In Conversation With Maree Chisholm, Brand Manager For Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillery

Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillery boasts five generations of whisky history with an enduring legacy of brokering, blending bottling, and distilling it’s easy to see why they are one of the industry’s finest. Today we meet Brand Manager, Maree Chisholm, to learn more about her role, the family business, their brands, and of course the perfect serve! Read on.

Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers is a family-owned and operated business, boasting five generations to its heritage. For readers not already familiar with the name can you tell us a little more about it please?

Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers is a small company based about an hour north of Edinburgh in the village of Aberargie – which is also the name of our distillery. The family have had many years of whisky experience as brokers, blenders, bottlers and distillers, and created the company Morrison Bowmore Limited – which included Bowmore, Glen Garioch and Auchentoshan Distilleries. These distilleries became part of Beam Suntory in the nineties. Aberargie Distillery marks the family’s return to distilling after a 25 year break, but it will be a few years yet before Aberargie Whisky is ready.

In the meantime, the family’s years of whisky experience and connections mean that we have access to some fantastic casks which allows us to bottle some great whisky.

And please describe your typical working day – if such a thing exists!

There’s definitely no such thing as a typical day in my role, working for a small company with 4 very different brands makes each day extremely varied. I have time in the office, working on campaigns and new releases, but you will also find me on PR trips, attending consumer and trade fairs, meeting with customers and out on photoshoots for the whiskies. The variety is one of the best thing about the role although it can also be the most challenging with lots of projects running simultaneously.

Which three words perfectly describe the business ethos?

This is an easy question to answer as we have our three company values on the base of every bottle: Patience, Integrity and Intuition. All key to making excellent whisky and developing our team.

Please tell us more about the different brands developed by the business.

Càrn Mòr is our range of unique independent bottlings. The aim of Càrn Mòr is to give whisky fans a completely unique experience – so while a distillery will be aiming for consistency within its core range, as an independent bottler we can take casks which offer a different taste profile, we can experiment with different finishes. Each bottling offers something special.

Mac-Talla is our range of Islay Single Malt Whiskies and the range offers a taste journey around Islay, with each of the three expressions reflecting a different feature of Islay’s natural environment. Mac-Talla means echo in Gaelic and the name was chosen to reflect the long history that the Morrison family have had travelling back and forth to Islay over 4 generations – starting with our chairman’s great-grandfather William Walker, a whisky broker who negotiated on behalf of Islay distilleries to the US in the prohibition era. The family went on to own Bowmore Distillery on the island. Their years of Islay heritage mean they are perfectly placed to take the consumer on a taste journey across the island through Mac-Talla, showcasing the depth and variety this perfect whisky-making environment has to offer.

Read about our favourite whisky here

Bruadar Single Malt Whisky Liqueur is made with local honey and sloe berries. Last year we made the honey even more local by adding our own beehives on the grounds of our distillery. The sweetness of the honey is perfectly balanced by the tart sloe berries which creates a moreish liqueur with layers of flavour.

Old Perth is our range of Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, fully matured in sherry casks. Originally created by Perthshire grocer Peter Thomson in the early 1900’s, Old Perth was known as the best blend available and this was key to our relaunch of the brand – we wanted to make the best quality blend we could. The location of Perth and its railway meant that Peter would have had access to some great casks, as whisky from the major highland and Speyside distilleries passed through the city on the way down South. Our company’s years of whisky heritage means that our Master Blender also has some high-quality whisky to choose from when creating the Old Perth blend and we have made the commitment that all the Single Malt Whiskies that go into Old Perth are fully matured, not just finished, in sherry. This is what gives Old Perth such depth of flavour, with rich fruity and chocolatey notes.

Read about the latest Old Perth Release here

Please tell us more about your most recent release, Old Perth PX is your most recent release, what are its key characteristics and why is it so special.

As one of the key characteristics of Old Perth is its full sherry maturation, with Old Perth PX we were looking to highlight the impact of Pedro Ximénez casks on Scotch Whisky. Sherry is a drink which is less popular in recent years, which is a shame as Pedro Ximénez is really delicious. It’s made by leaving the grapes of the same name out in the sun when they are overly ripe and allowing them to dry, before they are turned into an intensely sweet dessert sherry.

The whisky we chose for this release had already spent its entire life in a combination of Oloroso and PX Sherry hogsheads and butts, so to enhance it further, we matured it for 15 months in first-fill Pedro Ximenez casks from Bodega José y Miguel Martin, Spain. The result has been whisky with a velvety texture with raisins, dates and candied fruit leading into dark chocolate and cocoa.

What (if any) were the key challenges you faced with this particular release and what was your most memorable moment in the journey?

As with many of our releases, the biggest challenge is deciding when is the perfect time to bottle. This Old Perth PX is the first in a series of Limited Editions which are planned for the next few years and will highlight different sherry maturations and their effect on the whisky.

The team are constantly checking on the progress of our casks—we have a number of different Speyside whiskies maturing in very different kinds of sherry—and this is where the ‘patience’ and ‘intuition’ of our company values is really key! One of the things I find fascinating about whisky production is the magic of what happens when you put the spirit in the cask: so often the results can take the team by surprise and produce exciting, unexpected tasting notes.

For me personally, my most memorable moment of this release was being able to hold a live, in person launch event. Due to covid, we ended up launching our core range of products with a series of online events and although I do still enjoy a zoom tasting, you can’t beat sharing a dram with people in real life.

Who is a typical Old Perth PX drinker?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since joining the whisky industry, it’s that there is no longer such a thing as a typical whisky drinker! It’s becoming a drink with an extremely varied demographic of fans, which I love. I think this release will offer something different depending on the drinker: there will be those who are interested in sherry maturation and learning about the influence of PX on whisky, and there will also be consumers who just enjoy it for the delicious dram that it is.

What’s your perfect serve?

Being in the role I am, I get to try a lot of different whiskies and for the purposes of tasting them and being able to tell people about them, I tend to have them neat. In the summer I love a whisky highball, with soda and a citrus slice, but if I’m in a bar that serves good cocktails, I always scan the menu for an Old Fashioned.

What are the next key trends within the luxury drinks sector?

Spirits drinkers are more educated than ever, interested in every step of the process and the variations in flavour that can be produced. Within whisky, I think we will see the interest in different cask finishes continue to grow, while distillers get more experimental with different kinds of yeast and alternative malt kilning methods. With the increase in whisky knowledge, consumers want to learn more and more about what goes into their whisky. The French notion of ‘terroir’ (the environmental factors that affect a crop and, eventually, the qualities of the finished drink) is being embraced by an increasing number of distillers as they focus more on the provenance of their ingredients. This goes hand-in-hand with sustainability, another important trend, and I think we will see distilleries move towards ingredients and processes aimed at lowering their carbon footprint while capturing the unique characteristics that their location provides.

What’s next in the pipeline for Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers?

As a small company, we are just getting started with getting our brands out there and have lots of exciting plans to get our whiskies to a wider audience. We have a few limited edition releases up our sleeve and then there’s the release of Aberargie Whisky in a few years’ time, which we can’t wait to share with people.

Luxury is highly subjective, what does it mean to you?

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of luxury is things I have really enjoyed eating or drinking so I guess I’m in the right industry! Scotland has so many stunning backdrops to enjoy carefully selected and crafted ingredients for a memorable foodie experience. For me, the best experiences have been the most simple – scallops served on a boat with whisky, just minutes after being hand-dived, or freshly-picked berries, eaten in the sunshine.

Finally, what is your life motto? If you have one.

It’s probably changed over the years but right now ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ comes to mind – always a good reminder to push yourself out of your comfort zone!

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