Whisky's women

Whisky's women

Whisky's longevity can be credited to the efforts of many hard working people. Gavin D Smith lists nine successful women who are currently working hard to secure whisky's future.

People | 16 Feb 2001 | Issue 14 | By Gavin Smith

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BRIDGET ARTHUR is joint-Manager of Vintage Hallmark of St James’s, London’s latest shop dedicated to the sale of quality spirits. It opened last autumn on a site on the corner of Jermyn Street and St James’s Street and offers around 600 different malt whiskies. Bridget previously worked at Milroy’s famous Soho whisky emporium and her fellow Manager at Vintage Hallmark is former Milroy’s colleague Doug McIvor. Primarily involved with the administrative and export aspects of the business, Bridget has developed a lasting interest in whisky ‘collectables’ and gains much enjoyment from the rapport she has with her band of collectors. Born in the West Country, Bridget says that she “just fell into the whisky business by accident”, spending 12 years at Milroy’s, and learning about whisky along the way. “Once you’re at Milroy’s you can’t avoid whisky”, she says with a chuckle, “and it was a great grounding. I was a wine drinker and I'd never even come across single malts before I started working there.” “One thing we are seeing now”, she notes, “is more women drinking single malts. Quite young women, too, are coming in regularly and buying whisky for themselves."ANGELA FORSGREN D'ORAZIO is responsible for everything relating to whisky in Stockholm’s Akkurat Restaurant and also runs its associated whisky club. Akkurat is a large restaurant that specialises, as Angela says, in “the whisky, the beer, the food, the atmosphere and the people.” Angela purchases whiskies – the current range runs to some 430 brands – compiles tasting notes and organises
Akkurat’s ‘menu’ of 13 different permutations of tasting sessions, designed to cater for every type of whisky enthusiast. Angela is half Italian and half Swedish, and has a colourful professional past which includes working for a Formula One motor racing team and as an Italian television host. Between 1992 and 1997 she promoted Glenmorangie in Sweden, leading to her involvement with the Stockholm Beer Festival, where she judges the whisky classes. “I think I was about 22 when I realised that whisky was not the awful rocket fuel that the guys drank.” She
nominates a 22-year-old Ardbeg, Bowmore Voyage and a 25-year-old Glenmorangie finished in Malaga Wood as her “desert island drams.”CHRISTINE LOGAN is Visitor Centre Manager at Bowmore Distillery on Islay, but any job description of what her role actually entails would run to several pages. Christine is responsible for all operational aspects of the distillery shop and for looking after guests of Morrison Bowmore Distillers, ‘meeting and greeting’ at the airport, arranging meals and accommodation, and taking on a multitude of other tasks. “It can never be a nine to five job. My working day can easily end up with me in a peat bog with a group of Japanese visitors, showing them what helps to make Islay whiskies unique.” Born at the north end of the island, not far from Caol Ila Distillery, Christine is proud to be an Ileach and takes as much pleasure in promoting Islay as she does in marketing Bowmore Distillery and its range of whiskies. Christine started work in the office at Caol Ila Distillery and moved to Bowmore 16 years ago, initially as a tour guide, after taking time out when her son was born. “I love meeting everyone”, says Christine. “I get Christmas cards and e-mails from all over the world, and letters from people in Japan that begin 'Dear Mum!'”, she says. “I reckon I've got the best job on Islay.”ANN MILLER is Brand Ambassador for Campbell Distillers and though she lives on Speyside and works out of Aberlour Distillery, Ann is more likely to be encountered making trade presentations in France or SouthAfrica. As part of Campbell Distillers’ international marketing team, she spends much of her time promoting Campbell’s products in various countries around the world. South Africa is a significant market for the company’s blend, Clan Campbell, but most of Ann’s work is concerned with the promotion of the Aberlour portfolio. Many of her
presentations are made in French or Spanish, with France being the principal export market for Aberlour. Manchester-born Ann has a decent dash of Scots blood in her. “My father drank whisky, so I was familiar with it from an early age.” After graduating from university, Ann stayed in Scotland and began to work in tourism. She was appointed Marketing and PR Manager for the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre in Edinburgh which opened in1988. From that role she ran three Speyside visitor centres and ultimately became a Brand Ambassador, making use of her Spanish in their Spanish-speaking markets. Ann has worked for Campbell Distillers for just over a year now, and insists that Aberlour is “a wonderful whisky which I really do drink! I enjoy a dram before and after dinner, and I enjoy whisky as an accompaniment to some meals, too. One of the delights of whisky is that it's such a wonderfully versatile drink.”PAULINE MILTON is Assistant Manager to Ed Dodson at the Glenmorangie plc owned Glen Moray Distillery, situated on the outskirts of the Speyside ‘capital’ of Elgin. Pauline began work at Glen Moray as a YTS trainee eleven years ago, and graduated to running the office a couple of years later. According to Ed Dodson: “When it was quieter in summer she’d spend time learning the production side of the business, and she’s been learning more and more of the technical stuff as time has gone on.” Born in the whisky town of Keith, she started work as Assistant Manager in September 1997. “I understand all the processes and the technicalities of making whisky. The men accepted me really well from the start, but then they’d known me for years anyway, from working in the office. I’ve not had any problems, being a woman here,” says Pauline. “I think one reason why you found, and still find to some extent, comparatively few women in the whisky industry was