Dr Rachel Barrie, the World’s First Lady of Scotch, sat down with DMARGE to give her unrivalled insights into how the world of whisky is changing and how Australian whisky drinkers are leading the charge towards more diverse and more adventurous drinking habits…
In a male-dominated industry, Dr Rachel Barrie is one of only a handful of female Master Blenders. Considered one of the modern-day masters of the international spirit category, Rachel merges science with her art to produce some of the world’s finest single malt Scotch whisky.
After getting a degree in chemistry from the University of Edinburgh, Rachel began her career as a research scientist at the Scottish Whisky Research Institute before joining the production team at the Glenmorangie Company.
A decade ago, she joined Morrison Brownmore, and for the past year has been Master Blender for Brown-Forman’s three Scottish distilleries: BenRiach, Glenglassaugh and GlenDronach. Together, they won the illustrious title of ‘The World’s Best Scottish Whisky’ at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirit’s Competition with GlenDronach’s Revival 15 Year Old.
With over 30 years of experience – including tasting and nosing over 150,000 casks – this is a pretty impressive resume. We couldn’t wait to sit down with this master of the craft and ask her all our most pressing questions about the state of the whisky world and the place of Aussies in it…
When asked for her biggest insights into the whisky industry at present, Rachel had no doubt in her mind: it’s all about diversity, amongst both the people drinking it and the types of whisky they’re looking to drink.
Rachel notes that historically, the whisky industry has “always engaged with the most avid malt enthusiasts who are looking for a real deep dive into the spirit and background”, but that dynamic is changing.
“Now, we’re engaging with a much more diverse audience and it’s great to be able to share my passion with the full spectrum of whisky drinkers, from curious explorers to long-standing whisky fans.”
Dr Rachel Barrie
Though classic single malts remain incredibly popular, consumers are looking to diversify their whisky pallet: “people are showing a keenness to branch out into more diverse flavour profiles [such as] BenRiach’s eclectic fruit forward portfolio and Glenglassaugh’s luscious sweet and salty flavours,” Rachel says.
This led us nicely to another important question: how is the whisky space changing? What are the emerging trends?
Rachel pointed to the global trend of “drink less, drink better” as fuelling a keener interest in super-premium spirits, particularly the “older, rarer, and more luxurious” offerings. She gives GlenDronach’s Grandeur Batch 11, BenRiach’s The Forty and the increasingly sought-after Glenglassaugh Old and Rare expressions by way of an example.
Beyond the super-premiums, “fun” is back on the menu, with Rachel adding that whisky drinkers are increasingly “looking for more experiential serves with a twist that plays on flavours, colours, textures, aromas and interactivity.”
But what about Aussies? How do Australians feel about whisky? What are the emerging trends and tastes that Australians are chasing?
“It’s an exciting time for Scotch whisky in Australia,” says Rachel. The market is continuing to grow – projected whisky sales this year stand at over $1.1 billion – but Rachel was quick to call out “the outstanding knowledge and passion” of the Aussie consumer.
As well as the exclusivity of Single Malts reeling in consumers, Rachel has “noticed younger drinkers discovering the category, with growth being driven by the under 35-year-old age group.” There are also “more women choosing Scotch as their drink of choice”. She credits this to the “adventurousness” of Aussie drinkers:
“There’s an openness to explore outside of their comfort zone, rather than sticking in a pigeonhole… [Australians] are less one-brand focused and look to try a cross-section of single malts to find their own hidden gems”.
Dr Rachel Barrie
Looking to the future, you might be unsurprised to hear that Rachel’s got her eye on the watchword of the decade: sustainability, which is “increasingly becoming a core consideration when choosing which distillery to purchase from,” she says.
“It’s important that brands continue to strive to improve their sustainability credentials and remain as transparent as possible with consumers,” she adds.
Outside of sustainability, it’s all about disruption. Traditional doctrine is being cast aside in favour of “new ways of creating quality whisky”, noting a “shift in age statements giving way to greater exploration of flavour and character, and it will be interesting to see how this develops over the coming years”.
Finally, we asked Rachel to tell us a little bit about the much-anticipated release of The GlenDronach Batch 11. It’s “a very special whisky”, “an exquisite representation of the rich, complex and full-bodied style of the distillery,” she explains.
Its flavour profile offers “a symphony of sherry aromatics interwoven with dark manuka honey, roasted almond, and walnut” with a “crescendo of black cherry and espresso adorning each mouthful”.
At 28 years old, this new batch has benefitted from slow maturation in the finest quality Oloroso sherry casks. Rachel told us that if you were to take one piece of advice away from her interview, it should be this: get comfortable and spend quality time with this whisky.
“Get comfortable, spend quality time, and savour slowly.” Words that we could all learn to live by, both in the world of whisky and the world beyond. Next time you head out on your next drinking adventure, remember the words of the First Lady of Whisky.