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Women and Whisky. Why Not?
Glenmorangie's Karen Fullerton talks about her dream job in the whisky industry
My dad likes whisky, so does my grandfather, so I would be inclined to associate the spirit with men over the age of 50. But when I arrive at the Glenmorangie stand at the Whisky Live Festival in Cape Town (just past the hoard of deafening bagpipes) I'm pleasantly surprised by my interviewee. Glenmorangie's Global Brand Ambassador Karen Fullerton is young, well-groomed and elegant which is testament to the fact that times have changed in the world of whisky.
Despite the stereotype women have always been partial to a little Scotch whisky and one in every 15 staff on the Glenmorangie workforce is a woman. Your average New York Bar is positively bursting with metro-sexual males sipping on girly Cosmopolitans. So, why not?
"Whisky stimulates all of the senses," Karen enthuses, "From when you take the cork out of the bottle to the sound it makes when it hits the glass and from the rich golden colours to taking time to appreciate that it has taken ten years to mature."
Born on the West Coast of Scotland into a family of whisky fanatics Karen moved to the North of England because of her father's engineering career. She always vowed to move back to Scotland and, whilst studying at university, was eager to learn why her father and grandfather were passionate about whisky. During advanced level Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) exams her senses were opened up to whisky and she began to understand the most complex spirit in the world.
"Whisky takes you on a journey of subtle layers and the taste experience is far superior to other spirits"
In 2002 Karen started to work for Glenmorangie and was taken under the wing of Head of Distillery and Whisky Creation Dr Bill Lumsden who introduced her to the millman, the mashman, the stiller and the warehouse man. By asking an exhaustive list of questions she began to understand why complexities are important, the differences in the height and shape of the stills, the heating levels of the barley and the maturation.
"Scotch whisky is for people who are discerning in taste and it represents a premium drink that people aspire to understand rather than throw down their throats without a second thought. In recent years a young consumer-base, often female, has emerged keen to learn about the complexities of the spirit. Anyone who has a passion for whisky can forge a career out of it so long as they are keen to learn how to smell, taste, open up their senses and be aware of what they are experiencing."
"I find myself smelling fruit at the supermarket to enhance my memory bank of aromas"
"Telling a good whisky from a bad one is all about balance and what promises on the nose will usually deliver on taste. Ideally, a whisky should be complex and no single aroma should dominate – you don't want to taste too much wood but you don't want to taste too much sweetness either. You certainly don't need to mix whisky into a cocktail as it's already extremely complex.
"The age of whisky does not determine the quality rather it determines the characteristics. Because of the height of stills at Glenmorangie we feel that after 10 years our whisky has reached perfection but different whiskies mature at different rates.
"Glenmorangie is one of only three single malt distilleries whose water source is hard and filtered through limestone. At over 16 feet tall we have the highest stills in Scotland which means that only the lightest and purest spirit rises. We have an exceptional quality of wood management as we only use the cask twice."
"Glenmorangie has many layers including caramel and vanilla. In 1985 a perfumist detected an incredible 26 aromas. It just keeps on revealing itself"
And so too does Dr Bill Lumsden who used a method of malting that dates back to 1903, heavily roasting and maturation in artisan-designed Sherry casks to create Glenmorangie's latest travel retail offering Finealta. The result is a full range of caramel, vanilla, wood spice and sherry with a hint of smoke at the end.
By Lisa Nevitt
We've spoken to a whole bunch of inspiring people who are passionate about what they do. Be sure to visit our Interviews Section.