You know, I really don’t mind January. Everyone seems to talk about the ‘January Blues’, that time post-Christmas when everyone is in the doldrums for having to go back to work. But, for me, it’s always signalled a time for regrowth, a time for change, a time for creativity…and a time for warming, smoky drams to help combat the chilly, damp, dark nights. Give me a blanket and a Bowmore in January, and I’m a happy gal.
Five years ago, I realised it was time for a major change. Feeling stuck in the world of financial journalism in a job I didn’t particularly feel inspired by had meant a severe onslaught of the ‘January Blues’. And so, rather than drowning my sorrows in whisky, I got brainstorming. If I wasn’t happy doing that, what might I like to do?
I’d worked steadily from the age of 16 as a journalist in Canada, first in local papers and radio, then at national newspapers while doing my degree in broadcast journalism. I was one of the youngest ever intern hires at the largest daily paper in the country. I had a bi-weekly column by the age of 21. I seemed set on a career path in old-fashioned, print journalism. But I couldn’t sit still. A move to the UK in 2007 saw me hop on the train of financial journalism, first as a magazine writer, then as a producer of online television. It was a heady, chaotic world – the financial crisis was hitting, but everyone was still going out for boozy lunches. I developed a taste for Scotch – not only because it was damn good, but because at the age of 23 no one expected a female to drink it. It turned heads, got conversations going. But by the age of 25 I’d had enough – not of Scotch, but of the City. I’d burnt out. I needed a break.
My passion was whisky. And so in that cold January in 2011 I decided I was going to follow that passion. “I’m going to write about whisky,” I declared to any friend who would listen. Months of brainstorming followed – first in the UK, and then on the beaches of Costa Rica where I took a wee sabbatical from life for a bit. Domain names were bought, Twitter handles invested in, an initial website designed. I met Cat Spencer – now brand manager on Monkey Shoulder in the UK, but previously working at The Albannach Bar at Trafalgar Square – and Gillian Macdonald, then master distiller at Penderyn. I told them I was going to try and highlight more of the women that work in the whisky industry, and so came about the concept of my ‘Whisky Women‘ series.
When the blog launched in November that year, the whisky writing world was a different space. There were a number of bloggers of note, but it was a much smaller pool – original stalwarts like Matt & Karen from Whisky4Everyone, Neil & Joel from CaskStrength, Sam Simmons of Dr Whisky, Allison Patel from The Whisky Woman. It was a time of excitement in the online world and I dove straight in, completely unaware how this field would grow over the coming years.
Chance meetings early on with people like Mark Thomson – now Glenfiddich brand ambassador for the UK, who told me to get in touch with Billy Abbott to try and get a press ticket for The Whisky Exchange Show, which I knew nothing about – and introductions to Marcin Miller, Japanese whisky guru and original founder of Whisky Magazine, and Andrew Forrester, then Balvenie brand ambassador, helped me on my way. As soon as I launched, I was overwhelmed by the immediate support I was given in terms of advice, information, and later, invitations to visit distilleries. People like Diageo’s Dr Nick Morgan and Glenmorangie’s Dr Bill Lumsden were always happy to talk to me, as were people around the world on Twitter and Facebook. This led to writing for magazines, with Dominic Roskrow getting me on board for Whiskeria and appearances at festivals, like the Spirit of Speyside and later, Victoria Whisky Festival. I couldn’t help but feel impressed by how friendly the whisky industry was, and continues to be today. If you asked questions, if you genuinely gave a shit, they were more than happy to assist.
It’s been one hell of a ride since I first sat in my flat just off Brick Lane that cold, dark January of 2011 and decided I had to do something different. And so, I’m excited to announce that this January also comes with a bit of change.
After over 400 articles on this site, numerous magazine pieces and 14,000 tweets, I’ve decided to take a bit of a career shift. From the 25th of January, I am due to start as the ‘Whisky Specialist’ at William Grant & Sons UK. I’ll be taking on an array of excellent, diverse brands: Girvan single grain, Kininvie Single Malt, the Rare Cask Reserves portfolio, and the company’s latest release this February, Ailsa Bay. When the opportunity came to me, it felt like something I couldn’t refuse, and I’m thrilled to be exploring this new road.
I will still, I should note, be writing about whisky and the industry, the changes it faces, and women behind the scenes, from time to time. But I have to be realistic in that it will be an after-work pursuit, rather than a workday pursuit going forward.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet hundreds of amazing people on my whisky journey so far. From hosting events, to working with brands and attending launches, the one thing that has always stood out to me is how genuine this industry is. It’s a place of friendship, a place of excitement, a place of laughs and encouragement, all mixed in with a hell of a lot of hard work from all sides. But most of all, it’s been a place of support. I couldn’t have done what I’ve done so far without so many people, from my partner (a fellow drinks industry veteran), to my family and friends, all the way through to those who have read my blog, responded to my tweets, come and said hi at festivals, helped me to get to distilleries, took time to talk to me, gave me work and made me fall in love with this industry.
As a 16 year old setting out on a course as a journalist, I couldn’t have fathomed finding this world. But I am so overwhelmingly glad that I have.