Interview with David Stewart MBE The Balvenie’s Malt Master

David Stewart is the world’s longest-serving Malt Master. He began work at The Balvenie distillery in 1962 at the age of 17 and was recently awarded an MBE from The Queen to recognise his service to the Scotch whisky industry.

David Stewart MBE
David Stewart MBE

David Stewart MBE visited Australia for the first time for a promotional tour of The Balvenie and to launch the DCS Compendium, a collection of 25 extremely rare single cask bottlings and an accompanying book written by Dr Sam Simmons, The Balvenie Global Ambassador.

The Balvenie's Malt Master David Stewart
L-R: Corinne Mossati (Gourmantic), David Stewart, Dr Sam Simmons

Joined by Dr Sam Simmons, he hosted a series of tasting sessions including a trade tasting at The Baxter Inn. The line-up featured four whiskies from The Balvenie’s range the 12yo DoubleWood 12 yo, 14yo Caribbean Cask, 17yo DoubleWood, and 15 yo Single Barrel Sherry Cask.

After the tasting, Gourmantic has the opportunity for a brief chat with David Stewart along with Dr Sam Simmons.

Looking back at your extensive career, is there one outstanding highlight or a singular memory of your whisky career that will always be special to you?

I think back to 1993 when we developed the new range for The Balvenie and developed the DoubleWood. That was a defining moment for myself and The Balvenie, creating the first finishes and seeing how well the DoubleWood has done in the last 20 years, and the single barrel range. Also the Solera and what it has done for Glenfiddich. That was innovative at the time and produced a lovely tasting whisky. Probably these two would be the legacy I’d want to be remembered for.

You were recently awarded an MBE by Her Majesty The Queen. What did it mean to you to receive such an award?

I feel very proud. Never did I think that I would get an MBE. I met The Queen at Buckingham Palace on July 5th and received the medal. It was a day that I will always remember.

What is the most significant change in the whisky industry that you’ve experienced?

In the last 50 years, there’s been a lot of change. Single malt has developed over the years and every company is focussing heavily on single malt. Also the demand from consumers to be educated is another change. They want to know much more about the single malt or the blended whiskies that they’re drinking, and all the differences between the various whiskies. The knowledge and education we now give to consumers, we didn’t have that 20-25 years ago.

A lot of the whisky industry is much bigger now, company numbers have grown, and major brands are all handling different whiskies. What we see for the future of the Scotch whisky industry is because of the variety.

With new world whiskies, NAS and various cask finishes, what do you predict to be the next big innovation in whisky?

We have done so much within the regulations and what we are allowed to do with age, finishes, NAS, single barrels, chill filtration and all of these. Scotch whisky is so traditional and we have restrictions. We can’t add honey, flavourings, anything to change the flavour, to make it sweeter, drier, peatier and so on – we’re not allowed to do these things. We’ve pushed the boundaries as much as we can within the strict limitations of what defines Scotch whisky. We pushed pushed wood, time, single barrels, cask strength, small batch, single grain, blended grain. It may be equal finishing or equal non age or equal age, it’s difficult to say what just might be the next big thing.

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About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List since 2013, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.