A few days ago, when ‘Vishawatch’ was invited for a special whisky tasting curated by team Balvenie in Delhi, we did not want to give it a miss. Not just for the amazing single malt that Balvenie is, more so because it came with an opportunity to catch up with the global ambassador Gemma Louise Paterson aka @balveniegem of the Insta world. For the charming young lady with a penchant for storytelling, learning and sharing experiences about fine whiskies is not just a job, but passion. So much so that even her holidays are spent on exploration, including visits to other distilleries around the world. On her maiden trip to India, Gemma had a lot on the plate from conducting experiential tastings in three different cities to meeting a host of whisky connoisseurs, bartenders and media folks. By the time we met, Gemma had already tried South Indian, Punjabi and Parsi cuisines to get a taste of India, besides some local sightseeing. Here is a glimpse of the conversation with Vishawatch’s Vijaya Rathore at an upscale members-only club, where Gemma was jamming with a talented flautist to prep up for what turned out to be a tastefully crafted evening filled with stories from the heartland of Scotches. And Being who we are, how could we not talk to her about watches?! Read On.
Vishawatch : Hello and welcome to India Gemma. Tell us what brings you here?
Gemma: The stories of Balvenie, the craftsmanship and the people behind the brand take me around the world. This year we have released three new whiskies to celebrate storytelling. We celebrate all things handcrafted by the craftsmen who have been creating Balvenie for 10, 20, 30 , even 60 years in some cases. There is a lot of knowledge at the distillery, almost a thousand years if you add up the experiences of each one of them. We like to share and celebrate that. As the global brand ambassador, I have been doing storytelling through music and my team thought that it would be a good idea to bring them to the Indian audience. So we decided to combine traditional flute with the stories from Scotland.
Vishawatch : Tell us a story or two from the world of Balvenie.
Gemma : The most memorable stories are the ones I have heard from our craftsmen. Spending time with them first hand is such an honour as they have dedicated their lives to making Balvenie. Some of the stories are incredible and have stayed with me. For example, a heartwarming experience that our head cooper Ian McDonald, who has spent almost 50 years at Balvenie, likes to share. He dreamt of being a cooper since he was a child and how his dream came true on the day of his graduation as a qualified cooper at the distillery. The ‘initiation tradition’ is very important and has been going on for a long time. It is a fun ceremony where the graduating coopers are rolled inside a barrel on the distillery floor amid celebrations. Ian remembers that day so clearly, from how it felt to how it smelled to the sounds, even today. And how scary it was to be grabbed by his colleagues and be thrown into a barrel. It gave me goose bumps when I first heard it and now I tell his story to the world!
Vishawatch : Any personal experience that you would like to share?
Gemma : Every single trip that I take, so many memories are made. In my last work trip was to South Korea with the same head cooper Ian McDonald. We were working together on a distillery pop-up in Seoul for a week. Thousands of people visited the distillery set up where I was conducting tastings and Ian was demonstrating barrel making. On one of the days, we get a call saying, “You two will be picked up soon for a bar visit in the city”. So we wait outside the hotel, expecting a taxi to arrive. What we see next is the bar owner himself on a motorcycle. That too with a sidecar! He pulls up gesturing for us to get on the machine with Ian at the back and me in the sidecar. We went bar hopping in the entire city on a super fast bike, that too on a Monday. That was a night to remember. So amazing and unexpected!
Vishawatch : How is Balvenie doing in India according to you?
Gemma : India has the history of being a strong market for whisky. So, I think there is a lot of potential for Scotch whiskies to grow here, particularly single malts, which at the moment is relatively small compared to other countries. Having said that, we are seeing a lot of interest in people who want to learn more and experience them. Though this is my first visit to India, but I am incredibly excited by the potential we have here.
Vishawatch : What is the brand’s plan in terms of strategic marketing?
Gemma : Well, people here really seem to appreciate the messaging of craftsmanship. I would like to see, in a year or two, India have its own Balvenie Ambassador. We would like to get more bartenders interested in picking up Balvenie. Besides whisky, I personally love tea and do see an opportunity to blend the two. Would like to experiment with our whisky and handcrafted teas of India. Other than that, given the extensive range we have, there is a great opportunity to work closely with so many great hotels right from affordable to luxury.
Vishawatch : Let’s talk watches now. Tell us about some of your special timepieces.
Gemma : I have a Rotary skeleton watch that my grandparents gave me for my 21st birthday — its been 11 years now. I love it! I have another small gold ladies watch that my friends had engraved for me on my 30th birthday. It reads ‘Our little doll’ in Russian as we studied the language together at University.
Vishawatch : How do you perceive time?
Gemma: There’s so much I could say! I regularly wish I had more of it but It’s important to cherish the time we have and make the most of every moment.
Indeed, there is so much more to Gemma and her world of fine whiskies, but we did our best in bringing the highlights to our readers. For the rest, follow @belveniegem on Instagram and checkout @Vishawatch for watches, whiskies and more!
Published in Septemer, 2019. Pictures by FrozenPixelStudios.