“I really like the fact that, yes, I’m trying to promote and sell Glenfarclas but I’m also promoting single malt in general and I think most people in the industry feel like that.” – Kate Wright
Kate Wright is a sales and marketing executive at Glenfarclas distillery in Speyside and has been involved in the industry for 10 years after getting a job in it by chance. Here she talks about her love of sharing the story of single malt, getting itchy feet and why Richard Paterson is partly responsible for changing her love life.
How did you get interested in whisky?
By chance! I’d studied languages at uni and when I graduated I was looking for a job where I could use languages and get to travel. My Mum heard on the local grapevine that there was a job going at Springbank in the export sales department so I phoned them up, got the job and that was it really.
I initially intended to stay for about a year to get some work experience and then to move on (moving back to Campbeltown was not the plan at the time) but I loved the job, the product, the industry and so 10 years later I’m still working with whisky, albeit I’ve changed company since then!
What whisky first turned your head?
Springbank. Before I started working there my sole experience with whisky was Whyte and Mackay (my Dad’s drink!) or with some kind of mixer in the pub (having had a bad experience with vodka as a student, I switched to whisky as my drink of choice).
The one particular Springbank that really sticks out for me is the 1966 Local Barley – the first time I tried it was at a whisky show in Vienna. After the show had finished a group of guys from a local whisky club cracked open a bottle of it to drink in the hotel bar and, as I was in the bar too, offered me a dram of it. It was fantastic, and really nice of the guys to share it with me!
What is your favourite part of what you do?
I love the travel and the ‘ambassadorial’ side of the job; going to visit different markets, getting to know the sales team, meeting customers and consumers and talking to them about the product. Doing tastings and whisky shows is great as it lets you see first hand the reaction to your whisky. I really like the fact that, yes, I’m trying to promote and sell Glenfarclas but I’m also promoting single malt in general and I think most people in the industry feel like that – it’s not like malt drinkers will only ever drink ONE brand so there’s room for everyone which makes it a very open and friendly industry to work in, certainly in my experience.
What is the most challenging element of your role?
The itchy feet if I’m stuck in the office too long between trips!
How is it working for a small family company like Glenfarclas?
Brilliant. I’ve only ever worked for family companies though – first Springbank and now Glenfarclas – so I don’t really have much to compare it to! I like the variety that comes with working in an independent distillery and the fact that if I need an answer to something I can just ask George (Grant, 6th generation) who sits at the desk next to me or nip in to John’s (Grant, Chairman, 5th generation) office and ask him. There’s no huge hierarchy of people to go through and you feel much more involved in the company than if the Chairman/Owner was just someone that you knew by name only.
How has the whisky industry changed since you became involved?
There are definitely more young people and women working in the industry, particularly in the sales/ambassadorial side.
When I first started it was very much all the older guys (have to be careful what I’m saying here!) that had been in the industry for ever – Frank McHardy, Jim McEwan, Richard Patterson etc – and then the young ones like me just starting out. There didn’t seem to be anybody much in between.
Now there are a lot more people in their 20s and 30s doing tastings, promoting brands, and many of them are women. This is partly, I think, because women are more likely than men to speak foreign languages, which is a big advantage when you’re mainly working in export markets.
Do you feel more women should or could be involved in the whisky industry?
More women certainly could get involved in the industry, there’s nothing to stop them. As to whether they should, that’s entirely up to them! I can certainly recommend it as a career choice, to both men and women!
What is your favourite dram of the moment?
I have to say Glenfarclas really. The Glenfarclas 15-year old is my favourite and would be the one I go for most regularly. I have been known to drink whiskies from other distilleries too – purely in the name of market research of course!
What is your most cherished memory of whisky drinking?
Sitting in the bar on the 25th floor of the Park Hotel Tokyo looking over the Tokyo skyline and drinking cask strength Jura til the early hours of the morning.
A whole crowd of us were there for Whisky Live Tokyo and, as often happens, despite all being from different companies, we’d met up for a few pre-show drinks the night we arrived. It was a memorable night for two reasons –on the positive side, it’s where I first got to know Mark (my boyfriend of 5 years) but, on the negative side, it resulted in possibly the worst hangover of my whole life. Richard Paterson still takes the credit for Mark and I getting together and I still blame him for the horrendous hangover as he provided the Jura!