Our interviewee this issue is Alwynne Gwilt, who was recently appointed whisky specialist at Wm Grants. She is now responsible for the companies Ancient Reserves Portfolio of whisky which includes the newly launched Ailsa Bay, The Girvan Patent Still, Kininvie and Wm Grant & Sons Rare Cask Reserves.
What brought you into the whisky industry?
I started out as a journalist, working in Canada in both print and broadcast. I came over to the UK in 2007, and after a chance whisky tasting at Milroy’s of Soho in early 2008, I fell in love with whisky and started to learn more about it on a personal level. I started my blog, Miss Whisky, in 2011 before finally moving full time into the industry in January of this year.
You now work with William Grant, what does a typical day involve?
My day can include everything from travelling to Scotland to visit our distilleries and accounts there, to visiting the prestige outlets in London or other main cities where we stock the Ancient Reserves portfolio of whiskies I represent. Some days I’ll be doing admin from home, while others I’ll be doing back to back training sessions with on-trade bar staff, off-trade shop staff, or wider consumer groups. It’s incredibly varied!
You’re obviously a whisky drinker yourself, what attracts you to certain whiskies? Do you have a favourite?
I love whiskies that really capture me at the first smell. I think our noses are underestimated when it comes to whisky, with too much focus being put on how the whisky tastes. I love sticking my nose in a glass of whisky and being hit immediately with a plethora of scents, often that bring up visual memories for me – a walk on a beach or through the forest, sitting by a fire in winter, the smell of freshly cut grass. The evocative nature of whisky never ceases to amaze me. Favourite wise, that would be impossible!
With more women in the industry than ever, what do you think next needs to be tackled in the whisky market?
I think advertising should be more focused on the general enjoyment of whisky by a wide range of people – not just the masculine explorer type! I think we are seeing that more. Additionally, the industry can do more to educate people curious to get into the category on how diverse whisky can be – it doesn’t just need to be served neat, but can be enjoyed in numerous ways. We are doing that more with whiskies such as Girvan 4 Apps, which we love to see experimented with in cocktails, for instance.
What was it like coming from Canada to the UK? Is the industry different there?
I don’t know the industry well in Canada, other than hearing from friends who work over there. I didn’t drink whisky until I moved to the UK eight and a half years ago, so the vast majority of my experiences are tied up in that.
When we spoke, you’re just back from Speyside, do you spend a lot of time in Scotland?
I will spend a proportion of my time up there at the distilleries I represent – Girvan, Ailsa Bay and Kininvie – are all there, as are our blending labs. We also have a lot of great people we work with in places like Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. I love it in Scotland, so I can’t complain and it’s a real treat every time I get to visit!
Is there a distillery that you’d really love to visit, but haven’t yet? Or have you a favourite to visit?
I would still really like to get out to Japan. I’ve managed to see some great distilleries in Ireland, Canada, South Africa and the US, but I’ve been a fan of Japanese whiskies for many years and somewhere like Chichibu is very high up on my to-visit list! I’m lucky in that one of my favourite whisky sites is the home of William Grant, where we have Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and Kininvie distilleries. The Balvenie is one of the first distilleries I ever went to, so it’s close to my heart. But overall, the site has a bit of everything, from the malting floor at The Balvenie, to the cooperage on site, the reclusive Kininvie and the lovely Glenfiddich – all of which offers something different for the whisky lover.