Brendan McCarron’s first introduction to whisky was when he was eight or nine years old. He had ulcers, and his father wanted to test the theory that swilling the whisky around his mouth would help heal them.
“It doesn’t. It’s very, very painful,” said McCarron. He spat the whisky back into the glass, but his father didn’t want it to go to waste. So, McCarron drank it — and didn’t find it particularly pleasant.
Fast forward many years, and the Scotsman is now the Head of Maturing Whisky Stocks at Glenmorangie and Ardberg. There’s clearly virtue in starting young. A day in his life at Glenmorangie sees him overseeing nearly everything that comes with making a whisky. It’s a seemingly endless list — he sources for raw materials such as malted barley and casks, corresponds with distillery managers, does quality checks on new batches of expressions, conducts experiments with whisky, and holds a place on the company’s sensory panel. Every batch of Glenmorangie and Ardberg has to get McCarron’s seal of approval before bottling.
Doing a job like his requires a true passion for the spirit, as well as an intimate knowledge of the craft and science that goes towards creating a new expression. It goes beyond just having a glass of whisky on the rocks as dessert. If you’re a novice drinker, however, that dram you have after hours probably constitutes the peak of your whisky appreciation.
There’s always room to learn, especially if you’ve ever found yourself mulling over how your more knowledgeable friends can glean notes like pepper and honeyed fruits from a whisky, when all you can nose is antiseptic. We caught up with McCarron during his recent visit here for the DFS Masters of Wine and Spirits 2017, where he taught a whisky appreciation masterclass. When prompted for some tips to help a beginner start with whisky, McCarron volunteered these five. Keep them in mind at your next dinner date with whisky experts.