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The Whisky Ambassador

The Whisky Ambassador

This is to certify the Emma O’Neil has successfully completed The Whisky Ambassador Programme.

I was really excited about The Whisky Ambassador Course, for many reasons. First was from a professional perspective – as a Food and Drink Marketer – what better drink to immerse myself in than Scotch whisky?

It could also be a great ice (on the rocks?) breaker. I had amazing visions of me charming whisky industry clients with my knowledge and incredibly accurate trivia.

It also might give me something to discuss with my Fiancé – a wee break from arguing about who’s turn it is to clean up the baby mess.

I arrived early at the course, possibly the first time I have been early for anything in my life – another nod to the prospect of drinking pre-10am.I was the first to arrive, met by this lovely friendly woman who introduced herself as Sue. She directed me to a little lounge with Whisky paraphernalia adorning the walls – a posh environment, the type you’d expect to smell of rich mahogany and leather bound books – a gentleman’s room.

This rang true because it turned out I was the only female on the course, apart from Sue!

Sue turned out to be one of the Directors of the company and she went on to tell us how her and her colleague Jo had come up with the idea when they did a whisky tasting session and thought about how they could run an accredited course. They also found, during their research phase, that such a course or qualification did not exist anywhere else in the World – The Whisky Ambassador was born. This course is now taught in Brighton, Hong Kong, Germany, Kuala Lumpur to name a few. Incredible – Congratulations Jo and Sue!

This was one of many things that I found totally inspiring about the day – as well as the hugely romantic stories of tradition, heritage and patriotism.

If I wasn’t already a whisky lover then I would be by the end of the day.

So what did we get up to?

There were 3 parts:

Presentation and learning

Whisky smelling and tasting

– The EXAM (hopefully I’d be suitable tipsy by this part as it has been close to 15 years since I last sat an exam )

What whisky will not cure, there is no cure for. – Irish Proverb

The presentation was fascinating – covering topics such as The History of Scotch Whisky, Whisky by Numbers, Whisky Regions, Whisky Characteristics, How Whisky is Made, and What Exactly is Scotch Whisky. The sheer love and passion these distillers have for this spirit came across fantastically.

Out of all the processes we went through the maturation was the most fascinating to me. The idea of placing and nurturing this crafted, respected potion into beautifully crafted oak casks, whether they were originally for sherry, bourbon, port, or wine just adds to the mysteries of the product and its many flavours.

How beautiful the casks seem. Made in the same tradition and with the same precision that has underpinned the process for centuries.Was it to be triple distilled at Auchentoshan, or to be aged for only 3 years and a day or triple cask matured like a Macallan?  Or stored in a barrel for 30 years surpassing the working lifetime of the distiller that watched over the initial years?

“Here lies one who might be trusted with untold gold, but not of unmeasured whisky.” - Sir Walter Scott

My favourite element of the presentation was a fab wee film for Johnnie Walker Whiskey, featuring Robert Carlyle. It was an incredibly clever piece with Robert Carlyle walking part of the West Highland Way, telling the enriching and famous story of the drink and how it came to be – with an awesome use of props. It is one of the best examples of telling the story of a timeline I have ever seen! See it yourself at:

To the most important part now. The tasting!

So, we tasted 6 Whiskies;

The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve – Speyside Whisky,

Auchentoshan Classic – Lowland Whisky,

Old Pulteney 12 year old – Highland Whisky,

Springbank 10 years old – Campbeltown Whisky,

Talisker – Skye Whisky,

Laphroaig 10 year old – Islay Whisky.

A 10ml measure of each was served in beautiful Whiskey Ambassador Glencairn glasses. I got to really appreciate the aroma of the whisky filling the air – by my third sniff of the second whisky the kebab cravings were kicking in. “Mmmmm Garlic Sauce”

The 12 year Old Pulteney snatched me back in to a Middle Class way of thinking and after our mini-break and another seat in the Gentleman’s sitting room I was craving an avante-garde menu that’s supremely enhanced with “a multi-sensory atmosphere of music, video, scents, and simulations.”- Pigeon with warm foie gras sorbet? Followed by a quick thought of … “Wish I’d worn my Dad’s gold Rolex !”

The whole experience made me feel sophisticated and the process was flawless – I enjoyed every minute of it … but then came the Exam!

I thought we might have been left in the room on our own. I was hoping for some light conferring, but Sue watched over us while we did our Taste and Sniff over 4 of the whiskies identifying tasting notes such as citrus, coastal characteristics and peat smoke in them.I changed my mind ferociously as by this point I felt my nostrils had been besieged with the vapours – my persistence paid off though as I got 100% in this part – I was totally over the Moon(shine)!

I didn’t get my results on the written part of the exam until the next day but to my delight I got 29/30 – I actually couldn’t wait to get back to the office and let the others know how my experience was and this was totally bragging material for my fiancé that I could top trump him on the Whisky stakes – hardly dirty talk but it did give me this wonderful insight into our marriage ahead.

As H.L Mencken said “No married man is genuinely happy if he has to drink worse whisky than he used to drink when he was single.”

A kitchen cupboard full of expensive and beautifully crafted whisky. Simple.

I would highly recommend the Whiskey Ambassador Course. It it will be a proud moment framing my certificate and enjoying my conversations with industry professionals in the future. Sue and Jo are going to be launching their advanced whiskey course and their gin ambassador courses. I’m up for it!

Have a look at their site if you’re interested:

The Whisky Ambassador

Thanks for reading,

Slainte mhath!

Emma x