Five minutes with Cara Gilbert from Tobermory Distillery
Author: Issariya Morgan
At the age of 27, Cara Gilbert is the youngest manager to take the helm at Tobermory. We catch up with her about her approach to whisky-making and what the future holds.
Can you tell us about your background and how you arrived at Tobermory?
I studied for an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences, during which I really enjoyed learning about bioengineering. I then went on to obtain my Masters in Brewing and Distilling. As part of the degree, I carried out recipe development for Nc’Nean Distillery’s botanical spirit, which kickstarted my passion for spirits.
I knew that I wanted to hit the ground running; a grad scheme wasn’t for me. So, I applied for a job at William Grant & Sons in the Process Support and Improvement team at their Tullamore site [in Ireland]. This led me to the Process Lead Job at Bunnahabhain, before moving over to Tobermory, where I was made Assistant Distillery Manager, then Manager all within eight months. It was something of a whirlwind romance with Tobermory.
Can you tell us about your first formative encounter with whisky? Was there a special moment that sparked your interest in whisky-making?
I thought I was going to become a teacher, as I had taught abroad and spent some time in local high schools helping out. I didn’t think I particularly wanted to work in a lab either (with an undergrad in Biological Sciences, it was the job that all my friends were getting).
My cousin convinced me to try a short week in a lab at Edrington, which is where I completely fell in love with whisky. There’s a whisky library in the site on Paisley Road West where I was engrossed with all the history and art in one place.
How would you describe your approach in the distillery?
There is no “one size fits all” approach – each site comes with its own philosophy, unique from one another. Whisky-makers should immerse themselves in their distillery, and watch their team chat with the operators, as they are the foundations of your site.
Be comfortable that you might not know everything and ask questions – the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.
Can you talk us through a typical day at the distillery?
I will get out into the distillery as much as I can, to make sure that I chat with almost every shift operator here. I’ll make a note of everything that they require to achieve the expectations of the day.
Although no two days are the same, in general they have the same objective: ensuring that high-quality spirit is produced and delivered from the distillery, including gin and whisky.
Tobermory has a long history spanning 223 years. What does the next chapter look like, and how will you shape it?
I am very excited about what’s in the pipeline for Tobermory and to have a key part in the process. We’re getting a new mash tun in March, which will help improve capacity by 67%, so I’m really looking forward to this new installation. We will also be updating our malt handling, which will assist in the quality of the malt in our process.
Tobermory will still remain a boutique artisanal distillery, just with more modern equipment and an improved site.
Discover Tobermory’s 24-Year-Old here