“It’s challenging, every day brings something new, and when you are working with something you are passionate about, it barely passes as work.” – Viktorija Macdonald
Viktorija Macdonald is involved in numerous aspects of the whisky industry, from tastings to events, and whisky export to Eastern Europe.
In this Whisky Women interview, she talks about why whisky won her over, the challenges she faces against stigma in the industry and why she’d recommend someone getting involved in it.
How did you first get interested in whisky?
My journey started with Little Mill whisky, which I received from my Scottish boss’s husband who did not actually like it. From there, I ended up attending whisky tastings in Lithuania and sourcing sponsorship for the Lithuanian Robert Burns Supper. Consequently, I visited Glengoyne distillery, which led to the start of my export business.
Tell me about your business: what do you do in the whisky world?
I’m a whisky exporter and I am involved in whisky events like the Lithuanian Whisky Festival where I am an official partner. I also do whisky tastings and training through the Whisky Ambassador programme and through tailored whisky trainings with bars, hotels, corporate customers. In the past, I worked in Oran Mor whisky bar, where I developed the whisky menu for 318 malts and am the co-founder of the Oran Mor whisky club. Finally, I currently work at the Good Spirits Co selling whisky.
What is the most interesting thing about your job?
For me, it is about the opportunity to open the world of whisky to people who are unaware of it and the chance to ignite passion.
Why whisky? What makes it fascinating to you?
I love the complexity and the diversity of whisky expressions, the craft and tradition and patience that goes into making it. It’s all absolutely fascinating!
What’s the biggest challenge in your role?
Definitely breaking down misconceptions around what good whisky really is compared to what people may have tried in the past.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Opening and developing new markets for four different whisky companies in Eastern Europe: Ian Macleod Distillers in Lithuania; Tomatin Distillery in Estonia (with Talisman brand in Lithuania); Ben Nevis Distillery in the Baltics and Hungary; and, Wemyss Malts in the Baltics and Ukraine.
Tell me about the whisky club you founded: how did that come about?
It came from the passion for whisky! In May 2013, after quite a few nights sharing a dram with friends at Oran Mor and discussing whiskies, we decided that it was time to formalise our informal gatherings into something more tangible. We wanted to deepen our knowledge via regular tastings for club members and guests to the club.
Do you think more women should or could work in whisky?
Yes! However, what we are finding, both with men and women in the whisky industry, is that they are younger than the whiskies they are representing. The message that we receive from whisky enthusiasts and customers is that they do not want to be lectured by children, and they do not buy in to their credibility.
Interestingly, on the flip-side, I have been told that at 41 years old, even irrespective of my knowledge, past track record and abilities, that I am too old. Apparently, you have to be a 23-year old with a good wiggle to sell whisky, and this has to change. Many distilleries, I believe, are employing women for a wrong reason, not because of their knowledge of whisky.
I am not saying that young people cannot play an important part, of course they can. However to have opened up new markets for distilleries mentioned above with no support from the industry – financial, marketing, HR, etc. and then be told that my experience is irrelevant because I am not in my 20s, is farcical.
Why would you recommend someone get involved in the whisky industry?
It’s challenging, every day brings something new, and when you are working with something you are passionate about, it barely passes as work.