International Brand Ambassador
Ann Miller has over 20 years of experience working within the whisky industry and is the International Brand Ambassador with Chivas Brothers (the whisky and premium gin business of Pernod), a position Ann has held since 1993. Previously Ann was also the PR & Marketing Manager for what is now the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.
As if that isn’t enough, Ann is also a director of the Spirit of Speyside Festival and was named the whisky festival’s Ambassador of the Year 2009, recognised for her hard work and commitment to the Festival since the very beginning.
As an International Brand Ambassador for Chivas Brothers, Ann Miller communicates with passion the unique story of Chivas Brothers and its Scotch whiskies to audiences from around the world.
With over 20 years’ experience in the Scotch whisky industry Ann undertakes programmes of training and tutored tastings in three languages both overseas and in Scotland.
Hi Ann, thank you for so much for finding the time to grant me this interview, especially as you must be so busy at the moment!
What sparked your interest in whisky?
I enjoyed the taste of the first drams I tried. Then came the discovery of how it is made and matured and the fascinating heritage behind so many iconic names.
Do you remember your first dram?
Apparently my father rubbed whisky on my gums when I was teething and was astonished when I began to dance! I have never looked back. Later I enjoyed occasional illicit sips of the range of whiskies my father drank when he wasn’t looking. I do recall always enjoying it!
My first “grown up dram” at university was certainly a Speyside and I loved the rich, fruity flavours – it was more than likely The Glenlivet. I do remember trying Chivas Regal when I worked as student in a posh hotel in the south of France which had a well-stocked bar.
Was it always your intention or desire to work in the whisky industry? How did you make the jump into the industry, especially during a time where very few women were involved?
Working in the whisky industry wasn’t part of a grand plan. I took a ten year career break from my previous role to look after my 3 children and towards the end of it I qualified as a Scottish Tourist Guide so I could have the flexibility of a self-employed job and use my languages. I found myself increasingly in demand from French and Spanish speaking visitors to provide whisky themed tours of Scotland. This led indirectly to working at the SWHC now the SWE and that eventually led to being head-hunted to work for Chivas Brothers in Speyside.
You’ve been working in the whisky industry for a number of years now, do you think the industry has changed much?
Over the years there have been mergers and acquisitions but the commitment to making the best possible whisky endures throughout the entire world of Scotch whisky. In recent years we have seen increased production to meet growing demand for the amber nectar. It is good that the whisky companies have responded to interest from whisky drinkers by expanding ranges, adding new expressions, bottling single malts which were previously unavailable and even building new distilleries!
How do you see the role of woman in whisky and do you think that this has changed much over the years?
In recent years there has been much greater acceptance and encouragement of women as consumers of whisky in their own right. To be one of very few women working as a brand ambassador for major whisky brands is an enormous privilege and I am delighted to be find more members of the fair sex are appearing at more events around the world.
How do you think the industry will continue to develop over the coming years?
I expect there will be more diversity and more creativity in the whiskies on offer, the way people learn about it and the way they enjoy it. The increasing number of expressions of malt whiskies and blended whiskies now available is good news for consumers everywhere.
What challenges do you think the industry will face over the next ten years?
It may be difficult to match supply with increasing demand from many countries where whisky is being enjoyed more widely than it used to be. However I hope that investment in increased capacity will mean that within 10 years more people can discover and enjoy Scotch whisky.
Whisky is undoubtedly enjoying a boom at the moment, with new distilleries being built or already under construction, do you think this will continue or is a “bust” inevitable?
I hope that the current investment will create jobs and opportunities for more people in Speyside and throughout Scotland. The increased supply which will result should provide more whisky for us all to enjoy!
You now tour the globe as part of your role for Chivas Brothers; do you find it hard to fit a personal life around this?
I enjoy the variety my role offers. One day I might welcome guests to Speyside but the next day I could set off anywhere in the world to share my passion for Scotch whisky. I enjoy crossing paths with old friends and making new ones wherever I go.
Fortunately my husband who is a farmer in Speyside is less of a wanderer and he enjoys the opportunity to spend time on his own interests while I am away. He is a good cook so I don’t need to worry about filling the freezer every time I set off! However it is always good to come home to Speyside at the end of a trip and to catch up again.
What aspects of your role do you enjoy the most?
I particularly enjoy delivering tutored tastings and helping people to discover the rich and rewarding flavours of Scotch whiskies and to understand some of the mystery about why they taste as they do.
