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Monday, 23 March 2009

It's Back!! The '10 Minute Dram with..... Glenmorangie's Annabel Meikle'

Continuing where we left off with Richard Paterson last year, next up we have a brilliant interview for your delectation with none other than Annabel Meikle, Sensory Whisky Creator at Glenmorangie.

Annabel has many years experience in the whisky industry, working with the SMWS for over 6 of them and, in addition to helping create some of the newest expressions from Glenmorangie's impressive portfolio, she also manages the Glenmorangie international Education Programme, helping communicate the nuances of single malt Scotch whisky to international delegates.

Over to you Annabel!!

CS: Describe your (no doubt hectic!) day for us…

"I suppose I have three types of day – one when I’m in the office, one when I’m travelling and then time spent up at Tain.
Office days are usually spent catching up with various colleagues – and getting updated on projects. There is always sensory work to be done in the lab, if the public knew how many checkpoints the dram in their glass went through – they would be amazed! Wine, sherry or port casks may need nosing so it’s quite varied.

When I’m travelling it usually means an early start, a flight, interviews with press, training sessions, tastings, dinner and a late night! And the same again the next day…and the next!

Obviously I spend plenty time up in Tain. I run an Education programme for our ambassadors. It is an intense week that equips them to sell our whisky with confidence. I’ll also look after press trips and sales teams from our global markets. There is always lots of whisky, delicious food and more late nights up at Glenmorangie House! "

How has your career developed since you finished studying- and when did you realise you wanted to work with whisky?

"It was complete chance! I studied at art college and went onto run my own ceramics business for eight good years. It was successful, but I realised I wanted a change so after a being a cheese buyer for 2 years I took a bar job at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh. I was very lucky because I’ve turned something else that I loved into a career. I had lots of opportunities to grow my knowledge at the Society and I quickly became very passionate about whisky".

Your job title is 'Sensory Whisky Creator', which is the title to end all titles! Clearly, whisky involves the key senses. Have you had to hone yours over time to detect the many components in a whisky?

"Yes – I suppose I have ‘honed’ my nose through practice. It’s just like a muscle that needs to be exercised to be fit. I have learned to build my vocabulary of language so I can describe whisky in a creative way. As an artist my senses are sensitive – I tend to always notice the light, the texture of materials, the flavours of food etc and naturally and my sense of smell is a hugely important sense".

As a male dominated industry, whisky has tended to find much greater favour with male taste profiles. How active are you in developing flavour profiles, which perhaps draw more females to the spirit?

"In my experience it is difficult to generalise with taste profiles and gender. The world over I’ve been surprised by young women drinking very smoky whiskies or sherried whiskies which are supposedly the preserve of male drinkers. I’ve also met plenty of men who enjoy honeyed and floral whiskies, so I think all the rules are there to be broken! Our whiskies are created to be enjoyed by everyone".

How important is science in the process of marrying together different whiskies to create a great single malt - and how much do you believe is down to instinct?

"Science is useful in providing some of the background ‘understanding’ as to what may, or may not work. However, at the end of the day our whisky is going to be judged by drinkers’ noses and palates, so the instinctive, artistic side is more crucial here".

Working with Dr Bill Lumsden must have taught you a huge amount! How much leeway does your team get in creating new products, which will become the future classics in ‘tomorrows' Glenmorangie range?

"Working with Bill was on the top of my list when I applied for this post – and I’ve not been disappointed! He is an inspirational person to work with – full of energy and brimming with knowledge. As a team we have sessions where we collaborate our ideas. Both Bill and Rachel (Barrie) are chemists, whereas I’m an artist so the combination of our knowledge is interesting!
Be reassured – there are plenty of interesting experiments gently maturing in our warehouses….!! (this last part had us getting very excited indeed... ed)

Glenmorangie have undisputedly, one of the best wood policies across the industry. How much has this affected the current whiskies you are creating and will this become trickier as great wood stocks become depleted?

"We are exceptionally proud of our record and Bill can take much of the credit for this. Glenmorangie has always led the way with understanding the importance of good wood and the influence it has on the spirit. We need to educate whisky drinkers that much of the character of their whisky is due to the quality of the cask in which it has matured and not necessarily the age of the spirit. Because of the nurtured relationship between Bill and his cooperages we are assured to always receive the best that they can offer. We’re confident that our wood policy is one of the strongest in the industry".

You must have found some truly ‘desert island casks’ when searching through the company’s inventory – anything you’ve wanted to run off with?

"I’ve been exceptionally lucky to drink some beautiful drams in my whisky life time. The best have been shared with my father or friends. I’ve never regretted cracking open a bottle and sharing it – that’s what great whisky is for".

You travel a lot and meet many whisky fans- do the palates of drinkers differ over in say, the far east, compared to their European counterparts?

"There are always surprises – for instance the young ladies in Asia love our Lasanta that has a richness of sherry influence. They drink it neat or sometimes with a little ice. There are some strange drinking practices in Thailand and Korea – they sink a bomb of spirit into a glad of beer and swig it down in one. We have a lot of education to do here! The Nordics love their phenolic whisky.

Finally, for you, what’s the most perfect way to enjoy a fine dram -describe the settings!

"I love camping on the west coast or one of the Scottish Islands. The tent would be pitched overlooking the sea on a fine summers evening with no midges. Langoustines in the pan and a fine dram of Airigh Nam Beist to wash it down - heaven! "

Thanks very much to Annabel for her time and we look forward to hearing about/tasting some of those 'interesting experiements' at some point soon!!