Samuel Simmons is the Brand Ambassador for The Balvenie – one of the few family-owned Scottish whiskey distilleries. As Brand Ambasssador, it is Samuel’s job to travel the world and extolled the virtues of Scotch. Not a bad job.
Samuael was kind of enough to do a Q&A session with Pursuitist.com and tell us about whiskey and his life as a brand ambassador.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your role at The Balvenie.
I was born in Canada and moved to Scotland in 2002. It took very little time for me to fall ill with the whisky bug. Before I came to work with The Balvenie, I ran tastings in Scotland as President of the Edinburgh University Water of Life Society, and privately for friends, family and charity events in Norway, Canada, Scotland and England, as an employee of The Whisky Exchange, and as an Ambassador for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in the UK. I started my blog DR. WHISKY, which went on to win awards and attract over 700,000 visitors to date. I also sat on the whisky selection panel of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and as a judge in the World Whisky Awards and the International Wine and Spirits Competition.
The job title “Brand Ambassador” is one that covers a variety of different roles that will vary from company to company, situation to situation, person to person. As The Balvenie Ambassador, my role is to bridge communication between The Balvenie and whisky drinkers, bars, restaurant, retailers, distributors, and press, as well as between local sales teams across the USA and our marketing team in NYC. Every day is different and every day is a frickin’ joy.
Q: Talk about the different types of Scotch whisky – and how Scotch whiskey differs from other whiskeys from around the world.
All whisky is essentially distilled beer matured in oak barrels. If you do this in America and with at least 51% corn it is bourbon, if you do it in Ireland it is Irish Whisky, if you do it in pot stills in Japan it is Single Malt Japanese whisky… etc.
As far as Scotch goes:
- SINGLE MALT SCOTCH whisky is distilled in pot stills in Scotland and made of only a SINGLE grain (barley) at a SINGLE distillery (Glenfiddich, Balvenie, etc.)
- SINGLE GRAIN SCOTCH whisky is distilled in column still out of more than one grain, ie. barley and wheat, corn, etc, at a SINGLE distillery (Girvan, North British, etc.)
- BLENDED MALT SCOTCH WHISKY is a whisky made of more than one SINGLE MALT chosen by a master blender and BLENDED together
- BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY is a whisky made up of a BLEND of SINGLE MALTS and GRAIN WHISKY usually in a ratio of 35% malt whiskies to 65% grain whiskies.
ALL OF THE ABOVE must be matured for at least THREE (3) years in oak casks to be called Scotch Whisky, but is often much older, as indicated by the age statement on the label.
Q: Tell us about The Balvenie brand – what makes it special and unique?
All distilleries are unique, but The Balvenie is one of only a few handfuls of distilleries in Scotland that are still Scottish owned, and is the only distillery to hold onto what we call the FIVE RARE CRAFTS of whisky making: we grow our own barley, malt our own barley on traditional malting floors, we have our own cooperage, a dedicated coppersmith, and the longest serving Malt Masters in the industry in David Stewart. These facts along with the rich, complex, honeyed taste of The Balvenie make it the malt enthusiast’s favorite.
Q: Are there any trends in the spirits industry – even beyond the Scotch Whisky industry – that we’ll be seeing in the next few years?
I think that in the world of whisk(e)y we will be seeing more new spirit, ie unaged whiskies come to market. People are interested in trying them and producers see them as good cash injections without having to wait for a return on investment during lengthy maturation. Do I like it? No. Much of the magic, mystery, and flavour in whisky comes from the years spent in oak casks. Take that away and, while interesting, you’re just drinking grain vodka.
I also think that we will see more premium American whiskies as the whisk(e)y appetite increases among drinkers and the American distillers see opportunities as Scottish distillers continue to sell premium whiskies for $100 to $10,000 USD
Q: What’s it like to visit The Balvenie distillery in Scotland?
The Balvenie has been taking visitors for only a few years. I remember back before I worked in the industry I was in Speyside and stopped at nearby Glenfiddich distillery to ask, scheme, and beg the head guide to show us Balvenie. No luck. Today we take 12-16 visitors maximum per day.
I highly encourage anyone in the Speyside area to come visit our distillery.
As I said above, nowhere else will you find a distillery that still grows its own barley, still malts in its own traditional floor maltings and still employs coopers to tend the casks and a coppersmith to maintain the stills. It truly is inspiring and if you’ve visited a few lone man, computer-operated distilleries, a day at Balvenie puts the soul back into whisky making.
Q: What is your favorite of The Balvenie’s offerings?
Back when I first moved to Scotland (and after a lot of “field research”) The Balvenie 12 DoubleWood was the first bottle I bought. It was a whisky that showed me that great whisky can be accessible, rich, complex, drinkable, affordable, and traditionally-made in the modern era. It still does on a near-nightly basis.
Q: What are some of the best places in the United States for someone to dive into the world of The Balvenie and other Scotch whiskies?
The best places come in all shapes and sizes, from history-rich steakhouses (Keen’s in NYC) to punk dens (Delilah’s in Chicago), but this is a question that I feel I have only grazed the surface of answering for myself, so I turn it back on you and your readers… where should I grab my next dram?
Q: What are great food pairings with The Balvenie whiskies?
I am not always convinced that I should eat with my whisky, but then I have the pleasure of working with a brilliant chef who shows me how scallops or pork belly or marzipan with the right Balvenie can result in a whiskygasm. Generally, fat-rich foods pair well, from nuts, to cheese, to butter, to pork.
Q: How does one get a job as a brand ambassador?
That is a hard question to answer. Mainly luck, I imagine. I just figure if you love something enough that you tell everyone you know about it and read everything you can about it and experience it as much as you can (watch it, drive it, do it, eat it, drink it, etc.), and there just so happens to be a job that will pay you to continue to do that, then you are the luckiest person in the world. And it would be hard to convince me otherwise.
I was invited to represent The Balvenie because I love whisky and had already spent 6 years practicing whiskevangelism. I accepted the opportunity with Balvenie because I would be proud to be associated with it. I think The Balvenie is the finest example of handcrafted, 19th century Scotch whisky-making in the 21st century, have always loved the liquid, and I have always admired the Scottish, family-owned company behind it.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about your position?
I enjoy the travelling and it is a joy to constantly meet new and interesting people across the country, but my favourite thing about this job is when I am alone with a dram at the end of the day and think of all the folks back in Scotland at the distillery and elsewhere in the company who have entrusted me to be not only a representative for the whisky they make, but to be an ambassador for all of them. There is no greater, more humbling honour.
Hmmm… upon review that sounds cheesy, so I’ll just say my favorite thing is the HBO at the hotels.
Alex has written for Vanity Fair, Barrons, Bloomberg and Condé Nast Traveler.