Sheila Burtles has been voted by leaders in the Scotch whisky industry to receive the first ever Jim Swan Award for Services to Scotch Whisky. The award which launched in 2019, recognises the careers of unsung heroes working in Scotch whisky to collaborate for the benefit for the industry.
Sheila Burtles, aged 92, worked for Pentlands Research (now the Scotch Whisky Research Institute) as a sensory scientist, first joining the organisation in mid 1970s. Her most famous achievement is as co-inventor of the first ever Scotch Whisky Flavour Wheel in 1979. Working with Dr Jim Swan, she created a new visual tool and shaped a new language used in the assessment and understanding of whisky.
Known as the Pentlands Wheel, the device was a world first and became a global success. It has been developed into many new modern versions over decades by authors, academics, and major whisky brands worldwide. Subsequent evolutions have even been seen in the development of flavour in brewing, coffee, wine and chocolate industries.
Ms Burtles received her award in a private presentation at her home in Edinburgh hosted by Charlie Maclean, the renowned whisky expert and judge in the Scottish Whisky Awards. He commented;
“It is with the greatest possible pleasure that I have been asked to present this award. I first met Sheila in 1992 when I was invited to a course which she was giving on sensory skills and without a word of a lie this course changed my life. She really is an unsung hero of the Scotch whisky industry. She deserves immense credit for making the link between chemistry and the language we use to describe flavour and for being the first to display it in a wheel. This idea was taken up very rapidly taken up all over the world. She really is a wonderful person and deserves every recognition.”
Kirsten Speirs, Director of KDMedia which runs the Scottish Whisky Awards, commented,
“The Scottish Whisky Awards team is proud to recognise Sheila Burtles’ career as a pioneer in the Scotch whisky industry. Sheila was a trailblazing scientist who used her own formidable skills to give students the confidence to identify flavour and aroma. Sheila successfully combined a career with family life way ahead of her time and was unphased by her regular appearance as the sole female in a distillery. Instead, Sheila was confident in her knowledge, bold in her approach and often audacious in the interests of progress. The Scotch Whisky Flavour Wheel is far from being Sheila’s only achievement but should be remembered as a global success which serves as another reminder of why Scotland is the world’s leading whisky nation.”