Gemma Paterson, The Balvenie Global Brand Ambassador, was in town in New Delhi, to help decipher the iconic Balvenie whisky
By: Suman Tarafdar
Posted on: October 17, 2019
For those in love with single malts, Balvenie is a name they hold dear. And have done so for a long time. This Speyside distillery is a legend in the world of whisky - handcrafted, floor malted and with its own coppersmith and cooperage. It still grows its own barley.
A little over 125 years old, Balvenie was born in 1892, in Dufftown, Scotland. It has stayed true to what it refers to as its Five Rare Crafts - Home-Grown Barley, Malting Floor, Copper Stills, Cooperage and Malt Master. Now owned by William Grant & Sons, it lays claim to the most handcrafted of single malts.
To explain Balvenie’s numerous stories, Gemma Paterson, The Balvenie Global Brand Ambassador, was recently in Delhi. Over an evening of story telling and music, Ms. Paterson narrated a number of tales and anecdotes highlighting the brand’s values. She held guided tastings of the 12-year-old, the 14-year-old and the 17-year-old expressions of The Balvenie in different cities in India. “We have the longest serving malt master in the industry, David Stewart; and we’re committed to our people and would like to share their stories with Balvenie lovers in India,” Ms. Paterson said.
As a Balvenie Ambassador, Ms. Paterson helps communicate the brand and its values across the world. About her job, she says, “No two days are ever the same.” She is based at the distillery, where she says she spends a lot of time. “This year I have spent a lot of time at the distillery. I have spent a lot of time with the craftsmen - getting stories and working on recordings and podcasts with them, which you can access online. There have been a lot of visiting bartenders at the distillery – from China, Korea, from all over the world, and some of our collectors as well. I have also worked a little bit on some of our new products in our London office with our new marketing team.” She also works with the new members of the team to do their training. “I also support our markets where we do not have ambassadors, like India.” She says it is really exciting to come to India and help grow the brand.
Communicating the knowledge
As you might have observed, global ambassadors are a ‘thing’ now, with multiple liquor brands adapting the model to increase their visibility. “Lots of brands are seeing that it can be very lucrative for them if they hire ambassadors. People now do not react as well to traditional advertising; they like to have a human connection to the brand. It is definitely a very successful way to bring a brand to life. For me, our ambassador team, we work hard to support our trade, we work as educators and experts in our field to support the trade and bartenders, help them increase their knowledge, help them get tools they can use in their work. There are lots of touch points that ambassadors are looking at. I mean, whisky is a complex subject, and people are often very confused about what whisky is. I often get questions like ‘what is Scotch actually?’ or ‘what’s the difference between Scotch and whisky’. Its helpful to have an ambassador to help people navigate that”.
Incidentally, Ms. Paterson is the first woman on the Balvenie Global Brand Ambassador team, now 11 strong. She, however, points out that now there are other women in similar roles. “There are a lot of women behind the scenes involved in making our whiskies, so perhaps it makes sense to have some talking about the brand,” she says. Her journey was simple. “I worked at the distillery and at Glenfiddich – looking after trade and VIP visits, people were coming from around the world. I was very passionate about Balvenie and the team helped me become a brand ambassador in the US in 2015. From there I had the opportunity to move into a global position for Balvenie. I don’t think any of that is because I am female, it’s because I have studied our whiskies.”
Ms. Paterson points out that William Grant & Sons already have three ambassadors for their other labels in India - Monkey Shoulder, Grant and Glenfiddich. “One day hopefully we will for sure have an India ambassador for Balvenie too.”
What will it take to have a Balvenie ambassador in India? Well, Ms. Paterson says healthy growth is a must. “You need to have a bit of awareness and knowledge before it is beneficial to have an ambassador.” While Ms. Paterson declined to specify India’s share in Balvenie’s global sales (Balvenie is incidentally one of the top 10 selling single malts in the world), she just mentioned it was “very small”. India is, however, already among the top 20 in global Balvenie sales. US is its biggest market, followed by Taiwan and travel retail.
The Balvenie future
Incidentally, in the past, as it is small distillery, it only had a certain amount of whisky to sell. Once upon a time, a lot the production went to blends. Now Balvenie is kept for single malts, which has raised total production. “In the future, we will have more Balvenie to share,” points out Ms. Paterson. The annual production for Balvenie is 6.8 million litres, making it the sixth largest single malt brand sold globally. “Balvenie will always be smaller than other bigger brands, but it will always be there for people who want that deeper knowledge and understanding,” Ms. Paterson says.
And if you are considering having a sip of the golden Balvenie liquid, then the ambassador advises: “Block out my voice and think about all the different sensations and textures that you feel. It’s like eating a meal and really tasting everything you’re trying.”
During her trip to India, Ms. Paterson spent a lot of time with trade and with bartenders. “Every part of the world has different drinking culture, and India is one of the biggest whisky markets globally. You see people moving up from blends to the single malts.” And that’s a space Balvenie is well positioned in to be the beverage of choice.