Cask Me a Question

4th of December, 2015 | Posted in Interviews | Email Article | Print Article

After 24 years in the motor trade on the marketing side for Scott and 17 years running an event management company for his wife Sam, they both made a big decision, to relocate from Glasgow to Tomintoul and take over the Whisky Castle. A Wee DRAM caught up with Scott Ashforth to find out why and how they are enjoying running their new business.

What brought you into the whisky industry?

Basically we are Scottish so we have always loved whisky but from a marketing point of view there is no bigger brand and historical product in Scotland than malt whisky. We had both been looking to move away from the corporate life and get away from the red tape, bureaucracy and paperwork that is pressurising many industries. We wanted to try and buy an established business and this one cropped up during the process and it seemed like a great move from a business and family point of view. The magical history that surrounds whisky, the mystique in making and creating special bottling’s and the chance to make our mark with our own company was a chance not to be missed.

What is now a typical day?

I get up and start the hoovering, help set up our café, we check the shelves and make sure we have stock in the shop and also enough whisky on the shelves! Sam checks the online orders and social media. A bus can turn up at any minute so you have to be able to do things to get the chores done between selling. The main part of the day is spending lots of time with the customers as this is a small tourist attraction as you don’t just walk in and lift a bottle and pay for it, you get the chance to speak to us about whisky and find the dram that suits you.

This is a huge change from where I was before. I had staff that did most things, so to be honest, I have had to restructure my life, but I always pitched in before, so it’s been easy to adjust and I love getting my hands dirty again.

What do you enjoy most?

When someone leaves the shop and thanks you for helping them find a whisky they had never tried before. Lots of people don’t realise just how diverse the whiskies are. Some people just buy a whisky because the packaging makes it look good. Yes, the branding draws your eye to a product but we are all about talking to customers, giving enjoyable tastings and hopefully seeing customers leave happy with an excellent purchase that they’ll enjoy for many weeks. To back this up, when you read a good review on Trip Advisor it helps you get through the more difficult parts of the job. Not that selling whisky isn’t difficult, it is. Sam and I have a million and one things to learn but I’m enjoying every part of it.

How many whiskies do you have in the shop?

We have over 500 whiskies in the shop. We specialise in independently bottled malt whiskies so you can come in and choose from a huge range of whiskies straight from the distillery but our independent ones offer something a bit special. We have great partnerships with Gordon and MacPhail of Elgin, Hunter Laing of Glasgow and Morrison and MacKay of Perthshire and these guys have some amazing single cask whiskies that we buy in for our customers. We sample nearly every whisky before buying which makes us more unique than many of the purely internet based whisky suppliers as many of these guys just order it and sell it. We reject lots of whiskies so customers can be confident they are tasting the best of the best!

Do you have any advice for novice whisky drinkers?

Don’t be scared of single malt. There are so many kinds out there you’ll enjoy tasting until you find the right one for you. Sam has really developed her skills from running an event management company into an excellent communicator when it comes to novice whisky visitors to the Whisky Castle so this question is really for Sam –

Try it with one drop of water (mineral not tap water) and work it from there. You may like more water depending on the strength of whisky. We currently have 4 casks of our own bottled whisky, with the strongest being a Glenrothes at 57.8%, which may need more water depending on your palate. There are also no silly questions so find a shop or good whisky bar where they have good whisky knowledge and spend some time finding the whisky to suit you. Do you like a whisky matured in a bourbon barrel? Or maybe you like something sweeter so a sherry cask whisky may be for you.

Single malt whisky is something to savour with friends and family.

How do you think whisky could attract a more diverse audience?

I think concentrating on the strengths we have in the industry may open up the product to a bigger audience e.g. concentrate on the amazing staff that work in this industry. We kept 2 full-time staff when we took over and quickly realised just how much knowledge the locals who work with whisky actually have. Maureen and Kirstin are mother and daughter but all their family have connections in the industry. When you speak to them you feel the history and the passion and if you could harness this, and project it to new audiences, it would go a long way to dispel the myths that whisky is an old man’s drink – which is as far from reality these days as you can get!

What has been the most surprising thing that you have come across?

Sam and I have been amazed how many young people from foreign countries visit Scotland who love single malt. They really enjoy a dram and not just buying a bottle to consume quickly, they taste it, choose the one that suits them, and buy it, savouring it over a long period of time. I think the younger Scots have been tarnished by their fathers and grandfathers and some haven’t discovered the liquid gold that some of the Scottish distilleries have to offer.

As a marketeer do you think the whisky industry is doing enough to appeal to all ages (legal drinking age that is)?

I think many people are working hard to develop the amazing resource that whisky represents to Scotland. The distilleries give lots of great information to the tourists who visit their venues and it surprises me how many whisky heads tour all the different distilleries marking them off like train spotters, so they must be doing something right. This view is based on the people we have met. The tourists coming in from other countries have a great love for whisky – young and old – but I do think we see comparably less young people from this country that are as passionate and knowledgeable about whisky.

What sort of whiskies do you like?

I love trying the independently bottled whiskies and comparing them to the distillery bottling’s. Some of the distilleries produce some amazing off the shelf products so it’s great to compare them with the more specialised ones. I love a good Bowmore – I am currently enjoying a Bowmore from Old Malt Cask and as we are right on the whisky trail I am making my way through the Speyside whiskies… it’s a hard life running a whisky shop!

What is Tomintoul like to live in?

It’s a great place to stay. We lived in Ayrshire on a small farm in the middle of nowhere so it’s like staying in a city! We now have lots of things that seemed like a luxury before – 4 pubs/restaurants, a school the kids can walk to and it’s nice to nip over between tastings and collect them. There are approx 320 people in the village but we have people passing through from all over the world on the Whisky Trail so it’s actually quite cosmopolitan. There is a great community spirit and the kids have made some great friends already. Mind you it’s easier for Sam and I as there is a certain attraction to a new neighbour in an area who owns so much whisky!

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