“We are a tiny country that may not be the best at sport but my goodness, we can certainly make whisky. It is humbling to work for a product that creates so much passion from people.” – Hannah Fisher
Hannah Fisher is the senior brand manager for Islay Malts with Beam Suntory.
In this Whisky Women interview, she explains how she got into whisky, what her top three desert island drams would be and why travelling the world can be harder than it looks!
How did you get into whisky?
My parents are both whisky enthusiasts and hold a strong view that my sister and I should experience everything Scotland has to offer before we venture abroad. This meant every opportunity they got they would take us on holiday to the Scottish Isles. At the time I moaned because I was the only kid going back to school without a tan while everyone else had flown off to sunny beach destinations. Islay was my Dad’s favourite so we went every year, with him running off the ferry each time to go round Bowmore Distillery. Funnily enough I wasn’t complaining when I was interviewing with Morrison Bowmore Distillers where I explained that I had been on their tour every year for more than 10 years! I am sure they thought I was lying to impress!
What was one of the first whiskies you fell in love with?
A tough question. I have a very special place for Springbank because it is one of my Dad’s favourites and the first single malt I ever tried. But (and please don’t think I am being biased) the love of my whisky life is Auchentoshan Three Wood. Probably an emotional choice as its re-launch was my first role in the industry but it never fails to impress. I love doing tastings with people, especially the non-believers who come up to you and are adamant they’re not whisky drinkers and never will be. One sip of Three Wood and they get it.
What do you love most about your role?
Being part of one of Scotland’s greatest products. We are a tiny country that may not be the best at sport but my goodness, we can certainly make whisky. It is humbling to work for a product that creates so much passion from people. The decisions everyone in our industry make every day make a difference to our fans’ experiences around the world, from new product releases through to the design of a duty free display. In our industry, people don’t just purchase whisky, it’s a hobby for them and they love the fact that learning about whisky is a never ending journey.
What is one of the biggest challenges when working as a brand manager?
Trying to keep my weight under control! I am lucky enough to travel all round the world telling people all about our whiskies however it does mean much of my time is spent in airports, hotels and events which doesn’t lend itself to healthy eating. As my second love is food, I like to take the opportunity to sample the local delicacies wherever I go and often they don’t come with a calorie counter. I believe my hands are tied as I couldn’t possibly know what is the healthy or non-waist line friendly option, could I?
There is a lot of debate about NAS whiskies and Bowmore has released a number of these – what do you say to people who believe whisky should always have an age statement?
It’s a common question as people use age as a benchmark of credibility, especially those buying whisky as a gift. However, the type and quality of the casks that whisky is matured in has the same, if not more of an impact on the final taste versus the length of time it’s aged for. As more and more distilleries are releasing some beautiful whiskies that carry no age statement, people’s reliance on age as a cue will lessen.
What achievement are you most proud of in your career?
The development of “Auchentoshan Switch” mixology competition. We wanted to raise the awareness of Auchentoshan Three Wood to the world’s best bartenders but we didn’t have the big budgets that other spirits may be able to offer. As such, after speaking to some of the bartenders I realised that they were less motivated by monetary prizes but more about career development and networking. As such, we created a competition where the winner of the USA finals would “switch” with the UK winner and each would spend two weeks working in that country’s best bar, under a world renowned mentor. Now in its third year, we have rolled this out to many countries in Europe and North America and are attracting some of the most elite bartending talent in the world.
Do you think more women should or could work in whisky?
Many of my colleagues in the industry are women and I have been lucky enough to work alongside some of the best over the last six years, including Rachel Barrie, Vicky Stevens and Cara Laing. However, I don’t think it’s about gender – you need to have a genuine passion for single malt and unfortunately it is very obvious when someone doesn’t.
Why would you encourage someone to work in the world of whisky?
When you join the whisky world, you become part of something special. As cheesy as that sounds (and I do apologise for that), our industry is a close and friendly community. There is no bad blood or hard-nosed attitude from one distillery to another, instead we all socialise together and you can often find people from different distilling companies all sitting round sharing a dram. Another piece of encouragement: it never harms anyone to join an industry that enjoys year on year growth.
Desert Island Drams: you can take three to your island – what are they?
Rosebank 12 year old, Glenfarclas 15 year old and last but certainly not least, Bowmore 15 year old “Darkest” (with a piece of chocolate!).
What’s one of your favourite memories involving whisky?
Being part of the team working on Laphroaig “Opinions Welcome” campaign. It is, without doubt, the most creative and exciting campaign I have ever had the pleasure to be part of. I am allowed to boast about it without appearing vain as I wasn’t involved at the start, it was my colleague’s brainchild.