Meeting a diverse range of people who share an enthusiasm and passion for Scotch whisky is always interesting and stimulating. Many visit Speyside and Scotland and I enjoy showing them every stage of the whisky making process. When travelling I enjoy the sense of discovery – new or different places, new people and news ways to enjoy whisky.
I was very impressed to learn that you give whisky presentations in three different languages, were you already multi lingual or is this something you have needed to learn as part of your role, as the company expands?
I studied French & Spanish literature at university and I have always enjoyed speaking both languages. Talking about whisky in both of them was just a natural next step.
What achievement(s) are you most proud of throughout your career?
Recognition by one’s peers always counts for a lot so being made Ambassador of the Year for the SSWF was a great moment and so was being inducted as a Keeper of the Quaich.
Have you had any “disasters” during your career?
Appearing live on TV in Panamá, to be interviewed in Spanish, whilst I had a tummy bug was not one of life’s easier moments – but I have learnt generally things work out better than one fears. The interview passed without mishap which was a great relief.
Over 15 years ago I was asked the dates of the Scotch Whisky Festival, I realised it didn’t exist. I felt it was time to make it happen and luckily a few other people shared my vision. Since then whisky companies, tourism businesses and many other enthusiasts have worked together to develop it into a celebration of whisky, music, and food and fun which now covers the whole of Speyside and lasts over five days.
What does your role as Director comprise?
The Festival operates through a Board of Directors selected to provide expertise in key areas of the whisky industry, culture and heritage, tourism, and hospitality. With an independent Chairman, the Directors work on a purely voluntary basis to drive the Festival forward – they oversee the Festival’s strategy and policy interspersed with contribute when required to day to day management as well. The Directors are responsible for making sure everything happens to the best possible standard and the people who come from all over the world to enjoy the Festival go home with a positive story to share over a dram.
Now in its fifteenth year, the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is financed via public sector funding and private partnerships, which assist with the operating and marketing costs. This enables the Festival to support event providers and local businesses, all of whom benefit from the increase in visitors. In addition to financial support from the public and private sector, the Festival is grateful for a wide range of in kind support from a number of local businesses and organisations.
How has the Festival changed over the years?
It has grown bigger but also better. More event providers have added an increased and varied number of events every year. The professionalism of the events is important but in addition the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival offers the opportunity to meet the people who actually put the passion into the world’s finest whiskies.
The Spirit of Speyside has continued to grow and grow, what’s new for this year?
- The Spirit of Speyside Sessions – an entire musical festival within the Festival which is financially supported by Event Scotland and Homecoming as part of Whisky Month. Many top musicians will perform throughout Speyside.
- Last year we introduced the Roving Whisky Awards and this year they will take place in at least ten venues with a final Closing Ceilidh where the Awards will be presented at Glen Grant on Sunday evening.
- There will be an entire day of events run by women, but not just for women, but for everyone, a Liquid Treasure Hunt and a number of other quirky events
- More food events – one new one at Aberlour, which replaces the previous formal dinners, will offer informal pre-concert food which will be matched to the range of Aberlour single malts
- More Manager’s Tours – at TGL etc
- More distilleries which are not open to visitors will open their doors – Roseisle, Glenburgie, Tormore, Glen Keith, Tamdhu, BenRiach
I recommend looking at the website for details of these events and more– www.spiritofspeyside.com
There is such a diverse choice of venues, how do the committee choose the venues and events?
The Directors plan the Opening Dinner in conjunction with a different distillery each year and without their generosity this event would not be possible. They also run the Whisky Mountain events at Ben Rinnes and the Whisky Awards – they endeavour to spread these throughout Speyside.
All the other events are organised and run by their event providers who could be large whisky companies with a range of events at multiple venues or small organisations or groups organising just one or two events each.
There is a full day of events ran by women this year (Johanne McInnis, Alwynne Gwilt, Annabel Meikle and Angela D’Orazio), how important was this to you and the Festival itself?
This programme for this day at the Aberlour Hotel should be fascinating. Each of the women participating is an authority of whisky in her own right and although the events are hosted by women, they are not just for women, but for everyone.
What are your top five Festival highlights?
Limiting me to only five isn’t easy but here are five events which I look forward to attending this year
- The Festival’s Opening Dinner – this is always a great opportunity to greet old friends and to welcome newcomers to Speyside
- Tasting with Charlie MacLean at The Glenlivet on Saturday afternoon – it will be fantastic to welcome my old friend Charlie back to The Glenlivet, to enjoy a tasting of some fantastic drams with him and to hear his reminiscences about his personal whisky journey from Speyside, where he spent some holidays as a teenager, to being one of the world’s best known whisky writers.
