Kirsty McKerrow, the founder of Edinburgh Whisky Academy (EWA), talks about the explosion of Scottish whisky across the globe and the need for whisky education in India. The three-year old academy has already earned its stripes back home and is all set to launch in India in partnership with Nikhil Agarwal’s All Things Nice. We asked McKerrow about Scottish whisky, the EWA and the best whisky cocktails. Read on for the full interview.
1) Please tell us a little bit about yourself and the Edinburgh Whisky Academy (EWA)
Kirsty McKerrow: Scotch Whisky has always played a central role in my life – my mother is a Mackinlay and her family started Mackinlay’s Blended Whisky in the 1800s, my father was CEO of Glenmorangie during the 1980s when they instigated their cradle to grave wood philosophy and also released the first wood finished range, a move that revolutionised the industry. I had my first whisky tasting aged eight and I have grown up surrounded by whisky stories and whisky-chat.
I suppose it was inevitable that at some stage I would be drawn to working in the industry and after 10 years of working as a Paramedic, I followed my passion and started my own whisky consultancy after moving to Sweden. Things developed quickly and within four months of opening my whisky consultancy I was approached by Moet Hennessy to be the Swedish Brand Ambassador for their whiskies – Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.
2) What prompted you to start EWA in 2015?
Kirsty McKerrow: During my time as the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg Brand Ambassador, I was very keen to get as much whisky knowledge as possible. I had received fantastic brand training but I wanted more factual knowledge on the whisky production process. There was nothing on the market that suited my needs and I realised there was a big gap in the whisky education market. When we moved back to Scotland in 2015, I decided to follow my goal of creating a credible, brand neutral Whisky Academy that would teach in-depth courses on all aspects of Scotch Whisky.
3) What are the main aims and objectives of EWA?
Kirsty McKerrow: Primarily to deliver high quality whisky education courses. All of our material is written by industry experts and our Diplomas are all taught by ex-industry consultants. Our goal is to improve the standard of whisky education globally, we are the only SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) approved Academy for whisky education and our courses are used by the industry themselves. I am deeply passionate about whisky education and I am very proud of what we have achieved in only three years.
4) How were the academy’s courses designed?
Kirsty McKerrow: We launched with the Diploma in Single Malt Whisky in September 2016. I had a very clear idea of the content I wanted to create and I engaged seven different specialists to write the individual modules. Since then we have launched two more Diploma courses and an online Certificate Course. All of these courses are certified by the SQA, meaning that candidates gain a professional qualification.
5) How many courses and countries has the EWA been a part of?
Kirsty McKerrow: We have three Diploma courses and one online Certificate. We have taught a Whisky School in China, but other than that all Diploma courses have been taught at Arniston House, Edinburgh. Nikhil (Agarwal, CEO of All Things Nice) is one of our first international partner and we are very excited at bringing our material across to India. We are looking at developing partners in five other countries but at the moment the main focus is on India and Germany.
6) What are some common misconceptions about whisky that people have?
Kirsty McKerrow: That there is a specific way to drink it – with/without water etc. I find it quite frustrating when people dictate to others how to drink their whisky. Whisky is all about enjoyment and you can drink it whichever way you choose.
7) How has the whisky industry evolved since you first got involved with it as a child?
Kirsty McKerrow: It has changed dramatically. Back in the early 1980s, Single Malt Whiskies were predominately sold to blending houses. Brand Ambassadors did not exist and even advertising was limited! Today the landscape is entirely different to the point where rare whiskies are a sought after investment, ahead of both wine and art!
8) Is Scottish whisky under any particular threat? From climate change or better whiskies such as ones from Japan for example.
Kirsty McKerrow: Scotch Whisky is thriving at the moment, with established distilleries increasing their capacity and new distilleries opening every year. The market for whisky is growing and the emergence of high-quality whiskies from other countries strengthens this market and highlights the enduring love people have for whisky. It is an exciting time and consumers are spoilt for choice!
9) How can one learn and appreciate Scottish whisky?
Kirsty McKerrow: Sign up for The Fundamentals of Scotch Whisky, taught by Nikhil Agarwal. (Edit: This inaugural session is scheduled to be held on December 7, 2019 in Mumbai. Priced at INR 30,000 AI for the day-long session, it includes day-long refreshments, lunch and of course whiskies for the Art of Tasting module. To sign up call on 9820698883 or email at email@example.com)
10) What do the courses at EWA comprise of and who are they meant for?
Kirsty McKerrow: The Diploma in Single Malt Whisky is aimed at enthusiasts, brand ambassadors, specialist spirit retailers and industry workers who are consumer facing. It covers seven modules – The History of Distillation and Whisky, The Business of Whisky, Raw Materials, Batch Distillation, Maturation, Sensory and World Whiskies. It is a two-day in-depth course (the first two modules are delivered as pre-reading). There is a formal assessment at the end of Day 2 and candidates must achieve 60% in each module in order to receive their SQA qualification.
The Diploma in the Art of Tasting is aimed at sommeliers, brand ambassadors, enthusiasts and those who host whisky tastings. It covers three modules – The Anatomy and Physiology of the Olfactory System, Flavour Development and The Influence of Oak. It is a one-day course that is very interactive, with candidates undertaking a sensory panel test as well as nosing and tasting a variety of different samples. The morning is spent learning about our olfactory systems and how to build our whisky aroma memory followed by an afternoon of learning where in the production process flavours are or can be created and what flavours these would be before looking at the influence of oak on the flavour development journey. There is a formal assessment at the end of the day and candidates must achieve 60% in each module in order to receive their SQA qualification.
The Introduction to Whisky Certificate is an online course that forms our first tier of whisky education. It covers similar topics as the Diploma in Single Malt Whisky but at a more introductory level. It is aimed for those involved in whisky who need a refresher course, satellite spirit retailers, distillery visitor centre guides and also enthusiasts.
The Fundamentals of Scotch Whisky is an adapted version of The Introduction to Whisky Certificate, which we created for our international partners to deliver. This format allows candidates to benefit from interacting with an expert teacher, networking with other serious whisky enthusiasts and of course allows for a whisky tasting module to be included.
11) India is a huge whisky market. What are some things you’re hoping to teach connoisseurs here?
Kirsty McKerrow: The Indian whisky market is huge! I have just been reading the Malt Whisky Year Book 2020 and Officers Choice sold over 34 million 9 litre cases in 2018 whereas Johnny Walker was 18.9 million litre cases! I’m excited at launching in a market with such a passion for whisky.
12) Tell us about your association with All Things Nice and how it came about?
Answer : We were looking for a suitable teacher in India and Nikhil came highly recommended to us. He has taken both of our Whisky Diploma courses and shares our passion for high-quality whisky education. I very much look forward to developing a strong partnership with him and All Things Nice.
13) Name your top five Scottish whiskies and why
Kirsty McKerrow: That’s a tough question! I’ve tasted so many superb whiskies this year, it would be hard to limit it to just five. I think my overall favourite dram has to be an Ardbeg 10 – I love the complexity of it and I am a big fan of peaty whiskies.
14) Name your top five whisky cocktails
Kirsty McKerrow: My overall favourite whisky cocktail has to be an Old Fashioned, but the one I drink most frequently is a Whisky Mac – the best winter warmer during the dark, cold Scottish evenings.
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Priyanko Sarkar is the Founder Editor of Gurgl.in. He has been a writer for over 15 years and this site is his attempt to document India's growing beverage sector with impactful and interesting stories. His favourite drink is Vietnamese Coffee and his favourite spirit is Turkish Raki.