Road runners

Road runners

Whisky ambassadors travel the world promoting whisky. The ideal job? Martine Nouet went to find out

Production | 30 Aug 2006 | Issue 58 | By Martine Nouet

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Seen from the public point of view, their life is an antidote against monotony.Many a whisky lover would like to share the brand ambassadors’ diary, envying their continuous travelling round the globe and the opportunities they are given to taste outstanding drams.Earning your living entertaining people would seem to be a dream come true.Well reality does not always reflect the vision. Spreading the gospel, as one of them would say, can be a tough job, often challenging, sometimes unrewarding and always time-consuming.None of these passionate brand ambassadors would change their life for a quiet office routine. They love it and communicate their passion and their knowledge with an ever refreshed enthusiasm to the brands sales team as well as to whisky aficionados, wherever they roam.New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Sydney, Hong-Kong, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Copenhagen or London… they can tour the world within a few weeks, presenting new drams, meeting new crowds, making new friends and gathering new memories.Ann Miller from Chivas, Richard Paterson from Whyte and Mackay, Ronnie Cox from The Glenrothes and Jim McEwan from Bruichladdich ramble round the world. They recall some special moments, whether they be funny, embarrassing… or both.Like all ambassadors they have adapted to life on the road and have secrets to cope with jet lag, unexpected technical problems or anoraks’ riddles.And most of all, they enjoy their life.Ann Miller has worked in the whisky industry for 20 years, starting in the marketing and public relations department for the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre. She then joined Seagram and later Pernod Ricard.She has been a brand ambassador for 10 years, mainly in Spain for Chivas and in France for Aberlour as she speaks both languages.Her more day-to-day mission is to be a home ambassador, to welcome visitors to Speyside and to take them round the distilleries there.This keeps her on the road an average three days and evenings a week.Mileage
She cannot really work it out as it is very variable but she reckons she drives as much as she flies.Favourite phrase
“Never water without whisky, never whisky without water.” Rather scary
“For my first trip as a brand ambassador in 1996, I went to Belgrade.“I felt rather insecure when I read the notice in the hotel reminding the clients to check their guns in the cloakroom and not take them to their room.” Amusing
“In Russia, I made a lot of effort for one hour to make myself well understood by the interpreter… until I discovered that the audience could speak French.” Annoying
“It is exasperating to face to a barrage of questions from men who want to challenge your expertise just because you are a woman.And on top of that, I have to prove them that a blonde can know what she is talking about.” Aggravating
“The day I spilled water on my computer at a whisky fair, which damaged it and completely ruined my powerpoint presentation.” Weird
“I had to do a presentation of Aberlour one day in front of an arabic audience. Most participants were muslims, so they would not taste. They just nosed the range of malts in front of them and did not say a word.” Richard Paterson, master blender of Whyte and Mackay and ‘artisan’ of The Dalmore, Jura and Fettercairn bottlings is one of the great stars of all whisky events. His aura and charisma go far beyond throwing a bucket of ice onto the audience.Is it his talent as a master blender or his theatrical skills which have made him famous around the world? Probably both. As with love and marriage (supposedly): you can’t have one without the other.Mileage
He has never counted but in the last six months, he has toured the world three times (including Japan, Russia, Iceland, Scandinavia) and clocked up thousands of miles.He is out of the country three months in a year.Favourite phrase
“If I see you holding a glass like this, I’ll kill you.” Annoying (and comforting)
“Those BlackBerries! No matter where you are in the world, you can be contacted through your mobile. I hate it when people say to me : ‘You were abroad, I could not get in touch with you.’ I carry on my office job when I travel.” (Very) embarrassing “I was staying in a hotel in Japan. One night, I wanted to take my empty dinner tray out and leave it in front of my bedroom door. Which I did, but the door closed on me while I was in the corridor and… I was naked! I had to knock next door to get the guy to call the reception. He was bewildered.” Anticipating
