Whisky is an aged, distilled spirit from Scotland made from barley – what reads ‘masculine’ in that? : Georgina Bell, brand ambassador, Bacardi
As the world celebrates International Women’s Day today, Steena Joy met up with Georgina Bell, Global Malts Ambassador, Bacardi who was in India for an exclusive interview to find out her thoughts on the challenges she faced in breaking the glass ceiling in this highly male dominated arena
How has the journey from bartender to whisky ambassador been? What inspired you to embark into this male dominated industry?
The journey from bartender to whisky ambassador has been greatly educational, full of passion and really driven by the people I’ve met along the way. While I was a bartender I developed a huge interest in whisky: its history and heritage; the spectrum of flavours it offers; its versatility with cocktails as well as the people involved in its creation. When I graduated (from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in Geography), I started at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society as a bartender and part time ambassador – and that was it, I was hooked. I gained a second degree in distilling through the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, and became a global whisky ambassador almost seven years ago. I’ve been with Bacardi for almost three years now and it’s been fantastic understanding brands like Dewar’s and Aberfeldy.
As a woman, what were the challenges in breaking the glass ceiling?
Being a woman isn’t the only glass ceiling I’ve faced in this industry. When I first started as a global ambassador I was just 24 years old (now 30); my age was a big factor when I first started applying for jobs in whisky – I didn’t meet the usual image. However, putting myself through my second degree changed a lot of this; hard work and determination to succeed – something that’s still a huge part of my life today.
I never went into a meeting thinking ‘oh I’m a woman I don’t belong here’ – in fact, I thought completely the opposite. I’d worked hard, I was hugely passionate and bought in a new viewpoint – of course I belonged there.
The spirits industry has changed greatly, just in the last eight years I’ve been involved in it – and I’d like to help it change even further through mentoring people who are new to the whisky industry, guiding all our whisky ambassadors at Bacardi and helping to develop their skillsets, and educating bartenders and consumers alike about whisky.
As global malts ambassador, what does your role entail?
As a global ambassador, no two days are the same. I travel almost six months of the year around the world, working with our local teams to share stories of our distilleries and whiskies with the world. Together, we educate bartenders and whisky lovers on the whisky category in general, on Dewar’s as well as our five single malts: Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie, The Deveron and Royal Brackla. I like to think of myself as a supporting actor to our single malts and our local ambassadors, such as those in India. I’ve been very fortunate to work alongside them in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru and can’t wait to return. I also spend a large amount of time in Scotland at our distilleries, creating education programmes and hosting bartenders.
Is whisky a growing choice among women? And in India?
As gender stereotypes are breaking down in other industries, and rapidly, they’re also breaking down in spirits. Gone are the days when women had to be nurses and men doctors – the same can be said of whisky.
The image of an old man in an armchair, cigar in one hand and whisky in the other, is disappearing. Yes – your father may drink it (that’s how I got into whisky – through my dad, and he loves more than anything to have a whisky with me when I go home) but so can you and your friends.
Whisky is an aged, distilled spirit from Scotland made from barley – what reads ‘masculine’ in that? Rather, this supposed image is a societal construct, so throw it away in your mind! We’re at such an exciting time with whisky – cocktail bars are popping up across the country with bartenders experimenting with unconventional renditions of whisky cocktails, and as we as a generation are experimenting with new tastes, we’re also exploring the category as a whole. As such, whisky and the way it’s served and enjoyed has definitely become more welcoming to all.
What are the new trends in whisky?
As I mentioned earlier, we are at the peak of breaking down the stereotypes around whisky, with several movements are playing into this.
There’s an increased interest from bartenders in using whisky in cocktails, from old fashioned to more imaginative and flavour flexing drinks. You can see this at Soho House, Mumbai & Whisky Samba, in their bar menu’s and in experiential promotions. Whisky highballs are a huge trend as they dial into an ‘aperitivo’ approach to whisky, and, lest we forget, are tasty. Cocktails are also a great gateway into whisky for those new to the category.
World whisky is also growing at the moment and the Indian Single Malt has made huge waves in the global whisky scene, specifically that from Paul John and Amrut. It’s great to see the whole category, as well as Scotch, growing and flexing the traditional idea of what whisky is.
How has Dewar’s fared in India as a brand?
India is a vibrant, burgeoning market in love with dark spirits, especially Scotch. India is the largest whisky drinking nation and presents an exciting growth opportunity as the No.1 market globally for whisky. Given its rich history and the unique combination of flavours and complexity of its drinks owing to its signature double ageing process, Dewar’s is showing promising growth in India.
What advice would you give women who are aspiring to be bartenders?
I would say read as much as possible and reach out to others in the industry for guidance and mentorship – we’re all here to help and support as one large community! So much has changed in the last 10 – 15 years and you are part of that change – so do what you’re passionate about and share that joy with others. Enter cocktail competitions as these are excellent ways to hone your skills and learn about other spirit categories; visit bars on your days off – sit at the bar, talk to the bartender and learn something new. Whenever tasting sessions are taking place, show up – ask questions and follow up with the ambassador. And enjoy the journey!