Storytelling | Luxury

On the people making your dram

At the storytelling session by Gemma Paterson with flautist Nikhil Kumar

At the storytelling session by Gemma Paterson with flautist Nikhil Kumar   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

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Balvenie, the Speyside single malt Scotch distillery, is recording the stories of the people behind its whiskies

Stories are the new luxury. They have been, for a while now, and that narrative is getting richer. From couture to whisky, tales of tradition, of process, of the brand’s smallness or largeness build ‘engagement’. There’s interest in making people feel like they’re a part of something with heart, something bigger than ‘just a product’.

In June, Balvenie, the single malt whisky distillery in Dufftown, Scotland, formally started one such campaign, called The Balvenie Stories. The effort involves a book of original short stories, Pursuit: The Balvenie Stories Collection (available on pre-order) and a podcast called The Balvenie Stories series (on Apple Music and Spotify), by Gemma Paterson, one of their global brand ambassadors.

Paterson talks to the people involved in the processes at their distillery — this includes the likes of Ian McDonald, the brand’s head cooper, who recently marked fifty years of making casks and barrels for them. She also speaks to younger people, like Kelsey McKechnie, who in her early 20s is an Apprentice Malt Master for the brand.

In India this week, Paterson tells us about taking the endeavour offline. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Why did the idea to document stories even come up?

At the distillery we have so many craftsmen who have amazing stories to tell. These are people who’ve dedicated their lives and careers to making the whisky. One of the stories we’re telling is about Ian, our head cooper, who started in 1969 with us, when he was only 15. We’ve worked out that he’s made a quarter of a million barrels [over this time]. That’s 75 millions bottles on average, coming from barrels he’s made with his own hands!

He’s trained and mentored so many apprentices through his career. He’s come up with ideas, to make new whisky. Our 14 Caribbean Cask — that’s the one that’s very popular in India — wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Ian having the idea to start to experiment with bringing in rum casks.

A big part of what we’re doing is taking these stories, documenting them, so future generations have access to them. We’re a fifth generation family-run company...and if we don’t do it now, it will all be lost.

You’re telling these stories in different countries. This is beyond internal record-keeping...

For sure. It’s important for the industry in general too. In Scotland we have what’s called ceilidh, meaning an evening of drinking, storytelling, socialising, and dancing. They’re all linked. So it’s important to have these stories to share, over a whisky.

What are you doing with the stories in India?

I work with a storytelling group in the UK called The Empress Collective, and they have a guitarist who plays music to storytelling, so we’ve been working together to develop that for Balvenie. [In India], we have a flautist [Nikhil Kumar], who handcrafts his own flutes.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 7:56:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/luxury/balvenie-is-recording-the-stories-of-the-people-behind-its-whiskies/article29287046.ece

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