David Stewart of The Balvenie, the world’s longest-serving Malt Master, visited Sydney in July 2016 just days after being awarded an MBE from The Queen to recognise his service to the Scotch whisky industry. This article is part of the ‘Looking Back’ series.
Corinne Mossati: Looking back at your extensive career, is there one outstanding highlight or a singular memory of your whisky career that will always be special to you?
David Stewart MBE: I think back to 1993 when we developed the new range for The Balvenie and developed the DoubleWood. That was a defining moment for myself and The Balvenie, creating the first finishes and seeing how well the DoubleWood has done in the last 20 years, and the single barrel range. Also the Solera and what it has done for Glenfiddich. That was innovative at the time and produced a lovely tasting whisky. Probably these two would be the legacy I’d want to be remembered for.
You were recently awarded an MBE by Her Majesty The Queen. What did it mean to you to receive such an award?
I feel very proud. Never did I think that I would get an MBE. I met The Queen at Buckingham Palace on July 5th and received the medal. It was a day that I will always remember.
What is the most significant change in the whisky industry that you’ve experienced?
In the last 50 years, there’s been a lot of change. Single malt has developed over the years and every company is focussing heavily on single malt. Also the demand from consumers to be educated is another change. They want to know much more about the single malt or the blended whiskies that they’re drinking, and all the differences between the various whiskies. The knowledge and education we now give to consumers, we didn’t have that 20-25 years ago.
A lot of the whisky industry is much bigger now, company numbers have grown, and major brands are all handling different whiskies. What we see for the future of the Scotch whisky industry is because of the variety.
With new world whiskies, NAS and various cask finishes, what do you predict to be the next big innovation in whisky?
We have done so much within the regulations and what we are allowed to do with age, finishes, NAS, single barrels, chill filtration and all of these. Scotch whisky is so traditional and we have restrictions. We can’t add honey, flavourings, anything to change the flavour, to make it sweeter, drier, peatier and so on – we’re not allowed to do these things. We’ve pushed the boundaries as much as we can within the strict limitations of what defines Scotch whisky. We pushed pushed wood, time, single barrels, cask strength, small batch, single grain, blended grain. It may be equal finishing or equal non age or equal age, it’s difficult to say what just might be the next big thing.
“David Stewart on The Balvenie” is part of the ‘Looking Back’ series which takes a historical lens to key industry personalities. The article is based on an interview originally published on our sister website Gourmantic on July 28, 2016.