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Top tips from a whisky expert

Top tips from a whisky expert

Have you ever wondered what makes Scottish whisky so special? Originally named “Uisge Beatha” or “water of life”, the magic of whisky is closely linked to the history, culture and way of life of Scots.

To dig deeper into the importance of whisky in Scottish culture, we spoke to Mark Kent, Chief Executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and whisky influencer.

Why do you think Scotch whisky is so popular all over the world?

Scotch is an iconic global product, but it’s also a very specific product of Scotland. Every region in the country has one or more distilleries and each distillery has its own story to tell. Distilleries are an essential part of Scotland and Scotch whisky is strongly associated with this land.

But besides the product, another important factor is the experience. The atmosphere is very important. Scotch whisky is not just a drink, it is a celebration of friendship.

Why should we visit a distillery or two if we are in Scotland?

One of the best things about Scotch whisky is our diversity of locations – there are over 140 distilleries across the country. We have distilleries in our amazing cities, in the Lowlands, Speyside, the Highlands and the islands, but also a range of flavours. There are smoky whiskies or smoother ones and there is no other drink with such variety, there is always something new to discover.

A view of Glamaig from the Isle of Raasay Distillery

When is the best time for a whisky experience in Scotland?

There are frequent events throughout the year that feature whisky – for example Burns Night, St Andrew’s Day or World Whisky Day – but there are whisky festivals throughout the year as well. There is always an excuse to toast with a good Scotch whisky!

What would you say to those who are not sure whether to try Scotch whisky?

We have a slogan: “whisky is for everyone”. It’s not just for older people or connoisseurs, but also for young adults and newcomers.

Is there a specific way to drink whisky?

There is a lot of versatility when it comes to whisky tasting. It can be taken with or without ice, or mixed in cocktails such as a highball. There are plenty of possibilities to suit lots of different tastes.

We also have another slogan: “the only way to drink whisky is responsibly”. You can drink whisky in whatever way you like, but it should always be enjoyed responsibly and in moderation.

Credit: Glen Ord Distillery / Jakub Iwanicki

Is the Scotch whisky industry environmentally friendly? How do you promote sustainable production?

Environmental sustainability and carbon neutrality is central to us in the Scottish whisky industry. We are committed to achieving Net Zero emissions as soon as possible, to using water more efficiently, to caring for the land and to working with our supply chain to reduce environmental impact from grain to glass. Today, people want to know full details about how whisky is produced, from the field to the consumer.

What is your personal experience with whisky? Before you became Chief Executive of the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA), you worked in international diplomacy. How did you find that transition?

As a UK ambassador abroad, I have always had an interest in whisky because of its status as a global export product. Almost 90% of Scotch whisky is exported to more than 180 countries in the world, making it an industry linked to international relations and trade. Also, I personally really enjoy drinking whisky at the end of the day. I believe that diplomacy is about building bridges, and whisky is a very pleasant drink to share with people and make friends.

SWA works with both the Scottish and UK governments, along with more than 90 members. I remember speaking to my predecessor, who told me that this job would be great for me – it’s almost like being an ambassador for Scotch whisky!

Whisky is often associated as a drink for great thinkers, writers, or even fictional characters. Do you think there is a connection between whisky and literature?

It’s true, starting with Robert Burns, the great Scottish bard, or Whisky Galore!, a story about a ship full of whisky that sinks off the coast of a small Scottish island, or even James Bond.

For many, whisky is about savouring and recalling memories, a moment of calm that helps to reflect and share stories with others.

Why should someone from overseas make the journey to Scotland to experience Scotch whisky? 

Visiting Scotland and having a Scotch whisky tasting is a great way to discover the country through a product that is part of its history and mythology. A whisky experience is eye-opening, not just for the taste, but also for the variety of amazing communities and events.

What better way to combine a visit to a distillery with a walk in the wilderness before returning to taste a good whisky in your cosy accommodation? And for those who don’t speak English, have no fear – Scotland is a very cosmopolitan place. You can easily find a whisky tour in your own language.

Mark Kent, Chief Executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA)

Do you have any final recommendations?

My advice is not to wait until the last minute to plan. Think ahead and book your visit to a distillery in advance, alongside your transportation and nearby accommodation.

Visit the Scotch Whisky Association website or follow Mark on Twitter


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