Georgie Bell is global brand ambassador for John Dewar & Sons Single Malts. Among her portfolio is Craigellachie (pronounced Craig-ela-key), a Scotch which won World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards (WWA) 2017 for its 31-year-old expression.
We recently spoke with Bell about Craigellachie, turning bourbon drinkers and Millennials onto Scotch, Scotch cocktails, and women in whisky.
Beverage Dynamics: How do you get bourbon drinkers to try Scotch?
Georgie Bell: A lot of people tend to drink bourbon because it’s considered slightly sweeter. Whereas many Americans think of Scotch as ‘smoky’. But there are more than 115 distilleries in Scotland and only a handful create smoky whisky. There’s a whole range of Scotch, from light, herbal, and floral, to big, robust and smoky.
I recommend trying as much as possible. Scotch is like coffee: it’s an acquired taste. Keep trying different kinds. Get together with friends with different bottles and try them all and discuss. Don’t be afraid to add some ice or water. It’s your Scotch and you can do with it as you please.
For beginners I recommend Aberfedly 12. It’s light and smooth, with a really nice salted caramel note. It’s very accessible.
For bourbon drinkers I recommend staying away from smoky. Instead I try to build their perspective of the whole range of Scotch. Including its use in cocktails.
BD: That’s becoming a real trend. What are your recommendations for Scotch cocktails?
GB: Use the Scotch appropriately. Don’t just bang it into any old drink. And remember that you can go a lot further than just whisky with vermouth and bitters.
For instance: whisky highballs. I like the Aberfeldy 12 with soda, a dash of peach bitters and a sprig of mint. That whisky is light, herbal, grassy and delicate, and needs to be treated as such. You wouldn’t want it with a big dose of vermouth.
BD: Craigellachie is not so delicate. I’ve heard its flavor described as ‘gunpowder through a pineapple’.
GB: We say it’s the next challenge for people who like Islay whisky. This is the bad boy of Speyside. It’s a big, robust, muscular whisky, thick, chewy and greasy. It’s oily in a really interesting way. The whole production process — which was considered outdated back in 1891 — is calibrated towards producing this overall flavor. That begins with barley that’s oil-fire kilned, retaining some of those oil-flavor elements.
For cocktails, the Craigellachie 13 goes well in what we call a Matchstick Sazerac. You make the drink with the Scotch and then light a match underneath the rocks glass. You really get the match elements coming through the glass.
BD: How do you get Millennials into Scotch?
GB: We’re trying to make Scotch more accessible. We hold a lot of experiential events like our Whisky And Scotch Egg events. That helps bring Scotch down a notch, getting rid of its image as old and ‘fuddy-duddy’. All our events come back to education. We want to show that that Scotch is accessible, and one of the most diverse in terms of the flavor spectrum.
BD: There seems to be a women’s movement in whisky.
GB: I think women have always been part of the whisky industry. Bessie Williamson was as instrumental as anyone at Laphroaig. Today there are three female master blenders in Scotland. At the ambassador level there are lots of us out there.
Though I’m not going to lie, it’s definitely different now than when I entered the industry seven years ago. That’s important. I think a lot of it has to do with gender roles disappearing across the world. It’s no longer that men become doctors and women must be nurses, so to speak.
There’s genderless advertising, and we also advertise specifically to women. Women realize now that whisky doesn’t have to be drunk just by men. Or maybe women are just more brazen now about drinking it. My girlfriends and I drink it with cups of tea. Or with coconut water. You don’t have to drink it neat.