A dram with... Jackie Thomson

A dram with... Jackie Thomson

This week, we're having a dram with Ardbeg visitor centre manager and newly-minted Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame-r Jackie Thomson

Interview | 02 Apr 2024 | By Lucy Schofield

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In today’s instalment of our Q&A series, we’re having a dram with Jackie Thomson.


Jackie Thomson fell into the whisky industry when she moved from Birmingham back up to her Highlands homeland to join Glenmorangie. She then moved to Ardbeg, where she manages the visitor experience to this day.


One of the newest members of the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2023, Jackie’s passion for the people, places, and craft behind the industry is evident.

 

How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I joined Glenmorangie Distillery as visitor centre manager in 1996, then moved on to take up the role of managing Ardbeg’s visitor centre on Islay when the opportunity arose in 1998. I’ve managed the Ardbeg visitor experience ever since.

Where did the journey of your career start and where has it taken you over the decades? What was your favourite stop along the way?
Many plan their careers, but the whisky industry was a different place back in the 90s and my journey was a little more haphazard! I saw an advert for the Glenmorangie position whilst working for Bass Brewers and BRMB radio in Birmingham. I was bewitched by the idea of moving out of the city and back to my spiritual home in the Highlands.


I was very lucky to be awarded the job and was instantly allured by the interactions with the folk who both produce the whisky and those who drink the whisky! It was love at first sip — although it did take me a while to appreciate the complexity of what’s in the glass. There are hundreds of meetings a day — some fleeting, some deep and connected, and some long-lasting friendships and connections that have endured for the past 27 years!


Moving to Ardbeg with practically a blank canvas and a quirky, unconventional brand meant there was room to be expressive and to build something with armies of wonderful teams. There’s so much more to running a brand home than what meets the eye... but unpretentious planning to make a place feel special has been my favourite thing to do.

 

What is the most exciting change you’ve witnessed in the whisky industry over the course of your career?
Opportunities to make a difference to the lives of those who visit your distillery. Whisky is an emotional drink, and the aromas and sense of place wrap themselves around our visitors.


There has also been a change when it comes to the opportunities available to carve a career in an industry which used to be considered pretty male top-heavy — from tour guide to brand ambassador, from whisky drinker to distillery owner.

Name a whisky distillery or brand that you feel is underrated.
Speyburn! Unfussy, direct, and unashamedly a Speyside. Rich heritage and generally delicious.

 

Is there a whisky or brand you are particularly enjoying at the moment?
I was recently introduced to Woven — I love their ethos and their packaging. It is a turn on when there is integrity behind a wee brand and sometimes when friends have a vision there is a very special result! I’m currently enjoying their Experience n.15//Shindig and have participated in a few other of their Experiences. For me, it is an example of blending for the right reasons!

When you’re not drinking whisky, what is your drink of choice?
I really enjoy a long, tall Belvedere and cola with ice. It’s been my go-to for a long time!


When with friends, I like a wee Margarita or Old Fashioned. When thirsty, a fresh IPA.

 

Would you rather read a book or watch a film? For whichever option you choose (book or film), tell us one of your favourites.
I would always have said read a book, but oddly when my mum passed away in 2018 I became distracted and lost my ability to concentrate for too long. I have, however, recently started flicking and reading once again.


A harrowing novel that I read and re-read is The Long Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. An exquisitely brutal book which tells the tale of Australian POWs who built the Burma Railway — deeply personal and emotive.

 

Describe your perfect Sunday.
I’m likely have been out the night before so a quiet awakening — but I am, by nature, an early riser. I love my home and to potter with a wee podcast. I get the washing in, and the washing out, then maybe a bit of hoovering. That gets everyone stirring! You can’t beat a good hearty mid-morning brunch (made by me or for me) and the troops to eat it round the BIG table (we can dance on it!) while chinwagging — or maybe in front of the fire.


I also love a walk with friends with a flask of tea and cake by the river Laggan. Then it’d be home to the Mull of Oa and making a big dinner. I find contentment in cooking a Sunday roast for the family. Maybe a wee watch of Call the Midwife in the evening and I love to find the sanctuary of my bedroom with clean, fresh bedclothes and write my diary. And an early night!

 

Describe your dream holiday – where would you go and what would you do there?
The world is such a precarious place just now, but this does nag at me… Many years ago I read and re-read The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier. It’s a slow, intimate account of a couple of guys in the 1950s, who encounter ‘the world’ after chucking a couple of cases in a car and spending three years meandering from Belgrade all the way to India. The essence of their journey, encounters, danger, compassion, privation have stayed with me. Although I doubt I would have the confidence to do it now, I would love to experience the freedom and discovery they conveyed travelling through a part of the world which has changed so much.


Or — perhaps a soft sunbed on a beach in Bali. A tropical paradise, with a colourful cocktail and a copy of The Way of the World to read. Depends on my mood!

 

Name one item you never go travelling without.
A notebook and pen!

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