- Aberlour Double Maturation Deconstructed on Saturday late afternoon – I will enjoy hosting this tasting of some superb samples of this very special single malt
- Cask Strength Dinner at Strathisla on Friday evening which will match an amazing selection of malt whiskies to delicious dishes prepared by an expert chef to bring out the best of each pairing
- Concert by Charlie MacKerron and Friends in Aberlour on Saturday evening – Charlie is an exceptional fiddler who plays with the band Capercallie. The musicians playing with him are also very gifted. I look forward to a great evening in good company.
For people that might not have heard of the Festival, why should they go? (There are sooooo many reasons)
Whisky, music food and fun – there is something for everyone. This year there are over 300 events to choose so that means there are events to suit all tastes and levels of interest. At the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival you can meet the people who actually put the passion into the world’s finest whiskies.
I love the fact that there really is something for everyone, the Festival is so much more than just whisky (just?!), with plenty of events for those interested in photography and the arts, the great outdoors and music. Why is the Festival so diverse, is it a desire to showcase the great and the good of the region as a whole or a passion to put new talent on the map?
The diversity is a reflection of the region. Over half Scotland’s distilleries are concentrated in Speyside but it offers plenty more to do too.
- The photography awards sponsored by Benromach will be on display during the Festival and the images will take pride of place at the Festival Hub in the Square at Dufftown for the duration of the Festival from May 1 – 5.
- From Grain to Glass Exhibition [courtesy of the Scotch Whisky Association] will be exhibited during the Festival in ST Giles’s Church, Elgin from 17th April to 5th May.
- One of many walks is to the summit of Whisky Mountain [Ben Rinnes] which will be led this year by Annabel Meikle as Dave Broom is unable to join us. There are many outdoor activities on offer and they include Smugglers’ Walks, trips off the beaten track by Argo cat or Land Rover, canoeing on the Spey and more.
- This year there will be a festival within the Festival with the Spirit of Speyside Sessions. Thanks to generous funding from Event Scotland we will hold a series of musical events across Speyside with a range of musicians who between them will provide performances for all tastes.
With much to do other than enjoy the whisky events, the photography competition is particularly interesting, can you tell us a little more about it?
Benromach Distillery sponsors a Photography Competition and photographers from around the world have focussed on Speyside and its magical malts in an effort to capture an iconic image which truly sums up the spirit of Scotland’s best-loved whisky region. The 17 shortlisted entries will go on tour across Moray and beyond from next week before the overall winners are announced during a ceremony in Benromach Distillery in mid-April.
There will be a Festival Moments Competition again this year so I suggest people come armed with their cameras as they never know if they will stumble across the shot that will make it in to the 2015 final.
The Sessions of Music, Music Festival also promises to be full and exciting, showcasing plenty of local talent, why was it decided to run this event as well?
The Spirit of Speyside Sessions – a new world-class music event celebrating the area’s rich traditional music heritage is a specific programme funded by Event Scotland as part of Homecoming 2014.
The Sessions – which will run in tandem with the Festival from May 1-5 – will be staged at whisky-themed venues across the region, including distilleries, bars and even a vintage train. Launched as part of the Festival’s programme for the Year of Homecoming Scotland, it boasts an impressive line-up of first rate traditional music acts, comedians and ceilidhs. More details are on the website www.spiritofspeyside.com
There seems to be a real desire through the Festival to ensure that the region and local companies benefit as a whole, how important is this to you and how do you achieve this?
The Festival makes a significant economic contribution to the Speyside region and this is very important to the Directors. As the reach of the Festival is extended, the direct and indirect benefits spread to more businesses and communities. The 2013 Festival, a 5 day event, was calculated to have had an economic impact of £1.65M, with a return on investment of £37 for every £1 invested. It is estimated that attendance at events was 32,500.
If you had could share any dram with any person, who would you like to share it with and what would it be?
I would like to meet George Smith and talk to him about his amazing life, as he progressed from farmer in Glen Livet to illicit distiller and smuggler to becoming the licensee of the first distillery in the glen in 1824. The distillery he established went on to be one of the most iconic single malts in the world.
The dram I would share with him is the special bottling of The Glenlivet for the Festival – Auchbreck, a single cask aged 15 years and bottled at cask strength. It will be possible to taste this delicious dram during Festival events at The Glenlivet where it will be on sale from 1st May.
Thanks so much for this interview Ann, we are really looking forward to attending the Festival and hopefully catching up with you for a dram or two.
Kirsty Clarke (@kirstyclarke29)