This week we sat down with our Production Director and business owner, Isabella Wemyss, to learn more about her role here at Wemyss Malts.
Isabella plays a crucial role in several successful family businesses across the globe, which we will learn helped shape her expertise used in the production of Wemyss Malts whisky. Isabella oversees all of the production and logistics operations – although her passion is particularly maturation and blending for both our independent bottling business, Wemyss Malts, and Kingsbarns Distillery.
How did you get into the industry?
I originally trained as a lawyer, but I started out in the family tea business where I trained as a tea taster and I also had particular focus on the production operations. Both are proving incredibly useful in the whisky business – tea may sound very different, but there is a lot of commonality in the understanding of production, blending, stock management and particularly sensory assessment (we call it “spitting” in the tea world and “nosing” in the whisky world – and yes, the nose is used much more in assessing whiskies!).
What inspired you to pursue that path?
I always wanted to join the family business. Almost as far back as I can remember, I was particularly passionate about our tea business and I wanted to experience as much as possible about it - from the moment the leaves are plucked right through to the understanding of why the production methods lead to a particular tea and what its role in a blend is. It was a perfect training and experience for the whisky business!
What would you say is the most difficult part of your job?
I’m very aware of my responsibility for the quality of what is in each single bottle we produce!
What have the biggest challenges for the Scotch whisky industry been in the last decade?
That’s an interesting question, the industry has changed and developed so much even since I started out fifteen years or so ago! But I think one of the biggest must have been the imposition of heavy duties for imports into the USA and the impact on Scotch businesses. In my role, the cycle of supply of raw materials is always challenging – having good long-term relationships within the industry is important, although it’s a very friendly industry and I have never met anyone who wasn’t willing to help if they could!
What do you think will shape the future of the Scotch whisky industry in the next decade?
The biggest challenge will be sustainability – how to make our industry so much more sustainable, particularly with the world’s eyes being focussed on Scotland with COP26. Sustainability is very important for us as a business, and we are already making steps, although there is so much more to do both for the industry and for us as a business.
What is your all-time favourite release and why?
In common with many people, it must be our 28YO Bunnahabhain release last year called “Untold Riches”. It is a lovely, rounded whisky with complex flavours from the maturation process – each dram is a journey of flavour exploration. It is now my gold standard.
If you were able to share a dram with anybody, living or in history, who would it be?
INTERVIEWED BY KRISTEN MCGHIE