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The Whisky Man

At just 32, John Glass is the Malt Master at Glengoyne. A former bio-chemistry student at St Andrews University, John worked in whisky tourism before joining Glengoyne. We talked to him about life as a whisky connoisseur…

What does a Malt Master do all day?

There are different aspects of the job. I might put on a boiler suit and climb up the racks of casks removing the bungs and extracting samples from the casks. I get to know each cask – and have a few favourites.

Or if it’s a tasting day, I’ll nose the samples from different casks to see how they’re coming along and developing. If we’re creating a new product I’ll eventually begin tasting and thinking about pairing whisky from different casks of the same age. Part of the job is knowing when a cask is ready, which means judging the maturation – making sure it’s not left too long or too short a time – some of it is science and some of it is instinct whether one cask will become a 10 year old or a 25 year old. One of the key aspects of our whiskies is keeping the consistency of a particular type, so we all work hard to maintain that.

I also spend some days slaving over spreadsheets in the office, as a lot of the job is predicting growth in the business, which can be difficult as whisky takes such a long time to produce.

What about when you’re not at work?

Usually cycling – I love cycling in the Park, it’s a great place for it.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Experience as much whisky as you can! I was always a big whisky fan. I used to go to a lot of whisky talks to learn more about it, and tried loads of different whiskies. I’d advise people to immerse themselves in the world of whisky. And when you’re at home, pour 2 different whiskies, and concentrate on what’s different about them, the smell, the experience, the colour, the taste. But I also worked in the whisky tourism industry which was really useful, at the Whisky Experience – where I built up a profile of many different whiskies.

Do you need any qualifications?

There isn’t a whisky central body though there are brewing and distilling courses. But there’s no set route to becoming a blender or malt master. If you have a good nose that will become apparent. There’s a lot of learning on the job and gaining knowledge from those that have done it before you – at Macleod – who own Glengoyne – I’ve had Robbie Hughes the group’s distillation manager and Gordon Doctor, director of whisky operations, who have taught me a lot.

How should people keep their whisky?

Always keep the bottle upright, and keep it in a cool, dark place. Once it’s open, if you’ve had it for a long time, and there’s only a bit left, the best thing to do is finish it off. It won’t be getting any better sitting in a half-empty bottle. There are rarely bad bottles of whisky, although very occasionally you could get a corked bottle.

What’s your favourite whisky?

Along the way I’ve tasted a few really unexpected whiskies, which have made me smile. I think the most unusual was while doing tasting for Isle of Skye’s 50 year old project. The casks were such an exceptional age, some of them did blow my mind with an intense aged fruitiness and in some of them a strong leatheriness, too. But I have to say I really like the Glengoyne 10-Year-Old – it has a fine clean smoothness and is aged in fantastic sherry casks.

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