Whisky has always largely been perceived as a man’s drink. However statistics may reveal otherwise with 30% of whisky drinkers largely consisting of women. The industry itself is also transforming with more ladies in the field. Diageo Master Blender, Maureen Robinson is one such individual that has blazed a trail in whisky production and the art of blending.
Robinson is a seasoned professional in the world of Scotch whiskies. Armed with 44 years of knowledge in blending and distilling, she is one of Diageo’s most celebrated master blenders. Her expertise ranges from overseeing Single Malts, blends, as well as their yearly Special Releases.
This year, she owns the distinction of being the Master Blender handpicked to curate the second release of Prima & Ultima, Diageo’s series of magnificent, incredibly rare Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.
Each release of Prima & Ultima is curated by one of Diageo’s most celebrated master blenders. This year, Maureen Robinson takes up the mantle from the curator of the inaugural Prima & Ultima, Dr Jim Beveridge OBE.
With a heightened knowledge of its Single Malt portfolio, Robinson is undoubtedly the perfect person to curate this second release. After all, she has personally tended to many casks during her time at Diageo, some of which make up the single vintage malts in this second release.
Following the second release of Prima & Ultima, we spoke to Robinson to uncover more about the new collection and her approach to whiskies.
How did it feel like being asked to create something as unique as Prima & Ultima?
I felt honoured to be asked to select the second release of Prima & Ultima. Throughout my career I’ve worked very closely with Dr Jim Beveridge so to take the reins from him was a big deal and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working to develop this special second release.
What was your approach or intent like for this collection?
I’ve now been a part of Diageo for over 40 years and have had the privilege to work with an incredible variety of special single malts. I had a hand in making the whiskies that make up this release and have tended to them ever since. My aim for this release was to develop a line-up of bottlings that evoke rich personal memories and capture the ongoing and ever unfolding story of Scotch.
Was it difficult hand-selecting each bottle for this second release?
I knew from the beginning that it was going to be difficult to select just eight whiskies as I’ve developed such a strong connection with so many, all holding totally unique stories. But I knew I just had to do it and go with my heart which is what led me to hand select the whiskies that you see as part of the release today.
Prima & Ultima Second Release is your latest achievement. What are other releases you have done over the past years that you are exceptionally proud of?
I’m very proud to have been involved in The Singleton since 2004, overseeing three expressions released to Asia, North America, and Europe. I actually went to Taiwan and sat in on some consumer panels to try to get a better understanding of their flavour palates and what they liked, which also helped us when it came to working out how we would approach the rest of Asia and what kind of spirits they enjoy. The Singleton is very close to my heart.
You have been in the whisky business for over four decades and have been Master Blender since the mid-80s. How was it like being one of the few women in the industry at the time?
They were exciting times. When I first took on the role I was probably the first female Blender in the modern era, and I had to earn respect amongst my peers. I’m sure there were a few people who were a bit sceptical, but I must admit the people who I worked with on a daily basis accepted me for my talent and experience. I think I proved from a very early stage that I had the ability and the know-how to do the job. I like to think that I paved the way for other women to follow in my footsteps and they have.
How has the industry evolved since?
Women have always been part of the whisky industry but when I became a blender in 1986 women were mainly employed in the bottling halls. There were very few women in managerial positions and there were no female blenders. Today it is a very different story. There are women in all aspects of the business from the boardroom to the apprentices. I think the challenges are the same in any industry, but attitudes have changed, women are looking for more diversity and seeking careers in areas that in the past was unusual for a woman. As a whole, businesses are recognising that capability is the key to a successful business not whether you are male or female.
Are you surprised that whisky is now perceived as a luxury collectible today?
Whiskies offer a time capsule to a period gone by so it is great that people around the world would like to experience these special malts. Prima & Ultima in particular is an opportunity for whisky enthusiasts to build a liquid library of moments-in-time to never be repeated, rare whiskies captured in liquid form. It allows even hard-fast fans of key distilleries to enjoy their favourite distillery’s character whilst also experiencing something completely new.
Do you have a favourite label, or are you drawn to a specific bottle by any chance? If so, what appeals to you most about it?
The aim of the design for the second release was to embrace the classic shape and style of each bottling whilst bringing them together to form the story of Prima & Ultima and for that reason it makes it difficult to choose a favourite. Perhaps the Singleton bottle would be my favourite because we kept the signature shape and colour of the bottle meaning it stands out from the rest and of course the brand is very close to my heart.
Incidentally, how do you like to consume your whisky?
I like the way ice or just a dash of water dilutes the whisky and allows other flavours to come through. You can discover a whole new range of flavours this way.