“I think more women are getting involved in it; the perception is changing, but slowly. I still class it very much as a men’s club. But women need to put their foot down.” – Colleen Calderwood
Colleen Calderwood is the Bar Manager at The Torridon, a luxury hotel on Loch Torridon in western Scotland. The bar has more than 350 whiskies on its shelves, many of which Colleen has been responsible for choosing over the past six years. Here she talks about her growing love of whisky, her favourite drams and the most awkward moment behind the bar.
How did you get into whisky?
When I was little, I had whisky on the gums to stop teething. But I didn’t know much about it until I came here six years ago. Dan, the owner, took me under his wing.
What is your favourite whisky?
The Balvenie was my first love – the 21 year old PortWood. And, I don’t know if my palate is changing, but now it’s Ardbeg too, especially the Corryvreckan. The flavour, it just hits you all over your tongue. It just stands out for me.
What do you look out for when choosing whisky for the bar?
I like to go for limited edition bottlings, the ones I know are going to sell out. I joined the Ardbeg Committee because Ardbeg is one of my favourites. And I just brought back a new Glenmorangie from duty free. Every time a new one arrives, I’m like a child on Christmas day. The Thor arrived when I was off work and I had to come in just open it.
What is one of your main goals at the bar?
I have a mission to convert women to whisky. I always get the ones who tried [bad whisky] at university and refuse to again. So, I try to reeducate them and teach them that it’s not nasty.
I have a regular who comes in seven or eight times a year. I didn’t drink whisky until three and a half years ago when we were doing a whisky tasting. I got him straight into Laphroaig. Converting is a big thing for me.
And, I do private tastings weekly to keep my palate up and make the staff do the same – there’s no point in them knowing what it tastes like from a book; they have to try it so they know.
I think more women are getting involved in it; the perception is changing, but slowly. I still class it very much as a men’s club. But women need to put their foot down. My father always laughs at me because we’ll be in Tesco, and I’ll say, “Ooo I don’t like that bottle.” To which he’ll reply: “But what do you know?” It’s jokingly but still there. It would be lovely to see more women involved in it.
Do you ever find yourself spoken down to as a female whisky bar manager?
I’ve had a few experiences. We had some Russian guests that didn’t appreciate having a woman behind the bar. One asked for the man of the house to discuss whisky with. But I was matching whisky with food for their dinner. I did get it right so he ended up thanking me.
What are you most proud of in your whisky career so far?
I got the first whisky gold for the bar from Whisky Magazine in 2011. We always had a silver and the first year I entered I got the gold. And I also made the whisky tasting notes book for all of the whiskies – blood, sweat and tears went into that!