Highland Park Global Brand Advocate, mixologist, football expert oh and dog lover!
Could you tell us a little more about yourself please?
I’m from Fife and I guess growing up I wasn’t massively certain about what I wanted to do with my career. I coached football at schools and clubs, and then I started part time bar work as well. Whilst at school I had always worked bars, from there I then worked at Ricks on Frederick Street, Edinburgh, and I started taking part in cocktail competitions and become more industry aware.
I suppose it was from that I then got a job with Diageo working with the reserve brands, this allowed me to carry over my cocktail knowledge and that of the hospitality industry as a whole.
I created cocktail menus for use throughout the country and worked closely with bar tenders. It allowed me to express a creativity that I didn’t know was there.
As much as I enjoyed working within the other spirits with Diageo (namely rum and tequila) I wanted to work more within the malt whisky industry, and after speaking to Highland Park, I joined the team.
I think having a wider spirit background helps with the whisky industry as it allows me to come in with a very open mind. Not having come from a purely whisky background I didn’t come in with any preconceptions on the flavour profiles or any whisky snobbery. I’m more open minded to different concepts and playing around with flavours to get what we are looking for.
Highland Park could be classed as a whisky for the connoisseur, but I feel it’s an excellent distillery for whisky lovers who are at the beginning of their whisky journey also. The drinks industry has always fascinated me and suits my passions, I love talking to people, telling stories and hearing what they have to say.
What’s your role within Highland Park?
I’m a brand advocate, I do ambassador roles, talking to people and working with people within the industry who like to hear about the brand. I get to work with people that love to drink our products and are passionate about them, but also introduce them to people that maybe haven’t yet tried them. I also work closely with bar tenders and brand ambassadors in other countries, I get their feedback and learn about their markets and how different expression perform in different places.
I’m also involved in a lot of the behind the scenes work, so lots of brand management work, maybe brainstorming how we would like our next airport display to look, maybe the next launch details, but also developing the packaging, developing the brand, telling our stories and always thinking about the brand and how to get ourselves and our stories heard.
Is there such a thing as a “typical day” for you, and if so what does it entail?
If I’m in the office, I drive to Perth and then I spend time getting samples in, often these are to try and write my notes on. Then I will usually spend some time speaking to different ambassadors to see how they are, how their launches are going and finding out how the whisky is received in their market.
Also what they themselves may think of any new release. When Odin was released most of the brand ambassadors had only had the chance to try it the week before the launch. If I am out and about then there really is no such thing as a typical day. I can end up in Japan and go straight in to the media interviews, meet the brand team, launch events and hold tastings. The day will usually start about 9am and go right through to the karaoke bar at 3am. Very long days but very rewarding. (I did ask for you all, and apparently Daryl usually does well with an Elton John number).
What’s the favourite part of your role?
I love working with the other ambassadors, it’s really enjoyable, it’s always great to talk to people that share your passion. I love doing tasting sessions, or launch events, its great being able to have a laugh whilst presenting the whisky and seeing how people react to it. I love the learning side of things as well, working with the craftsman and the packaging.
Working within the media side and the customer side is equally good, it’s challenging and I like that, I am happy to have someone tell me what they do and they don’t and in some ways I’d almost rather somebody didn’t like something, as it’s always great to hear people’s true opinions, I know that not everybody can love everything and it’s always really interesting to hear what works for each individual and what doesn’t.
What part of your role do you enjoy the least?
Filling out expenses! Forms are just not me, any paperwork I’d rather keep away from, although I understand it needs to be done. I don’t enjoy being on my own in front of a laptop as much as I do being with people and enjoying a dram. Being away from home so much can be challenging, and the travelling can be hard work and being away from the family is difficult. NB Daryl told me that he spends a lot of money in duty free for his lovely partner, he also said she might laugh when she reads that.
Have you always loved whisky?
I had my first malt when I was about 18, it was a Highland Park 12 by chance, but at the time I was still more a rum and bourbon fan.
Can you remember your first dram?
As we already know it’s a HP 12 and there’s a pretty interesting YouTube video about it, it’s well worth a watch and can see it here.
What is your proudest whisky moment so far?
When Molly, my little girl was born we went straight to the pub and had a Highland Park 18yo it was a really special moment.
A really baptism of fire moment was when we did a tasting not long after I started with Highland Park, we had a Swedish whisky club tasting, 19 Highland Park whiskies for 200 hard core Snad members for their anniversary. Believe me these people know their stuff so it was very daunting indeed. Martin and I did a four and half hour tasting and once I had done that everything else seemed so much easier.
