Cardrona Distillery - New Manager Appointed

Cardrona Distillery's newly appointed museum and distillery manager Jennie Whitlock can't stop smiling.

Whitlock is an expert in single malt whisky, a qualified museum and art gallery curator, and was living in Queenstown when she learned her Scottish past had caught up with her in Central Otago.

Whitlock is a member of Rothes' Forsyth family, one of the foremost manufacturers of hand-beaten copper stills in the world.

When she met Cardrona Distillery founder Desiree Whitaker socially, she discovered Whitaker's family had been talking to her family about supplying copper stills made by her craftsman brother, Ben Whitlock.

"I had planned to go home and build my career back in Scotland but she said, this is what I am planning if you want to stay here in New Zealand. I jumped at the opportunity. It was honestly so good to be true. I've got sore cheeks from smiling so much," Whitlock said.

The distillery, museum and barrel warehouse complex, with a combined build value of just over $1 9 million, is at the bottom of the Snow Farm access road, opposite the entrance to Cardrona Alpine Resort.

Forsyth representatives arrive to commission the stills, vats and mash tun in early October.

Six distillery hands start in November and an official opening celebration is planned for January. 

Whitlock is thrilled with progress, especially now her brother's stills are in place.

"I have a little bit of home with me here."

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The first barrels of Cardrona single malt whiskey will not be ready for tasting for about 10 years, so the distillery will produce vodka, triple sec and rose oil products in the meantime. 

"What will be on everyone's lips is what will the Cardrona single malt whisky be like. We can't wait," Whitlock said.

The Forsyths began making copper stills in the 1930s, when Whitlock's great grandfather Alexander Forsyth purchased a copper shop from his employers.

His son, Whitlock's grandfather Toot Forsyth, was "quite a character" in the small Speyside town of Rothes.

Toot's sons Richard and Willie Forsyth inherited the business from him. Whitlock's cousin, also called Richard Forsyth, is now the fourth generation managing director.

Whitlock, the daughter of Joan Forsyth and Tony Whitlock, was born in Duff Town, a stone's throw away from Rothes, and her father was the resident customs and excise officer at Cragganmore Distillery.

"There is a saying "Rome was built in seven hills but Duff Town stands on seven stills," she said.

Her family moved back to Rothes when she was four years old and remained involved in the industry.

"There used to be five distilleries and this is a very small village of perhaps 1200 people. Now, there is only four. One has been bought up by Forsyths for workshop because it is an increasing industry. You cannot escape distilling. It is part of growing up," Whitlock said.

She tried to escape to St Andrews, where she studied arts history and museum and gallery management, but found her passion lay in her heritage.

She worked in various businesses and eventually gained her general certificate in distilling at Macallan Distillery.

Meanwhile, her sister Sarah Whitlock had gone on her big OE, fallen in love with a Kiwi man and was raising her family in Queenstown.

So Whitlock came to visit, fell in love with the area, and stayed on. She returned home for three months this year, got her residency application sorted and officially started working for Whitaker a month ago.

"I do feel blessed. Maybe it's the angel's share. Maybe it because Toot's up there, with the angels and they are looking after me," she said.

Back in Scotland, distilling is still a man's world, although Whitlock says that is changing.

The Cardrona Distillery was about "girl power", with the three-member production team comprising Whitaker, herself, and her "right-hand woman", science graduate Jose Cranfield.

She attributes her employer's "charm factor" for scoring an important coup recently when Spanish winemakers Gonzalez Byass agreed to supply some all-important but hard-to-get sherry oak casks.

"These are like gold dust. I could have kissed Desiree when she said she had them. Can you imagine what all those big boys are thinking in Scotland! We've got sherry casks," she said.

Alongside the two large copper pot stills and steel mash tun from Scotland are two tall, cylindrical German-made Jacob Carl stills to produce vodka.

"All products are from single malt spirit. That's what sets us apart. We are making everything from scratch from malted barley," she said.

Amalgamated Builders area manager Brett Squires said the project was "one out of the box".

Up to 25 builders and subcontractors have worked on the distillery over the last nine months, and they were all excited and proud of how it was coming together, Squires said.

"It has been brilliant. It is an industrial manufacturing plant that typically you don't get involved with, in this area at least," Squires said.

 - Stuff