A dram with... Maureen Robinson

A dram with... Maureen Robinson

After retiring from Diageo after a 45-year career, Maureen moved stateside to apply her talents to bourbon with Kentucky Owl. She shares her journey with us in today's Q&A. 

Interview | 14 May 2024 | By Lucy Schofield

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This week, we’re having a dram with Maureen Robinson.

 

After 45 years at Diageo, master blender Maureen Robinson moved her attentions stateside, where she provides her expertise to Kentucky Owl. Maureen’s role has seen her travel the world, and she is now Master of the Quaich, a 2020 inductee to the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame, and a recipient of the Dr Jim Swan Award for Services to Scotch Whisky.

 

In today’s Q&A, Maureen shares how she fell into whisky “by accident”, seeing the growth of Scotch over the decades, and why she always needs a good book close at hand.

 

How long have you been working in the whisky industry?

I worked in the Scotch whisky industry for 45 years with Diageo before retiring in June 2022. That only lasted six months, as I have now embarked on a new career transferring my skills to a different type of whisky with an ‘e’.

 

Where did the journey of your career start and where has it taken you over the decades? What was your favourite stop along the way?

You could say my career began by accident...

 

I was born in Glasgow and studied pharmacy at Strathclyde University. I took a year out and during that time a chance job opportunity came up with the Distillers Company Limited (DCL), now known as Diageo, at the Glenochil Research Station Menstrie in 1977. 

 

In 1985, I moved to the Carsebridge Distillery site to work on a bespoke project affiliated to Torphold, one of the five blending houses associated with DCL at that time. This was my first blending experience and I worked with Dr Alan Brown to create a product called Slater & Scott Grassy Green which was all about organoleptic qualities, not distilleries or age. This was a very innovative and unique idea for its time, but not in today’s whisky world.

 

The end of 1986 was a defining time for DCL as it was taken over by Guinness. Prior to the takeover, DCL was made up of five different blending houses, but by the beginning of 1987 all the inventory stocks became integrated into one area and I became the sole blender. As the years went on the team grew, and by the time I retired there were 12 people involved.

 

I would say my favourite part is the innovation side of the business. I loved creating new Scotch whiskies and seeing them on the shelf knowing you had a hand in developing them, and getting your signature on the bottle was the icing on the cake.

 

What is the most exciting change you’ve witnessed in the whisky industry over the course of your career?

I suppose the way Scotch has grown into a global phenomenon. In the past it was seen as a predominately male drink, and shall we say as having a more mature clientele, but that has changed and it is enjoyed by males and females across a wide age spectrum.

 

This change meant that as master blenders we had to up our game as the consumer became more discerning. It wasn’t just a matter of putting a liquid in a bottle; there had to be a story behind it and versatility regarding the consumers’ serve preference.

 

Name a whisky distillery or brand that you feel is underrated.

This is a difficult one as to me the journey is all about finding the distillery or brand that meets your expectations to enjoy. That could be one or several. I love smoky whisky and you could say that is maybe underrated by people who don’t quite understand the nuances of the flavour. I have always found that smoky whisky is a love-hate relationship.

 

Is there a whisky or brand you are particularly enjoying at the moment

As I have now changed my career into the bourbon world, I am busy trying to get into the diversity of flavours that offers. From a Scotch perspective, I was brought up with Diageo and you won’t be surprised that from a blend perspective my go-to is Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Years Old and I alternate between ice and water and ginger ale.

 

Regarding single malts, it is peaty expressions and Singleton. I go to Islay quite a lot on holiday, so I am starting to diversify from just Diageo brands.

 

When you’re not drinking whisky, what is your drink of choice?

I tend to drink gin and tonic, but I have been known to drink it with ginger ale depending on the gin. I am also known to enjoy a few glasses of vino.

 

Would you rather read a book or watch a film? For whichever option you choose (book or film), tell us one of your favourites.

It is hard to pick one or the other. If I am in a reading mood my nose is never out a book. I always find an excuse to have a cup of coffee and read, especially if the weather outside is not very appetising. I have several favourite authors, for example Val McDermid, David Baldacci, Ian Rankin.

 

From a movie perspective there are several, but one of my all-time favourites is Top Gun and of course the sequel.

 

Describe your perfect Sunday.

My perfect Sunday is weather-dependent. If it is nice then it has to be playing golf with my friends, then having a nice lunch or dinner, then finishing the day watching a movie with one of my favourite drams.

 

If it is a miserable day, then sitting down with a good book I can’t put down and forgetting about all the things I should be doing about the house.

 

Describe your dream holiday — where would you go and what would you do there?

I think I have already done that and would like to do it again. It was a few years after 9/11. My friends and I went sailing around the British Virgin Islands in a catamaran and we had a skipper and a cook. We snorkelled as well as enjoyed a few rum cocktails on the various islands.

 

The journey started by staying in the Waldorf New York, then we flew to Puerto Rico and played golf, then flew to the British Virgin Islands.

 

Name one item you never go travelling without.

I think I would have to say my Kindle. That way I would always have access to books.

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