Karen Fullerton began her career in wine sales just over 20 years ago. In 2002 she landed her first dream job in whisky, working as business development manager for The Glenmorangie Company in Scotland.
She went on to become Glenmorangie's first female Scottish Brand Ambassador for the USA and has been the company's Global Brand Ambassador for the past ten years.
We caught up with her to get an insider's perspective on the growing Scotch whisky industry.
What does your day-to-day role involve?
I design, coordinate and host The Moet Hennessy Scotch whisky academy, a 4-day in-depth Scotch whisky immersion programme, and also support global markets in educating customers, consumers, media and sales/marketing teams on our brands. The third element of my job involves working with our whisky creation team in product development and sensory analysis for future Glenmorangie and Ardbeg special bottle releases. It's an incredibly fun and diverse role. I get to work with lots of different departments within the business and get to learn about the history and cultures of the countries I visit around the world.
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It’s often said that whisk(e)y world is quite a male-dominated industry, what has your experience been?
There is probably is some unconscious bias out there that the whisky industry is male-dominated but it’s simply not. The great success story of the Scotch whisky industry is how the category has evolved over the past 20 years. At the end of the day, it’s about enjoying Scotch whisky and connecting with the wonderful aromas, taste and textures to be discovered within single malt Scotch whisky. It is as simple as that.
Can you tell us a little about the industry in Scotland?
At last count, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, Scotland is home to 133 licenced single malt and grain distilleries, with the plan for 30 more to be built, making it the greatest concentration of whisky producers in the world! Each distillery is located within one of the five producing regions: the Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Campbeltown or Islay.
There are five styles of scotch whisky produced in Scotland.
· Single malt, which is distilled at a single distillery from only water and malted barley without the addition of any other cereals by batch distillation.
· Single grain, which is distilled at a single distillery from water and malted barley with or without whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals.
· Blended - a combination of one or more blend of single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain scotch whiskies.
· Blended malt - a blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
· Blended grain - a blend of single grain Scotch whiskies which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
What's different about Glenmorangie?
Our location - on the shore of the Dornoch Firth close to Tain in the Northern Highlands - is perfect for making whisky. A mountain range in the west protects the area from harsh weather coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. This creates a microclimate that allows our whisky to mature at a slow and gentle rate. The water we collect from the Tarlogie Springs is rich in calcium and magnesium. Yeast loves these minerals and as a result, we have a very lively fermentation process.
The second key element is we have the tallest copper pot stills in Scotland (5.14meters - equivalent to the height of an adult giraffe). The heavier and impure alcohol falls back down the still, where there is a “boil pot” which further refines the spirit.
We also have one of the best wood management policies. Our flagship expression, Glenmorangie Original, is matured in slow-growth American white oak casks. They're filled with our new make spirit and left to mature in our bonded warehouses. After ten years the casks are emptied and refilled one more time with fresh new make spirit to mature for an additional ten years. We only use our casks twice whereas most other distillers will reuse their casks 4-6 times.
Where do you think the industry will go next?
I believe the whisk(e)y category will continue to grow, especially the Irish whiskey category and education is key. I strongly believe the future of Scotch whisky is in a good place. If we continue to be open-minded and share what makes this magnificent product so special in a responsible way, along with how the Scotch Whisky Association is doing an incredible job of keeping the integrity of the category, I think it's all good!
Finally, what is in the pipeline for you and the brand?
There are several special releases for both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg however, unfortunately, they are under embargo. Watch this space!