that traditionally it was very hard, physical work in distilleries. Today, with modern working practices, pure strength is no longer an issue. It’s still quite rare to find women at the heart of the whisky industry, but numbers are increasing. When you go to industry events now there are definitely more and more female faces.”MARTINE NOUET is based in Paris and is the only journalist and author currently working in France who writes exclusively about spirits. She is also the only woman in France specialising in covering the subject of whisky. Blessed with a keen sense of humour, Martine enjoys the nickname bestowed on her by a fellow French journalist – “La Reine de l’Alambic” – the Queen of the Still. Born in Normandy, Martine began to train as a journalist in Paris during the heady days of the late 1960s and for the last ten years has worked as a freelance journalist, specialising in food and drink-related topics. Writing for a catering magazine, Martine recalls: “The other journalists were men and they would not let me work on the liquid side. I was allowed to work on food and restaurants only. But I succeeded in being assigned an article on whisky one day – I had just come back from Scotland and discovered ‘the stuff’.” Now firmly established as an authority on whisky, Martine is the author of Les Routes du Malt and Eau-de-vie, le Guide. She has acted as a spirits judge at the International Wine & Spirits Competition and runs ‘Cooking with Malt Whisky’ classes in Paris. Last November, she also hosted the Festival Whisky et Chansons – Whisky and Songs Festival – in Paris. “I have made many friends in distilleries, spending a lot of time with the workers and distillery managers,” she says. “I consider those people one of the most important ingredients in making whisky.” JACKIE THOMSON is Visitor Centre Manageress at the revived Ardbeg Distillery on Islay, where her husband Stuart is Distillery Manager. The couple have been based on the ‘whisky island’ since Glenmorangie plc bought Ardbeg from Allied Distillers in 1997. Jackie and her staff have created a highly-regarded visitor reception and retail facility, along with a café in the former kiln and malt barn areas of the distillery. “We get between four and five thousand paying visitors per year”, says Jackie, “and probably another two or three thousand come to eat in the café . It’s got a good reputation on the island and beyond, though I was a catering virgin when I started here! We’re working at building a brand, but we like the fact that there’s not too much obvious commercialism at the distillery.” Born in Glasgow, Jackie led a varied and interesting life before becoming professionally involved with whisky, working with the Inverness-based Moray Firth Radio station, running a burger van at events such as the Glastonbury Festival and Hells’ Angels rallies, and growing herbs on the ‘Gaza Strip’ in the Middle East! Back in Britain, a Tourism Business Management course was followed by a spell of marketing with Bass Brewers Ltd in Birmingham, after which Jackie was recruited in 1996 to run the Glenmorangie Distillery visitor centre at Tain. “Ardbeg is a product that encapsulates everything that’s best about a malt whisky. I loved the 17 year old, but now I’m getting round to enjoying the ten year old, too.”JULIA THOROLD is Director of the Keepers of the Quaich society, the Scotch whisky industry society which was founded 12 years ago by a number of the leading Scotch whisky distillers. The aims of the society are to promote the goodwill of the industry internationally and to honour those who have made a positive contribution to the industry. There are now over 1200 members from 64 countries. Julia was appointed Director in May of last year, and is responsible for organising the Keepers' famous twice-yearly banquets at Blair Castle in Perthshire, as well as handling what she describes as “the management of the membership.” The organisation is actually run by a management committee, with a representative from each of the founding partners and the present Chairman is Richard Watling, Director of UDV’s Scotch whiskies. Julia’s role is to work closely with this committee. Born in Lincolnshire, Julia’s career began in a sponsorship and public relations environment, and she spent almost 15 years working as International Sponsorship and PR Manager for J&B Rare Scotch Whisky. She then spent a year away from the delights of the world of whisky prior to taking up her present appointment. “Since I began working with J&B, lots more women have been achieving higher positions within the Scotch whisky industry”, notes Julia, “but I think that probably reflects what’s going on in the world in general. I love the international aspect of working with an interesting quality product.”RIANNON WALSH is founder and organiser of the Whiskies of the World Expos, a hugely popular, annual promotional event staged in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Having achieved a very visible position with her staunchly independent and unusual marketing approach to consumer and trade alike, this endlessly energetic figure has her finger in many other whisky-related pies. As President of Cloonaughill Celtic Malts, Riannon champions the few remaining independent producers and bottlers of single malt Scotch whisky. She is currently launching a marketing consortium designed to allow small-volume, high-quality brands to offer a major promotional presence to the US. Riannon’s background includes business and education as well as some more artistic undertakings. She finds time to lecture, write and conduct tastings as Brand Ambassador for several malts in the USA, but her “great passion” is the ongoing development of a new distillery in the west of Ireland. Her unique perspective and position as perhaps the only female single malt consultant in North America has opened doors that might have been closed to someone less adventurous and willing to think outside the traditional ‘box’. Keep your eyes open for an exciting new spirit Riannon will have literally had a hand in making and marketing out in the spring of 2001.
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