I am thrilled to introduce a brand new series on the blog for 2017 (yes, one more… I know what you think!), where I’ll be highlighting different “Women Who Whisky” and their views on the industry. What best way to kick off this series than catching-up with Julie Trevisan Hunter, Marketing Manager at the world-famous Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh and named Master of The Quaich this past year, the youngest woman to receive such an accolade!
Hi Julie! First of all, could you please tell me a bit more about yourself: where do you come from, career background etc. And how did you end up working as a Marketing manager for the Scotch Whisky Experience?
My academic background was in languages and having worked as a tour guide overseas I moved back to Edinburgh straight into tourism and languages as a guide here at the Scotch Whisky Experience. Having worked through just about every department I settled into the marketing role which has grown and grown alongside the success of the business.
What is your personal relationship with whisky: first sipped? Any favourite(s)? Any particular whisky-related anecdote that helped shape your tastes? Whisky figures that inspire you?
I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by colleagues from all of the distillers companies throughout my career and there are a numbers of things that strike me a quite unique to Scotch as a brand. Firstly there is a great deal of respect for the whole category and indeed competing brands. There is a strong sense of camaraderie and friendly rivalry, indeed, the whisky industry may be home to some of the best examples of Scottish “banter” that I have ever seen!
Rather than one figure it is the “spirit” of the people in the industry that has made the greatest impression on me. I have heard so many stories about whisky and at the end of the day that, for me is what every whisky is. Tell someone the story and the better you tell it the more they will love and remember the whisky.
You must have heard this a lot but, how does it feel to be the youngest woman named Master of The Quaich? What does that mean for you? Has it always been part of your life goals or it is completely unexpected?
These kind of accolades are a wonderful recognition of what you try to achieve every day when you come to work, but by the same token I am always keenly aware that the world spins ever faster and you have to keep growing, learning, creating, shaping and connecting. You certainly can’t define yourself by what you have achieved in the past, but it certainly provides a great opportunity to reflect and appreciate all that has gone before.
Let’s talk women in whisky: have you witnessed any noticeable change in the industry those past few years in terms of gender? Do you feel women are now as important as men or is there still a long way to go before “women knowing their dram” becomes commonplace? Did you face any obstacle due to your gender in your career or personal life as a whisky lover?
I have never faced any obstacles from a career point of view, certainly professionally you come up against people who still think that whisky is a man’s drink but if your assumption is that being a woman is not any kind of issue then you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. People find it hard not to engage with confidence and enthusiasm irrespective of their initial presumptions. Then of course once barriers and broken down people are even more enamoured with the product.
The Scotch Whisky Experience has always been at the forefront of innovation in terms of visitor experience. As a former tourism student, I’ve always seen the attraction as a real case study of successful marketing within the whisky tourism industry: how do you manage to constantly stay up to date and adapt to current trends? Any achievement or project you’re particularly proud of?
Tourism trends, behaviours and expectations change at fast pace. There is a simple key to keeping up even staying ahead sometimes – listen, reflect and act. You have to listen to everyone, your team, your visitors, people who didn’t visit you, the whisky industry, the tourism industry, the digital world. Then you have to reflect on the meaning and intention behind what they say because often interpreting what really sits behind a comment or view takes insight to determine. Finally you have to act and sometimes you have to act quickly, pilot things, dip your toe in the water, start shouting and wait to see if anyone listens or not. And then you start listening again to see if you got it right and what you need to adapt and what your next action should be. So it never stands still.
Last time I visited the attraction, we were given a sort of masterclass about the 5 different whisky regions and their specific flavour profile with a small scented wheel to smell by ourselves and then decide which dram we’d like to have. Don’t you think this all “5 regions – 5 different profiles” approach is still up to date in those times of innovation and craft golden age? I completely get the point for whisky beginners but what about whisky enthusiats that for instance know that Islay isn’t all about peaty whiskies or Lowlands about floral malts? How do you adapt to those different customer profiles: beginners, enthusiasts, connoisseurs?
We now offer quite a range of experiences from the Silver Tour for first timer and families, The Gold Tour to get a real taste of regional whiskies, The Platinum Tour for a bit of luxury and for whisky collection enthusiasts and finally the Morning Masterclass for the whisky enthusiast. These are all available every single day and were all developed using our innovation strategy mentioned above. In addition we have special events like our annual December Distillers’ Fair and in the spring we host Meet The Blenders as part of the International Spirits Challenge.
How do you see the future for The Scotch Whisky Experience? Any project in the pipeline? A crazy dream you’d like to achieve?
We are just on the cusp of launching two fabulous new tour rooms! Following on from our barrel rise and maturating exhibition the new stunning Sense of Scotland room boasts panoramic projections of the landscapes which are home to our distilleries transporting the visitor like never before into the evocative homes of our fine single malts. Visitors will then enjoy our newly created 1870 Blender’s Sample Room where the art of blending comes to life in a surprising and unusual way that we are sure they will never have seen before. The tour of course concludes in the much loved and treasured Whisky Collection. We will also have three new languages Cantonese, Korean and Brazilian Portuguese taking us to 18 audio guide translations.
Next for us in spring 2017 is to add both British and American Sign Language to our new smart audio guides which are screen based – a fabulous new addition to support our accessibility