As much as we are all keen on sampling, buying, collecting, selling and sharing whisky, it is also important to speak about responsible consumption and moderation in your drinking. I spoke to a number of the top whisky brand ambassadors, who are, in part, paid to drink whisky with people the world over. These energetic, fun-loving people have to try to stay healthy while spending countless hours on planes, in random cities, eating food from many cultures and without any real routine in their lives.
As part of what I do with GreatDrams.com, I host many tastings and am fortunate enough to sample wonderful whiskies for review and palate-expansion purposes, as well as for fun. That’s only part of my day-to-day though, and away from the Instagram feed and Facebook page I’m buried in Keynote presentations and Numbers spreadsheets most of my working week… often from trains, planes or cabs between presentations, meetings and events.
My moderation and balanced routine is centred around planning, and increasingly more exercise. Each week I plan in my booze-free days - not that I’m drinking high volumes of alcohol each day of each week, but even if I have had three 15ml samples for review, or when meeting people for meetings I count that as a ‘drinking day’. This also helps with the discipline of taking time off away from the Glencairn glass. Playing squash when home and doing 5km runs each day I’m on the road also keeps me sane, and has boosted my energy, recovery time and helps with weight management too. I also tend to drink about three litres of water a day to keep hydrated and to flush out toxins and whatnot.
Everyone has their own routine and their own way of managing their life on the road, and Struan Grant Ralph, global brand ambassador for Glenfiddich explained that he, "Can’t over-estimate how important it is to maintain a balanced lifestyle". He said that, "Exercise, diet, wellness, mindfulness and downtime has benefitted [his] overall health and in turn the success and enjoyment of [his] career”.
"Long gone are the heady days of excess in the industry (I know, I’ve lived through them) and the industry itself has a far better reputation amongst the general public with the rise of the 'star tender'. Along with this, those in the spotlight, and in turn those become the influencers, had to take care of themselves,” reflects Mark Thompson, brand ambassador for Glenfiddich. He goes on to say that, “You simply cannot party hard and work hard any more, you have to work smart and work out better".
Formerly a semi-professional athlete competing at national level, Thompson is competitive, and this is something that Mark believes has made, "It easier for [him] to switch off from work and turn to [his] bike or grab [his] trainers”, saying that, “With the amount of travel I do, some runners in the suitcase always travel with me".
Global brand ambassador for the Bacardi Malts, Georgie Bell, tells me that for her, staying balanced while working in the whisky industry is so important – and that includes taking time off drinking. "Personally, I prioritise exercise and will work out six days a week, especially when travelling. As a general rule, I don't drink on flights – and make sure that I have at least two days off drinking a week. Eating healthy is a huge part of my routine, as is taking pro-biotics and drinking Kombucha”.
Master blender for Irish Distillers, Billy Leighton, who has served the industry for more than 40 years explained that, "This can be quite an emotive topic and it’s difficult to come up with a single solution”. He said, "Everyone in the business can play their own part, however small it may be, and the cumulative effect could bring about some positive changes. One of the main aspects is education to inform consumers how to better appreciate their preferred drink, to take time and consider the flavours and aromas and think of the processes which result in this liquid which they are putting in to their body”.
One thing to remember when consuming alcohol is that there is a lot to be said for celebration, for enjoyment and for it to be, where new friendships are made and old friendships cemented and revived.
"I feel that an important part of drinking in moderation is to approach enjoying your drinks with the right attitude. The best nights are not just ones you remember, they are the ones you own; that incredible outfit you wore, the delicious cocktail ordered, those once-in-a-lifetime moments shared with friends. It’s about having fun, staying in control, drinking better – not more – drinks, and leaving the bar looking just as stylish as you did when you arrived," Ewan Gunn, global whisky master for Diageo, added.
Moderation is definitely the way to stay healthy and to enjoy wonderful whiskies for many years to come, but there is more to alcohol than drinking; many rural communities are built around the production of it in Scotland, Ireland and the world over, not to mention the countless jobs created and sustained for decades to come.
Leighton explained something that many have neglected to mention much of late, that, "News media coverage of alcohol stories is generally negative and there is no denying that some people have problems with alcohol, the resulting health issues, violence and abuse are a real issue, and the drinks industry takes this seriously".
I believe that brands have a responsibility to promote moderation, balance and exercise
He continues, "No one reports on the positive; where in most cases, alcohol is a great source of enjoyment, it brings people together, it is used to celebrate and creates long term jobs for many people in rural and deprived areas”.
Expanding on this theme, Grant Ralph tells a cautionary tale too that, “Unfortunately within our industry, and particularly in certain markets, there is a culture of overconsumption and unhealthy practices that seem to be celebrated, although they actively harm the health and wellbeing of our fellow whisky lovers. I also believe that brands have a responsibility to promote moderation, balance and exercise and that brand events should facilitate that."
There’s still fun to be had, however, as Thompson notes, "Let’s not get too carried away and forget that it’s still ok to have a drink and let loose now and again. What’s next on the horizon? Carb loading pre-race cocktails? I don’t think so!”