‘Whisky Is My Life’

Apr. 2, 2018


We at Breakthru are lucky to regularly spend time with many of the talented influencers in the whisky industry, and whenever we get the chance to interview one of them, we like to ask one question in particular that always yields a thoughtful answer.


“What does whisky mean to you and your story?”


When we spoke to Rachel Barrie last week, Master Blender of BenRiach, Glendronach and Glenglassaugh, she contemplated the question for a minute, and then found her story.


“Whisky is my life,” Barrie said. “It’s in my blood.”

Barrie’s Scottish roots trace back to the 1770’s, and she proudly described how whisky has been the one constant throughout all the generations. To hear Barrie talk about whisky is as therapeutic as she proclaims whisky to actually be.


“Whisky is better than any medicine,” Barrie said. “What whisky cannot cure, there is no cure. It enriches life in every way possible.”


About a year ago, Barrie brought her 26-plus years of whisky wisdom (and fandom) to the Brown-Forman family, and the three single-malt distilleries are surely benefiting from her process.


It’s All About The Barrels


The master blender has to consider how every element affects the whisky—especially the barrels, which Barrie explained, accounts for 60%-70% of the character of an aged whisky.


“The wood is so nurturing,” Barrie said. “The spirit is truly born in the barrel. The wood is incredibly important for enabling a distillery to truly shine.”


Barrie’s inventory of whiskies across all three distilleries that are in her charge range from 0-50 years in age, and each one utilizes different types of casks for aging to create their distinctive flavor profiles:


BenRiach: Bourbon Casks

“Bourbon casks work really well with BenRiach because the sweetness of the bourbon combines well with the smoked apple and honey maple flavors of BenRiach—it brings out the best in BenRiach.”


Glenglassaugh: Red Wine Casks

“I find that the red wine casks work extremely well because they bring out that over-ripe richness and sweetness of Glenglassaugh, which is almost like a dessert whisky.”


GlenDronach: Sherry Casks

“GlenDronach has a wheaty character, and it has to mature for a long time. I believe sherry is absolutely the right casks. It just takes on all that depth and harmonizes beautifully with the whisky. The sherry and the cherry character of GlenDronach go extremely well together.”

The casks finishes are influential in attracting a very large demographic—wine drinkers—to the whisky category.


‘How have I not had this before?’


During Barrie’s long career in the industry, she has felt a seismic shift in consumers’ taste for single malts—similar to another alteration in alcohol preferences a few decades ago.


“In the 1990s, people started waking up to wine in a whole new way, and the category just exploded,” Barrie recalled. “This is happening with whisky right now because there are so many great new varieties.”


One of the segments of new fans are wine drinkers, and Barrie said the fruit-forward flavors of certain whiskies appeal to those accustomed to enjoying fine wine.


“It’s very easy to gravitate from wine to single malt,” Barrie said. “Single malts are like chateau wines. They both have the finest fruit flavors in the world. If I serve a smoked whisky to someone, as soon as they recognize the flavors resemble smoked barbeque, they immediately identify with the whisky.”  

“People used to be scared of whisky,” Barrie said.


Once they understood the flavors they were missing out on, Barrie noted, those people took a chance on the spirit, and when they did, they always say the same thing.


“How have I not had this before?”


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