What is about Highland Park that makes you so passionate?
I am interested in history, I like to know about the past and I have never found so much history and heritage, as I have here at Highland Park, the culture, the history, the knowledge of this is so exciting for the brand. The distillery and the flavour profile are so different, it’s a whisky that deserves to be studied and mulled over, but ultimately it’s a whisky that deserves to be drunk, there are complexities to be found and enjoyed.
What sets Highland Park aside from the other numerous distilleries out there?
The balance of flavour, between the sweet and the smoky, and just how gentle the Orcadian smoke is. The Nordic and the Viking connection is so distinctive too. This really sets us apart from the other distilleries and it allows us to have a lot of fun, and to really get our personality over.
What is your favourite Highland Park expression?
The 21 year old. Its use of American oak casks seasons with sherry, it has sweetness and it has spice, you never have to over analyse it, I can have one or two and just relax into them and sometimes that’s exactly what you want from your whisky.
When you aren’t drinking Highland Park, what are you likely to be dramming?
I like Talisker 10, there’s a few Springbanks, and I have open in the house at the moment a Rare Old Mortlach, also a Macallan Sienna and a Ruby.
The Valhalla Collection came to its conclusion this week with the release of Odin, how many years work have gone into the entire series?
The Valhalla Collection actually started at the end of 2010, with the first release being Thor in January 2012, and it’s continued until now with the release of Odin in 2015. The development work for the idea takes the most time, deciding on the whisky that is going to be used and what best matches the character profiles and having some time deciding how to have fun with it.
Whose idea was The Valhalla Collection?
Gerry Tosh (Global Marketing Manager) and Jason (Global Brand Manager) had the idea and then play around with it, watch how it evolves and run with it.
Tell us about the new release Odin, what were Highland Park looking to achieve with this whisky?
We wanted a beast of a whisky and I think that’s just what we did get. We wanted people to love it and think wow as soon as they tried it. The whisky is very much Highland Park and out of the whole series it’s more typical of our house style. It’s sherried and fruity with lots of power and a good ABV too.
What’s your favourite from The Valhalla Collection and why?
Thor, I like the American oak and the strength which carries the power through, the whole point of the series was pulling the personality through into the whisky, so the character was there and for me that’s what Thor really does.
There has been talk by some that The Valhalla Collection, was merely a marketing tool and allowed substandard whisky to be released, what would you say to that?
That’s an interesting point, I personally think Thor is one of the best Highland Park whiskies that has been released, some are quite a departure from the “house style” and maybe this is why some people feel that, but for me what’s wrong with something different? Is it marketing? I think for me it’s more storytelling and that’s what Highland Park has always been about and what makes us different. As soon as something is slightly different from what people may expect, it can give off the misconception that it’s “sub-standard”. If nothing else at least people are passionate about the series and are talking about it.
I’m a big fan of the Dark Origins (the NAS release), what are your feelings on it?
I love it as a whisky, I like that it delivers a lot of intensity of flavour all at once. It’s not the most balanced Highland Park, but it really tells the story of Magnus, with the dark flavours in there as well some sweetness too, I think that really sums Magnus up and there are so many flavours in there.
Why did Highland Park decide to release the Dark Origin as a NAS.
I don’t get hung up on the NAS debate, if you have a bad whisky it’s not necessarily that it’s the age, it could be a poor cask, or just the wrong cask, or the wrong type of maturation. This was released as something that could bridge the gap between the 12yo and the 18yo, and there was so much flavour in it that it can easily hold its own there, it let us have a little fun and experiment with the whisky without having to worry only about the age.
So what next for Highland Park?
We’ve got some interesting pockets of stock that we are looking at, and how we want to use them. There is some play in the floor maltings, we have so many ideas, and we always want a story to be involved somewhere along the line, we want to carry it on in one way or another.
Tell us something that people would be surprised to know about you?
I had my first birthday in hospital with a broken leg, I fell down the stairs two days before my birthday so spent it in traction.
You travel the world, holding events, tastings etc, any funny moments to share with us?
I was in Liberec in the Czech Republic, as Highland Park were sponsoring and opening the Czech Highland Games. We then had a whisky tasting and some more drinks, and long story short I work up next to a black Labrador in the morning, I don’t know if I found it on my travels or if it belonged to the hotel but I was very happy to leave it there. I didn’t even buy it breakfast!
Thanks Daryl (@DarylHaldane), that is definitely the funniest answer I’ve had to that question, it was a great interview, thanks so much for your time!
Kirsty Clarke (@kirstyclarke29)