“I find the whole industry inspiring…[and] I don’t believe there is another industry with so many passionate consumers.” – Cara Laing
Cara Laing is the Head of Brands Marketing at her family’s company, Douglas Laing & Co. She has recently joined the team from a previous role as Marketing Manager at Morrison Bowmore and has been involved in the industry since 2006.
In this Whisky Women interview, she discusses her time in the industry, the joy of growing up in a family-owned whisky business and why the 1964 Bowmore holds a very special place in her heart.
Your family has been involved in the whisky industry for decades. Did you have an interest in whisky from a very young age?
When I was little I referred to a lot of key players in the Whisky industry as ‘Uncle’ as they were often round at our house and socialising with my dad. As such, early on in my life I heard Scotch regularly being discussed and was absorbed by the excitement of it all. I loved hearing the way my dad passionately spoke (still does!) about the various whiskies he’d been sampling and selecting – it was infectious!
Throughout my school and university career I focused on business studies but whisky was always very much part of my life. That said, at that time I only really drank it as a hot toddie when I had a cold… although not many 20-year olds get to enjoy a hot toddie made with 20-year old Port Ellen – I definitely didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have!
Do you remember when you first came enjoy drinking whisky?
It was in 2006 when I started at Whyte and Mackay as Jura Brand Manager that I really started to genuinely enjoy drinking Whisky – as my dad said to me “it’s in your blood”! This was my first job in the whisky industry and he felt it was important I went in to the interview with an understanding of how to nose and taste so we spent a couple of evenings enjoying various drams and it just developed from there. I think it is so important to be able to talk with genuine enthusiasm about whisky and enjoy drinking it – it’s not something you can fake.
Tell me a bit about your career in the industry: what are some highlights?
My whisky career began on 1 March 2006 when, having harassed the Marketing Director at Whyte and Mackay to meet with me, he then offered me the job as Jura Brand Manager. I had four great years there – I loved working on the Jura brand. During that time I learned a lot from Richard Paterson and got the opportunity to develop some lovely new bottlings like the Jura Elements Collection, the Jura Paps Series and Jura Prophecy.
I then moved to Morrison Bowmore Distillers where I started as Brand Manager for Bowmore and then became Marketing Manager for both Bowmore and Glen Garioch. It was an amazing period in my career where again I learned a huge amount and worked with so many wonderful people. I got out to Islay regularly to visit the distillery while hosting customers and distributors – I never got tired of being out there, it always felt special. A Bowmore highlight would definitely be developing dozens of limited editions from the 1964 Fino bottling to Tempest releases and Feis Ile commemorative bottlings!
How do you think the industry has developed/changed since you’ve been involved?
I’ve seen two big changes since 2006. First is younger consumers actively wanting to drink and enjoy whisky which is great to see. Likewise I think female consumers are becoming more and more open to trying it. I was not witnessing this to the same extent six to seven years ago.
How exciting has it been for you to be able to come back to the family business?
It has been hugely exciting to join Douglas Laing. It’s the company my grandfather Fred Douglas Laing established 65 years ago this year and my own dad (also Fred) has been growing it since the 1970s. So when the changes in the company began to take place it was the ideal opportunity for me to take the experiences I’ve had in the industry and join the family business. I love what I do and am really enjoying learning from and working with my dad.
What are you most looking forward to about this new role?
We are pretty close to launching our new single cask range – this is the first time I have been directly involved in the creation of a fully new brand and that’s massively exciting. Launching it is definitely what I am currently most looking forward to. I have been working away on packaging and copy, and I can’t wait to see it on the shelf later this year! Developing our Big Peat blended malt is also very exciting. ‘He’ is growing as a brand globally and developing a real cult following so I look forward to developing ‘him’ further – ‘he’s’ also my dram of choice at the moment!
What do you find most inspiring about whisky?
I find the whole industry inspiring from the production process to the people and history behind it but the part that most stands out is the end consumer. I don’t believe there is another industry with so many passionate consumers. I regularly attend whisky shows around the world and am continuously amazed by the level of knowledge and enthusiasm of the whisky drinkers I meet – it’s wonderful.
What frustrates you about how whisky is perceived/spoken about?
People who will only drink whisky that is at least 18 years old! I have tried some incredible whiskies that are as young as four years old. People need to be more open-minded… it’s not all about age! Equally, however, I don’t like to see really expensive bottles with no age statement but glitzy, ‘bling’ packaging – consumers are not stupid, they know they are paying for the packaging and less so the spirit.
What achievement are you most proud of in your career?
I felt particularly proud to be tasked with developing from start to finish the Bowmore 1957 – the oldest Islay and indeed Bowmore bottling ever released. It was an amazing one to develop in terms of the story and packaging through to launching it. When the sale of bottle no.1 went through I felt very proud – particularly as all proceeds went to charity.
Do you feel more women should or could be involved in the whisky industry?
I see more and more women getting involved in whisky generally which is great to see and long overdue. I think there are lots of gaps and opportunities for women to come into the industry – it’s not nearly as male dominated as it once was.
Why would you encourage someone to try whisky?
Whisky is a wonderful journey of discovery which everyone should experience… from light, floral Lowlands to big, peaty, punchy Islays – there’s something for everyone!
What is your favourite memory of whisky drinking?
My fiancé is also in the whisky industry – we met at Morrison Bowmore. The night we got engaged, we went for dinner and then at the end of our meal enjoyed an amazing dram of a Bowmore from 1964 – it was the perfect end to a perfect day with a perfect dram and definitely my favourite whisky drinking memory!