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Clynelish's Shane is "whiskying" off to Jamaica

By SPP Reporter

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Shane Healy
Shane Healy

SHANE HEALY is used to upping sticks and moving on. The genial Irishman has switched cities and even countries frequently as he follows the demands of his career in the brewing and distilling industries.

But the latest move for Shane, wife Yanina (Nina) and their two young children Eilidh (3) and Aiden (2) is their most challenging yet.

The young family are re-locating from Brora, where 35-year-old Shane heads up Diageo’s Clynelish Distillery, to the bustling Jamaican capital of Kingston, where a three-year post as operations manager of the Red Stripe Brewery awaits.

Shane and Nina made a recce to Kingston in August and, while excited at the move, say they are very sad to be leaving Brora.

They also acknowledge that it will be a complete change of lifestyle.

Firstly, there’s the contrast from the quiet rhythm of life in Brora, with its 1500 strong population, to the teeming metropolis of Kingston.

Then there is the weather. Says Shane: "The coldest it gets in Kingston is 22°C but the temperature averages around 30°C all year long. Most of our offices are air conditioned."

Aside from the difference in environment and climate, the job itself will be a steep learning curve.

In Brora, Shane has been in charge of a 14-strong workforce (with another three added during the tourist season), producing over four million litres of alcohol a year.

In Kingston, there is a diverse workforce of 700 people, with Shane in charge of all brewing and packaging operations.

And, while Scotch whisky is one of the UK’s best exports, and universally acknowledged as superior, the Red Stripe brand is facing stiff competition from others.

But he is sanguine about what lies ahead.

"It’s an adventure," he says. "If there is one time in our lives that it is right to go, then it’s now when the children are still small.

"Diageo is a global company and we’re encouraged to look internationally. So, because my kids are at an age that we can travel, I put my name forward for the Red Stripe Brewery vacancy."

From Dundalk in County Louth, in the Republic of Ireland, Shane has a degree in biology from the University of Ulster and an MSc in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh.

He is a master brewer with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.

His career path was set when he worked with Guinness on a student placement during his third year at university.

Since then he’s worked for Tennents, Bass, Interbrew and Diageo. He’s lived for stretches of up to three years in cities, towns and villages across the UK, in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Burton-on Trent as well as in Ballindalloch and Brora.

Has he any anecdotes about his career so far?

He laughs, shakes his head and says that a stint as Head of Security as Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow’s notorious East End was "wild."

Shane’s career to date has been unique in that he has been able to switch smoothly between brewing and distilling.

"The norm is that you either become a distiller or a brewer and few people tend to move between the two," he explains.

"I started at a brewery, but then forged a link with Scotland and the distilling industry through my MSc from Heriot Watt.

"I am one of the few to make the transition between brewing and distilling but a couple more people have since done the same."

In 2007, when Nina was expecting their first child, they decided to move back to Scotland. Shane started in November 2007 at Cragganmore Distillery in Banffshire and in August 2010 moved to Clynelish.

The family had no problem settling into village life and, indeed, Shane felt in many ways that he had returned to his Irish roots.

He says: "Brora is amazing. We’ve moved a lot and it is probably one of the friendliest and most welcoming places we’ve ever been.

"My mother is from Tipperary and my dad from Galway and Brora is on a par with these places in terms of community interaction."

Three months after they arrived, their rented home in Dalchalm was flooded out while they were on holiday.

"They returned to chaos but the silver lining was the support shown by their neighbours.

"Everyone in the area came together and helped us move our belongings out," recalls Shane.

"We spent Christmas in another house and people couldn’t do enough to make sure we were comfortable. That’s just one example of how helpful local people have been."

Shane, a keen footballer, has watched Brora Rangers play and has also has taken up golf during his sojourn in Brora.

He describes the local school as "excellent" and talks about how much daughter Eilidh enjoys nursery and son Aiden looks forward to going to the Toy Library.

Shane jets out to Kingston early next month and the family will follow shortly afterwards. He agrees that during his three-year stay in Jamaica, they will not be short of visitors.

"Lots of people are lining up to come over and visit us! There is a strong Irish community in Kingston so the flights to and from Dublin are really good."

Asked whether he has any plans to return to Brora, he says: "I never know what’s around the corner ,but never say never. I will definitely be keeping in contact with people in Brora and I will definitely be visiting the area."

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