I meet with Gillian Macdonald, Master Blender and Head of Whisky Creation at Glenmorangie, at a very special place outside of Munich, in the Alte Gärtnerei München, an old farmhouse, with beautiful greenhouses surrounded by forest and golden fields glowing in the autumn sun. I’m excited about the new “A Tale of the Forest” edition and what makes whisky so special these days. We sit on some tree trunks in the pine needle forest and listen to Gillian’s inspiration for the whisky creation, which makes us want to taste and enjoy it.
IRMA: You have a degree in chemistry, what made you want to get involved with the whisky industry?
Gillian Macdonald: Actually, I came to this job by chance. After travelling the world, I started at the Penderyn distillery in 2004. Then, as my palate developed and I wanted to find out more about other whiskies, I moved on, tried different single malts, and now I’m at Glenmorangie. Actually, making whisky is a bit like chemistry: the more experience you gain, the more you know and can understand how the taste will develop.
IRMA: Could you explain your job at Glenmorangie?
Gillian Macdonald: First and foremost, my team and I distil the spirit, which then becomes whisky. It’s every step that takes you further, especially the process of drying the barley, where you have several options on how to do it, in the air, with fire etc. And that’s when you can add different natural flavours to create a special note before the whisky matures in the cask, where it has to stay for at least three years before it becomes proper whisky.
IRMA: What is the typical character of Glenmorangie Tale of the Forest?
Gillian Macdonald: It has a special note that is softer and creamier with aromas like vanilla, orange, eucalyptus, a touch of wet wood, juniper, coriander, nettle and chestnut, to name a few.
IRMA: How long did it take to compose this Whisky?
Gillian Macdonald: That takes at least ten years. You have to have a lot of patience, because the taste has to develop first. You constantly test, wait, add. Having an idea is one thing, but over time you can change direction, be inspired by something, spot trends and of course watch the whisky being made – all that takes time.
IRMA: When you close your eyes and taste the new “A Tale of the Forest” edition, what do you see?
Gillian Macdonald: I see a woodland experience, the orange light of an autumn afternoon fading into night, the blue hour, the warm natural light. Coming home from a walk in the woods and gathering around the fireplace with friends is the ideal situation to experience Glenmorangie, single malt neat or in a cocktail.
IRMA: Your favourite mixed drink with Glenmorangie?
Gillian Macdonald: I love the old-fashioned version with soda water on ice and some homemade syrup, or if it’s really cold, I make myself a Hot Toddy, which not only is delicious but works great for a cold.
IRMA: … and your favourite food pairing?
Gillian Macdonald: Whisky goes perfectly with scallops or cheese. We have a cheese shop near the Glenmorangie distillery where we order the finest cheeses from Scotland, simply accompanied by fresh bread – a delicious treat.
And of course, dark chocolate truffles with whisky are always a classic.