How does one switch from studying Russian at the University of Glasgow to becoming the global ambassador for Speyside single malt Scotch whiskey Balvenie?
In 2014, Gemma Paterson joined William Grant & Sons. Initially, she was responsible for hosting visitors from around the world and their distilleries in Dufftown. Gemma moved from Speyside Stateside in 2016 to travel across the US sharing whisky stories as a Balvenie Ambassador. Gemma had not planned to be in the business of whisky in any capacity. As any successful person will tell you, it's all about focus and finding something that demands all your passion. In six years she has become the global ambassador of The Balvenie, and in the process, a storyteller.
In an exclusive interview with Outlook’s Eshita Bhargava, Gemma Paterson, Global Brand Ambassador of The Balvenie, talks about her journey, Indian brands, the difference between whisky and scotch, and much more.
Excerpts from the interview:
How and when did you get interested in whiskies?
I fell in love with whisky after starting a position as a distillery guide in Dufftown, where we make our whisky, several years ago. Learning about the whisky-making process, history, storytelling, and provenance alongside getting to know members of the whisky community from all over the world made whisky become my number one passion. Today, my position is Global Ambassador for The Balvenie, and my role involves telling stories from our distillery and sharing our whiskies across the world.
What’s your approach to blending?
At The Balvenie, our Malt Master David Charles Stewart MBE has been at the helm since our whisky was very first bottled as a single malt. Next year he celebrates sixty years with the company. His experience and expertise are extensive, and he has a passion and dedication to his craft that inspires every aspect of whisky-making at our distillery. Our approach to whisky-making is embodied in the pursuit of Ultimate Craftsmanship.
Does the sourcing for the core blends vary from year to year?
The Balvenie is a single malt, which means 100% of the whisky that is bottled is made at The Balvenie. We also have our farm where we grow a portion of our barley, maltings where that barley is traditionally floor-malted, and an onsite cooperage where every single cask of Balvenie is tended and maintained by our own cooper's hands.
Do you believe your blends are more suited to the Indian and Asian palate?
Our signature expression, The Balvenie DoubleWood Twelve-Year-Old, is a combination of American Oak, ex-bourbon barrels, and Spanish Oak, ex oloroso sherry butts. Matured first in the bourbon barrel, our whisky develops a deeply honeyed and malty-sweet character. Then, in the second maturation in sherry butts added depth and complexity appear along with a rich oakiness and layers of spice which I believe to be incredibly approachable and enjoyed by many palates!
For laymen - what is the difference between single malt, Scotch, and whisky?
There are two most popular types of Scotch whisky. Single malt and blended Scotches. Single malts are made in Scotland and 100% produced from one distillery using 100% malted barley. Blends can contain whiskies produced from a multitude of distilleries across Scotland and these whiskies can be made from a combination of grain and malt.
Is it a sin to mix soft drinks with your whisky?
No, I often enjoy sparkling water with my whisky. I love to sip on a crisp and refreshing highball. At the end of the day, we want to encourage you to enjoy the whisky in your way whether that is mixed in a cocktail, with a soft drink, poured over ice, or neat. There are so many ways to enjoy your dram!
Is there a correct way to drink whisky?
There is no right or wrong way to drink whisky. However, if our Malt Master David is nosing his Balvenie in the blending lab, then he will have a nose of it neat, swirl it around his palate to understand the mouthfeel and flavours and then, add a splash of water to observe how the whisky opens up and reacts when diluted. He will then assess the finish and note the flavours that linger on the palate and how long they linger for.
How is each whisky from the brand different from another?
Every whisky is so unique from production to maturation and finally, the blending process. A large influence of flavour comes from the casks and every cask has a constitution that is as individual as a fingerprint or a snowflake. Master Blenders take these casks and layer them together to create a unique and individual flavour profile for each of their expressions. It is a hugely complex and very intriguing process! And one that takes many years to learn and master. We could spend a lifetime sipping and savoring whiskies and we could never experience them all and we will always find something new and exciting to discover!