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Stephanie MacLeod — the first woman master blender at DEWAR’S

Stephanie gets candid about the launch of DEWAR’S Japanese Smooth Scotch Whisky — her journey and more!

Stephanie MacLeod is the seventh Master Blender and first woman to hold this role in the DEWAR’S illustrious history since 1846.
Stephanie MacLeod is the seventh Master Blender and first woman to hold this role in the DEWAR’S illustrious history since 1846.

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With her passion for spirits and zest for pushing boundaries, Stephanie Macleod adds another chapter to the brand’s 120 year old legacy in India with the launch of the DEWAR’S Japanese Smooth Scotch Whisky, which is the brand’s latest addition to its Cask Series internationally and the first of the portfolio to be launched in India. This double-aged scotch whisky which is finished in Mizunara oak casks was unveiled at an experiential event hosted in November at The Great Eastern Mills in Mumbai. The event blended the best of the diverse elements of Japanese and Scottish culture including fashion, art, music, culinary, mixology, and more – taking consumers on a rich and unique journey offering a seamless blend of two cultures.

This innovation comes to India, the number one market globally for whisky, at an opportune time when more Indian consumers are already opening up to experimentation and expressing a growing desire for premium drinking products and experiences across the country. With the alco-bev industry witnessing tectonic shifts over the years, women, too, are taking on the mantle and shaping up the landscape like never before. One such name is Stephanie Macleod (@dewarsmasterblender), who is the seventh Master Blender and first woman to hold this role in the DEWAR’S illustrious history, since 1846. Accomplished in sensory analyses of Whisky, Stephanie also holds specific training in the fine art of blending.

As a Master Blender, Stephanie has been instrumental in preserving the famed blending legacy of the World’s Most Award Blended Scotch. She combines different malt and grain whiskies from all over Scotland to achieve a consistent and balanced flavor in every bottle – featuring subtle floral honey and heather notes along with complex sandalwood aromas on the nose followed by cinnamon spice on the palette, the brand’s latest innovation is the brand’s testament to this commitment. Today, Stephanie’s craft has also received global recognition, with Stephanie having been conferred with the International Whisky Competition’s Master Blender of the Year Award four years in a row — 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022! Driven by hunger for the new, Stephanie has successfully breathed life into the brand’s premium 8 year-old Cask Series range which boasts of unique flavors and smooth textures from across the world. DEWAR’S recently completed 120 years in India and 175 years globally. Its legacy of innovation has inspired it to constantly test out a range of new products, catering to the diverse and unique palate of the Indian audiences in relevant and meaningful ways – it is this passion for innovation that has led DEWAR’S to become the world’s most awarded blended Scotch Whisky.

Stephanie opens up about the launch of DEWAR’S Japanese Smooth Scotch Whisky, her journey in the field, how she has made her mark in a male-centric industry, and more. Some excerpts:

1. How is whisky performing as a segment and how is Bacardi catering to this trend/ demand?

As the number one market globally for whisky, India is home to a very vibrant and dynamic whisky loving community. This is a very exciting time for us to dabble in this segment and we have our eyes set on expanding on our already robust portfolio of dark spirits. We are keeping a close watch on consumer trends in this space to innovate the right products and experiences for our consumers. Today, the popularity of premium spirits as well as Japanese cuisine and culture is on the rise in India, which is what prompted us to foray in this direction with the launch of the latest DEWAR’S Japanese Smooth Scotch Whisky, which offers a combination of the finest elements of the whisky-making traditions and cultures of Scotland and Japan in a bottle. Keeping with the same creativity and passion, we will continue to excite and innovate for our Indian consumers for years to come.

2. What was the idea and intention behind introducing DEWAR’S Japanese Smooth Scotch Whisky in India? What are some USPs that the consumers can look forward to with the DEWAR’S Japanese Smooth Scotch Whisky?

Ever since DEWAR’S first set foot in India over 120 years ago, the idea has always been to keep our consumers at the heart of everything we do. Given the widespread popularity of whisky in the market, especially scotch, we knew that we wanted to deliver a product that resonated well with India’s whisky loving community. Of late, consumers have also expressed interest in premium and unique products and experiences, with many stepping beyond the classic Indian and scotch whisky to try out something new. This is why we have introduced the DEWAR’S Japanese Smooth Scotch Whisky, which is our fourth addition to the existing Cask Series globally and the first of the portfolio to be launched in India. The indulgent and pleasurable whisky has a rare breadth and depth of complex and subtle flavors, featuring subtle floral honey and heather notes along with complex sandalwood aromas on the nose followed by cinnamon spice on the palette – a result of the intriguing qualities of the rare 200-year-old Mizunara oak tree variety, also known as the “water oak”. With Mizunara being regarded as a status and luxury symbol amongst the Japanese people, we are thrilled about this premium scotch whisky tantalizing the refined palette of today’s discerning consumers.

3. Could you tell us your motivation behind entering the alco-bev industry?

My love affair with Whisky began during my university days. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree, I started my career in the soft drinks industry. Nine months later, an old supervisor from the university got in touch with me and extended a proposal to join his research group that was looking into Scotch and its structure. This was truly a turning point for me! Before this, I had very little understanding and interest in this beverage. I worked with the research group for four years, and there’s been no stopping ever since!

4. Since this is a male-dominated domain, have you faced any challenges that you'd like to shed light on?

DEWAR’S is a renowned brand, and since I was coming into the industry fairly fresh, there were several apprehensions. Even though I had years of research experience that delved deep into the structure of Scotch Whisky, the right sensory skills, and few scientific papers attributed to me as a published author - my biggest challenge was the self-doubt that I nursed within. The impostor syndrome kicked in initially, but eventually it faded away. Over the years, I gained confidence as things began to fall in place. However, I believe that I am still learning something new every day.

5. How has the alco-bev industry transformed from then to now?

Over the years, the industry has witnessed a transformation, more so in the behavioral patterns of consumers. Today, they are far more aware of Whisky and the processes, and that’s one of the big reasons why I visited India. Our global Whisky drinkers do have a real interest, not only in how Whiskies are made, but also in who makes them. People today have this insatiable quest for knowledge when it comes to what they're eating and drinking. In India, Whisky has become a big part of celebrations and we want to help them create those memories. We are very much about being there during the moments that matter in people's lives.

Additionally, in recent years, consumers are wanting to experiment with their Whiskies by trying Whiskies of different origins, and also trying new Whisky cocktails. Maximizing on this trend, we are excited to launch DEWAR’S 8-year-old Japanese Smooth Whisky in India. Additionally, I am excited to see the creativity that Indian bartenders put up on the table while whipping a cocktail with the Whisky.

6. Are you working towards helping more women enter the world of blending?

At Bacardi, we are keen that our workforce represents our global Whisky drinkers. This means having people from different countries, backgrounds, and experiences. We believe that a truly diverse perspective can be brought by individuals from different cultures and countries, which can positively impact the Whisky thinking process.

Currently, my team has more women than men and they were hired not because they were women, but because they are good at what they do. Having said that, it is also important to ensure that there are as many women as men applying for the job to see a positive change in any industry.

At Bacardi, we encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and venture into unexplored territory, to unleash their true potential. It’s a great company to be associated with, especially if you are on the lookout for exciting growth opportunities!

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