By Mitch Bechard
Mitch has worked as a Scotch Whisky Ambassador for 15 years for some of the largest and most awarded scotch whiskies in the world such as Glenfiddich, Johnnie Walker, Lagavulin and Balvenie. He is a Keeper of the Quaich and now runs his own company; CopperCairn. Creating bespoke whisky experiences and providing consultancy within the whisky world.
“So what is it exactly that you do?” A question I was asked multiple times in my career as a Scotch Whisky Ambassador. It was routinely met with a well-rehearsed retort that had taken over a decade in the role to perfect. I had scrapped the quip about being the most expensive point of sale in the company for a more measured response. This included being the face of the brand, hosting consumer and bartender tasting sessions and living and breathing the whisky that I was representing.
You may have met a Whisky Ambassador or follow a few of them on social media. This may have given you an idea that they live a rock star like lifestyle – which is true to a point. The role varies based on the budget the respective market has at their disposal to engage this highly effective marketing and sales asset. But generally speaking; a whisky ambassador has a large expense account, the ability to be out every night (if she or he chooses) and access to liquid that the mortal whisky drinker can only dream of. Rock star?
I‘ll let you decide.
Let’s pause for a minute and examine where this concept of a whisky ambassador came from. It has been around for centuries, going back to Johnnie Walker, Andrew Usher and William Grant, who all had to go out there and promote their whisky. In 1909 Charles Gordon, from what we now know as the William Grant & Sons family, spent a year on the road visiting 11 countries in the middle east with a suitcase packed with Grants Blended Whisky. A hardcore Whisky Ambassador indeed!
As the whisky world progressed to a point where it realised someone needed to talk about its fascinating liquid, the role was imposed upon the distillery manager. They would begrudgingly give up their weekends to talk to newly enthused whisky fans who could now get face to face with their whisky heroes, asking them about fermentation times and angles of the lyne arms. I am talking about pre internet times here when whisky information was rare. One of my fondest memories of those days was working with one of these managers at a whisky festival. Someone with a genuine interest in a particular whisky asked about the yeast that was used. His reply was simple and to the point - “why would you want to know that? Just enjoy the stuff!” He then proceeded to walk off and light up one of the 20 a day he would smoke. Legend!
As the patience of the distillery manager wore off the modern-day whisky ambassador was born, and we are where we are today. They have a bit more patience than the example above and most are highly skilled at answering questions on production, all the expressions of whisky they are representing and will be able to do it all after a late night with not much sleep.
As we move into this new age of whisky drinking with the demand for this golden liquid and thirst for its knowledge at an all-time high, I believe the need for these highly skilled individuals will continue to grow.
So next time you see a whisky ambassador don’t ask them about fermentation times and who knows they may buy you a dram from their bottomless budget.