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The 10 Things You Learn as a Global Whisky Ambassador

12 February 2016

After a decade as Glenfiddich Global Brand Ambassador travelling the world, meeting new people and enjoying a dram with those from every walk of life, you learn a thing or two. Not only about whisky, but about the world and about what it means to be a gentleman. I’ve loved every day working as the Global Brand Ambassador for the World’s Most Awarded Single Malt Scotch whisky and it’s with gratitude and more than a touch of sadness that I announce my retirement from the role.

Whilst we carefully appoint my replacement (who we hope to recruit from within our portfolio of outstanding William Grant & Sons Ambassadors), I thought I’d take a moment to share a few of the things I’ve learned along the way and, gratuitously, take some time to thank a few special people who have made the journey such an enjoyable one.

Global Whisky Ambassador

1. The rules are… there are no rules (when it comes to whisky).

Everywhere I go I am asked what the best way to drink and enjoy whisky is? And the truth is, the only way is your way. Try it neat, try a drop of water, try warming the glass. If you want to try it with soda, be my guest. Enjoy whisky your way and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. However, when travelling be open to asking the bartender how they recommend drinking it – you might discover something new.

2. Share a dram and your knowledge with people, but it’s you who really learns.

No one is an expert. Some know more than others, but even those at the top of their game are still learning. Every city I’ve been to and every person I’ve met has taught me something I didn’t know. I feel blessed to have shared a dram and a story or two with so many. Whisky is a wonderful drink – more so than many others as it comes with such rich stories and history. There really is something magical about the entire industry and indeed the people who drink and enjoy it.

3. Tip the bartender. Always.

No matter the country, whether it’s a private bar in a 5* hotel in Shanghai or a dive bar in downtown LA, a gentleman always tips the bartender appropriately, whether with cash or by buying them a drink. Why would you not thank the person who is looking after your whisky and your night?

4. In life, things won’t always pan out the way you expect. Be a gentleman about it anyways.

Flights will be delayed. You’ll forget your passport. The hotel will lose your booking. An opinion will differ with yours (particularly on how whisky is made). You’ll work hard and long hours and sometimes you won’t spend as much time with your family as you want. Someone will need you to drop everything and do something else. That’s life. You can’t control these things. But you can control how you respond to them. Stay a gentleman.

5. Smartphones have a time and a place.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been surrounded by people who instead of being in the moment are immersed in their phone screens. I love technology and it’s helped me no end on my travels around the world – how to find a bar, connecting with home, keeping on top of business and up-to-date on important news and trends… but no matter where I go, there is nothing like being completely there with people. Giving 100% of your attention to someone is easily one of the most precious gifts you can give in today’s world.

6. Learn other languages.

Even if all you learn is, “Hello, nice to meet you”. When you’re in another country, knowing a few words is not only polite, it’s essential in this day and age. Other important phrases you might want to learn is how to ask for a whisky and once you've conquered that, how to ask for taxi.

7. Age isn’t everything.

I’m lucky enough to have enjoyed whiskies of all ages and styles in my role, including two bottles from my birth year on my 60th birthday and I plan on enjoying a few more too ;). One thing I’ve learned though is that, as in life, character doesn’t simply come from age alone. Don’t be ageist – give young whiskies a try and reserve judgement for your palette. You might be surprised.
(Having said that, there’s definitely something special about enjoying a dram of Glenfiddich 50 Year Old on a private yacht in the Med, or inside the Grand Canyon watching an early sunset!)

8. Camaraderie.

I have very much enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow ambassadors. Regardless of product or company, we always got on very well and often the company you keep is perceived to be a representative of your biggest competitor.
We all visit each other's distilleries and seek each other out for post event catch ups – you can guess how rowdy this gets and how it usually ends up. What happens on tour…

9. Downtime.

I'm not sure how many new Ambassadors I've trained at the distillery in the last ten years but one important issue we always discuss is a healthy work/life balance. We probably fail more on achieving this than any other personal objective.
Diary planning and time management is crucial to staying sane.

10. The whisky industry, and the people in it, are the best in the world. Fact.

I've worked in 13 different distilleries over the last 42 years and been blessed to have worked with a lot of really nice people.

There are many more learnings, of course, but I feel these are best told over a dram. When you visit the Glenfiddich Distillery next, you may still see me, as I will remain part time in a new role as Prestige Whisky Specialist. Do say hi if I’m around, I always love to share a dram with good people.

So just before I sign off I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at the various distilleries I've worked in and the teams around the world who have looked after me so well.

I guess my most important thanks goes to the huge number of whisky friends I've gained through our mutual love of a good dram over the last forty odd years.

You’ve all made this the best job in the world. Slàinte!

If you have any questions for me you can get into contact with me via Twitter at @distillermillar

Ian Millar