“I have a huge collection of ties with assorted handkerchiefs. When I travel, I make sure I carry enough clothes to wear something different everyday. My kilt is always in my luggage. On hot days, it is such a relief to get the damned thing off at night.” Ronnie Cox Very few brand ambassadors have spent as much time abroad as Ronnie Cox has. Born from six generations of whisky makers (his grandfather was the owner of Cardhu) Ronnie has developed the sales of Cutty Sark in South America for many years. Since 2001, he has concentrated on The Glenrothes and tours the world all year round.Mileage
More than 60 times around the world (ie some 1,800,000 miles) in 30 years.Favourite phrase
“Maturation is all about mother nature and father time.” Embarrassing
“Language confusion can be very embarrassing. One evening, I was conducting a tasting in front of a hundred people in Latin America. I wanted to welcome the local distributor. I used a Spanish phrase to present him: ‘Let me introduce Mr X.’ Unfortunately, the term has a completely different meaning in Spanish and my ‘introduction’ was followed by a burst of laughter.” Enjoying malt
“Enthusiasm is very important and believing in the product that you sell makes it much easier.“Educating malt drinkers is a person to person job whereas selling blends is more about advertising.” Lodging
“I think I spend 180 days out of Britain a year.I must have slept in 3,000 hotel rooms, of which 20 per cent had either poor sanitation or poor bedding, 10 per cent, no telephone. I must have taken 5 427 meals in restaurants.” Packing
“I have 12 sets of luggage. During the years I have left two kilts, four passports, at least 30 shirts, 15 pairs of cufflinks and 72 pairs of socks behind me.” Yellow is the colour
“The colour yellow has saved my liver. When I was working for Cutty Sark, I could walk into a bar and notice straight away whether they had Cutty Sark or not. If they didn’t I could then discreetly walk out without asking for a dram.” Jim McEwan ‘Saint-James’ as his fellow distillery manager John McLellan from Bunnahabhain calls him, has given the job of ambassador the status of a vocation. Another great star of the whisky industry, Jim started travelling 20 years ago for Bowmore. He has been doing the same these last five years for Bruichladdich.Mileage
Cannot work it out but he certainly has gathered an impressive mileage. Can’t claim free miles as most of the travel is done at economy fares.Favourite phrase
“The main ingredient in whisky is the people who made it.” Moving
“I was in New York, doing a tasting for an exclusive store. I always tell stories.That one was about my grandfather having seen a ghost. The audience enjoyed it and laughed but I noticed one guy was crying. I feared I had said something which hurt him. The guy was a Vietnam veteran and my story had awakened visions of his friends who died by his side when he was at war. It was very emotional.” Exhausting
“I arrived in Italy, coming straight from New York. I had meetings with sales teams in Genova and Milan all day. I was knackered and jetlagged.I went back to my hotel looking forward to having a few hours of sleep. But the bartender wanted to speak to me. So I went to the bar. But… I fell down from exhaustion and just collapsed.” Enjoying
“The brand ambassadors are so enthusiastic.We all meet in hotels before events. There is a great sense of friendship. I am so impressed by the young guys such as George Grant, Gerry Tosh or my own daughter Lynn. But the older ones are just as incredible. Take Willie Tait from Jura. He is one of the greatest performers in the industry.” Embarrassing “I have never embarrassed an interpreter as much as in Japan, on a Whisky Live event.We all paid a tribute to Iain Henderson who was leaving Laphroaig. Everybody had praised him.Then came my turn. I like pulling Iain’s leg, so does he with me. I made a joke on the length of his penis. The poor girl was lost in translation! She blushed and asked for confirmation: ‘Jim San, did you say penis?’ The audience (300 Japanese who worship Iain Henderson) remained silent at first, then they followed the Scots in laughter!” Losing
I have lost my passport a number of times. Left shoes under the bed, watches on bedside table, not to mention coats and jackets, 647 ties and 42 cufflinks
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