenfiddich!