In the lead up to World Whisky Day, we present the next interview in our Pernod Ricard Women in Whisky series with Rachel MacDonald, Chivas Brothers Brand Ambassador.
Rachel MacDonald speaks to us about the way her family background has fuelled her passion of whisky, her day to day role, whisky trends she has encountered in her travels and her advice to women considering a career in the whisky industry.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I’m originally from Scotland. I’ve been working in the whisky industry since I was 18 years old and I come from a family of whisky makers. I studied journalism at university, moved to Barcelona for a while then I got the job with Chivas Brothers where I worked for one year in London before I moved to Australia.
How did you first become interested in whisky?
Mostly through my late grandfather, uncle and and various family members. My grandfather Evan Cattanach was Master Distiller Emeritus and my mum grew up around whisky distilleries. He was a figure head who inspired me, and because of the stories he and my uncle shared, I developed an interest in whisky.
I started working in a local distillery as a tour guide while I was studying and my passion for whisky accelerated. We had people coming in from all over the world to the distillery in this tiny village I grew up in, and it opened up my eyes to the way whisky has travelled as a global spirit.
How did the opportunity to become Chivas Brand Ambassador come about?
Through a friend who worked in the company. He approached me when I was living in Barcelona and suggested I apply for the job knowing I had a passion for whisky. I trained in Scotland then moved to London and covered the UK market for one year before I moved to Australia in 2015.
What does your day to day role involve?
It depends on the time of year and it comes in peaks and troughs. I travel all over the country, but the bare bones is being the go-to source on Scotch whisky and the Chivas brand, from internal people in the company to bartenders and consumers. When I’m back in Sydney, I often work with the brand team towards a better understanding of the brand and what we’re achieving in Australia.
Is there a highlight of your career so far that you’d like to share with us?
One of the most exciting days for me was at the day of the Chivas Ultis launch and we had the GQ Men of the Year Awards in the evening. We also had Chris Evans aka Captain America who is the Asia Pacific Ambassador for Chivas Regal. It was a day of careful organisation that culminated in that exciting moment when I got to be on stage toasting Chivas with all the winners.
In your frequent travels around Australia, what key trends have you observed about whisky in general?
An exciting trend I’ve been involved in is the art of pairing whisky with food. Although it’s an established way of activating your brand, we’re still learning how we’re doing it, and we can be a lot better at it as an industry. Whisky has always been an after dinner drink as opposed to one you drink alongside your meal. How we get better at communicating it to people and what dishes are best matched with it is an exciting trend.
What do you have to say to people who still believe whisky is a man’s drink?
Traditionally whisky is a man’s drink, that’s where our main market has always been, but it doesn’t mean it has to be exclusive to men, not at all. There’s a huge opportunity for the diversity of whiskies that lots of women are open to. Whisky is a classy choice at a bar for women and men alike, specifically the smoother, easier drinking, sweeter and more mixable spirits like blends. They open a whole spectrum of occasions which women as well as men find themselves enjoying.
What’s your opinion on the mixability of whisky when you have whisky purists believing that whisky should not be enjoyed in cocktails?
During the history of Scotch whisky, from the origins to now, its most popular uses are when it’s enjoyed mixed. Think back to its emergence as a luxury spirit – it was designed to be mixed with soda. Nowadays, blended whisky is mixed and served long in many countries. Whisky wasn’t really ever exclusively designed to be drunk neat. That said, and don’t get me wrong – specific whiskies are definitely best enjoyed neat or with a splash of water. Some whiskies work particularly well with cocktails, others not so much. That’s what makes whisky so appealing. Take Chivas Extra, a blended whisky created by Master Blender Colin Scott out of a desire for a whisky that could be enjoyed neat with its richness and extra spice and also equally enjoyed in classic Scotch whisky cocktails.
What’s your favourite Chivas Regal expression and how do you drink it?
It depends on a lot of factors, such as who I’m with and what I’m doing. On a balmy Sydney evening in a cocktail bar, I’ll have Chivas Extra, maybe with one ice cube in it. When I’m home in Scotland, like I was on the 1st January with a massive bonfire in the garden, it was chilly but with a beautiful heat from the bonfire, I was drinking Chivas Regal 18 yo neat. In the bellows of smoke, it has a real warming heat and a touch of peat smoke that complimented the occasion perfectly.
What is your advice to women considering a career in the whisky industry?
I feel privileged to be in an industry with some of the most passionate people I’ve known. Men, women, doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t. If you’re passionate about it, you can make it happen.
In partnership with Pernod Ricard Australia.
Photo Credit: Supplied.