First female whisky master blender honoured at University of Edinburgh

An Edinburgh based whisky maker has become the first female master blender to be given an honorary doctorate by the University of Edinburgh.

Published 9th Jul 2018
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Rachel Barrie, who is one of only a handful of women have reached the position in the whisky industry, creates the hugely popular single malt ranges for the BenRiach, Glenglassaugh and The GlenDronach distilleries.

Her expertise and service to the whisky industry were recognised by the university when she was made an honorary Doctor of Science at a ceremony on Monday 9th July.

Vastly experienced, Ms Barrie's job involves nosing and tasting thousands of casks to select which whiskies will be released onto the market, as well as planning the stocks for the coming year.

Originally from Aberdeenshire, the spirits expert explained that her love of whisky began with her childhood, growing up close to the Speyside region, an area of Scotland which has the highest concentration of distilleries in the world.

Studying chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, she began her whisky career as
a research scientist at the Scotch Whisky Research Institute. She has since received
numerous industry accolades for her work developing award-winning whiskies,
in addition to judging international spirits competitions and serving on numerous industry committees.

Commenting on her honorary doctorate, Ms Barrie said: “This is one of the proudest moments of my life. My quest has been to unlock a deeper understanding of the distillation, maturation and provenance of Scotch, to develop and nurture richness of character and taste and celebrate it with the world; it’s a great privilege to be recognised in this endeavour.

“Master Blenders and Distillers are guardians of quality: honouring the
legacy and tradition of the past, protecting spirit quality in the present, whilst
innovating and continuously improving for the future. The decisions made today
provide the foundations for growth that will be built on by the master blenders
and distillers that follow. I’m very thankful to have had a part to play in creating some of the finest whiskies in the world.”

Awarding the honorary degree, Dr Andrew J. Alexander from the University of Edinburgh School of Chemistry, said: “Rachel Barrie’s creativity, sensory perception and mastery of analytical chemistry have undoubtedly widened and deepened the appreciation of Scotch whisky around the globe.

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"The University of Edinburgh is tremendously proud to honour Rachel for her achievements.”

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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