As part of our women who shaped Scotch whisky series, we spoke to Ann Miller, who told us about her experience of working for over 25 years in the Scotch whisky industry and shares her passion for the unique story of Chivas Brothers.

With nearly 30 years’​ experience in the world of Scotch Whisky, Ann is a whisky industry veteran based in Speyside and has worked with some of the industry’s biggest brands.

She speaks fluent French and Spanish and currently works for Chivas Brothers as international brand ambassador, a role she has enjoyed since 1993.

Having previously helped to make a success of the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Ann is also a director of the Spirit of Speyside, and has helped to make the popular whisky festival one of the most successful in Europe.

1) How did you get into the whisky industry?

One thing led to another in a series of serendipitous steps. Some years ago I worked in tourism in Edinburgh and realised that most of the people I met, particularly overseas visitors, wanted to see
Scotch whisky first hand – and taste it in the place where it was distilled.

I’m fluent in both French and Spanish so I decided to organise whisky tours of Scotland for visitors who spoke these languages.

A year or so later, work began to create the Scotch Whisky Experience just beneath Edinburgh Castle and I was appointed Marketing and PR Manager before it opened; I was proud to play a key role in putting it on the map.

While there I met many people in the industry and later I was offered the opportunity to join Chivas Brothers, and move to Speyside.

2) Can you tell us a little bit about your role with Chivas Brothers?

As an International Brand Ambassador my role is to help bring Chivas Brothers’ renowned portfolio of Scotch whisky brands to life including Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s, Royal Salute and The Glenlivet.

Each of our brands is enjoyed by people all over the world; they sit at the heart of a multitude of moments that bring people together, so it’s great to be able to share some of these experiences with them.

One of the ways I help to achieve this is by travelling to markets overseas, often to launch new products.

When I’m invited abroad, I always try to make the most of the opportunity by presenting our diverse ranges of malts and blends to consumers, customers and media guests.

In addition, I will also train our sales forces so they are armed with both the confidence and insight to promote our brands to local consumers.

These trips can often be busy but they are always interesting too. Over the course of the past few years I have met many fascinating people and seen some impressive sights.

However, the most important part is to share my passion for whisky in whatever language I or my guests speak.

The other equally important part of my role is to welcome visitors from all over the world to Speyside and Scotland.

I show them our distilleries and warehouses and frequently conduct tutored tastings of a wide range of single malts and blends.

Our Scotch whisky brands have so much great heritage and it’s amazing to be able to share this with our customers and see them become really enthused about our brands.

When the time comes for the guests to depart I always hope they will take with them memories of interesting insights into whisky making, entertaining leisure moments and the impressive drams we have enjoyed together.

3) Your whisky knowledge is widely regarded, was it challenging to change perceptions about women and whisky, particularly in the early years?

Obviously we have so many women in roles across the company that are shaping our business now, from engineering graduates to leaders on the board.

Everything I know I have learnt from colleagues throughout the industry. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t learn something from listening to one of them.

It is true that there were fewer women in prominent positions within many companies a generation ago but I have always felt welcome wherever I have worked.

I am delighted to see how many women today try whisky and enjoy it regularly. As one of a limited number of women in an international brand ambassador role, it’s satisfying to think my position could play a part, however small, in encouraging more women to appreciate whisky and to help break down some of the barriers and challenge stereotypes.

4) How has the industry changed since you first entered?

I welcome the fact that there are more women in production roles today.

The pace of innovation is rapid compared to a generation ago – and it appears consumers seek novelty and at the same time they have a thirst for knowledge.

As a business, we continue to push the boundaries of the category by launching innovative products that aim to capture the attention of today’s generation of whisky drinkers.

It’s an exciting time for Scotch whisky; it is invigorating to see so many start-ups the length and breadth of Scotland at present – and I hope this progression and optimism continues in the future .

5) Has being multilingual helped in your ambassadorial role?

Being a fluent linguist has undoubtedly given me opportunities which I might not otherwise have had.

It removes the need for an interpreter and allows much more spontaneous communication.

Over the years I have launched many of our new products in cities around Europe and Latin America – and conducted the associated press and TV interviews – in both French and Spanish.

It’s great to be able to use both languages to welcome guests who visit Speyside too.

6) What do you love most about your job?

I love sharing my passion for Scotch whisky with people from around the world.

I delight in helping people understand the fascinating nuances of our great range of products. It is always a pleasure to de-mystify the complexities of whisky for people who may not already be aficionados of the fantastic spirit we distil and mature in Scotland.

When in Speyside I can show guests that Scotland’s national drink permeates our landscape, history and culture and share the authentic origins of our whiskies which deliver such sophisticated pleasure when tasted.

The opportunities to travel are fantastic and over the last few years I have visited many fascinating places from pyramids to palaces and met many interesting people.

7) Does it help that you live in Speyside and have ready access to some of the country’s best distilleries?

I really enjoy living and working in the heart of Speyside with whisky all around me.

My daily journeys take me through fields of barley, close to tumbling burns and the springs from which so many of our single malts are distilled as well as near the distilleries and warehouses located in this famous region.

Over the years it has been a privilege to help to put the Speyside region on the map in my role as one of the volunteer Directors of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival and to share my passion for the malt whiskies produced here.

As we plan the 20 th Festival, which will take place in early May 2018, we hope to offer a programme of around 500 events and experiences including whisky, music, food and fun, so people can come to Speyside to enjoy the welcome the region offers amidst stunning scenery.

When people have seen the water source, the fields were the barley grows and the valleys where many distilleries and warehouses nestle in the landscape, it helps them to appreciate the dram they savour.

More than any other event of its kind the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival [and its sister event Distilled] offers people ready access to the experts who are delighted to share their knowledge.

8) What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry? Particularly young women?

Persistence pays. Good things take time – just like a great dram.

Embrace opportunities – even those you weren’t expecting – as often they develop into interesting roles.

Never stop learning.

About The Author

Sean Murphy

Driven by a passion for all things whisky-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over six years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink.

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