Craft revolution is just fine for malts

The Balvenie’s new global ambassador reckons trend will benefit Scotch

Gemma Paterson
Gemma Paterson was named global ambassador for The Balvenie earlier this month.

FEW spirits, if any, have a stronger claim to the word ‘craft’ than single malt Scotch whisky.

Produced using only malted barley, water and yeast, and then aged in oak barrels for at least three years – and usually considerably longer – there’s more than a little craft involved in the creation of any bottle of single malt.

It’s a fact Gemma Paterson is well aware of.

Formerly brand ambassador for William Grant & Sons-owned single malt The Balvenie on the east coast of the US and now the whisky’s global brand ambassador, Gemma started her whisky career guiding Russian visitors around The Balvenie and Glenfiddich distilleries in Speyside.

It’s safe to say she fell in love with Scotch whisky, and The Balvenie in particular, straight away.

“When I started I enjoyed whisky, I liked whisky, but I really knew nothing about it,” Gemma told SLTN.

“Once I’d opened that can of worms I just couldn’t stop. I became passionate about everything.”

That passion was clearly noticed by her colleagues; and when a brand ambassador position became available in 2016 it was suggested she apply for it.

A move to New York followed, and Gemma spent the next two years hosting tastings and events up and down the east coast of the States  – and drinking The Balvenie in a wide variety of serves.

“I think if you’d speak to any of our ambassadors – and there’s a team of 11 ambassadors for Balvenie, globally – then we’d all advocate drinking it how you want,” she said.

“I’ve had some incredible cocktails with Balvenie.

“Living in the US and spending a lot of time down in Florida, where it can be well into the 30s and humid, which is not nice – I’m just desperate for a Caribbean Cask highball when I get off the plane.

“There’s so much opportunity with that. [The US] really opened my mind to it.”

The last few years have been good for premium and craft spirits – here in Scotland and overseas – and Gemma reckons single malt is well-positioned to benefit from the wider trend of people taking more of an interest in what they are drinking.

“Thinking of my peers at home, I think there is a shift happening – that more people are becoming interested in spirits in general,” she said.

“And I think Scotch is going to be swept up in that.

“Gin is blowing up absolutely huge, and I think people are becoming just a bit more thoughtful and interested in what they’re drinking. And whiskies are a part of that as well.

“There’s obviously so much that can still be done on the home front.

“Having people out there talking about it – relatable people, introducing people to whisky.”

Another step that can be taken on the home front is for more pubs to stock at least a small range of single malt whiskies, said Gemma.

A native of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Gemma said it is particularly important that pubs in tourist locations are able to offer some examples of Scotland’s national spirit.

“The possibilities are endless when it comes to curating your whisky selection but I think, even for standard bars, just having a nice concise range (is a good idea),” said Gemma.

“Some of the local pubs in Stornoway really don’t have a great selection. You’re looking at a couple of bottles. So just having a nice representation for people visiting.

“Whenever I’m home, there’s never been more people visiting the island. Tourism is booming.

“People are coming from all over the world to visit our country. So that representation behind the bar is important.”