Throughout 2016 my blog will feature interviews with ten people closely involved with the world of whisk(e)y. Not all will be “famous” but all will be true enthusiasts with passion and insights that add to our knowledge and foster our enthusiasm for the ultimate spirit.
Kelly McCarthy is the Brand Development Manager of Anchor Distilling Company located in San Francisco, CA.
1. Tell me a little about Anchor Distilling for those who are unfamiliar with the company.
Anchor Distilling Company is an importer or distiller of 23 different brands. We specialize in Single Malt whisk(e)y from around the world and craft spirits and modifiers. Anchor strives to have the most interesting portfolio with the most knowledgeable staff. “Education and libation” is the name of the game for us! That’s my opinion anyhow, my marketing team might veto that tag line!
2. You mentioned recently that three brands have been sold, what are the brands, and what is the future direction for Anchor?
Yes, Glendronach, Benriach, and Glenglassaugh were recently sold to Brown Forman. We are the importer of these brands to the states. I am not sure of the plan for these brands, but Anchor until hears otherwise, it is business as usual. These three brands are some of the most well respected in their class and Billy Walker has made it clear that anything he had in his hand will be quality.
3. How did you find your way to Anchor?
I’m very lucky. In a previous life, I was a bartender in the Cambridge/Somerville MA area. One of my regulars was already involved with Anchor. He helped me get to work with a distributor and then with Anchor later on. I had already dabbled in the sales world prior with a smaller distributor selling eclectic wine and spirits. When I first got into this industry, I was at a dive bar in Boston when I wasn’t attending classes for college. I got into the retail world as well as moving to a higher tier of restaurants to expand my, beer, wine and spirit knowledge. Ten goals were to learn as much as I could about the industry as quickly as possible
4. What is the most interesting aspect of your role as Brand Development Manager?
There are so many interesting aspects!! The people I meet are so knowledgeable. A lot of them teach me as much as I teach them. I am exposed to so many new and interesting spirits I would never taste/learn about if I wasn’t a part of this world. I will be chatting about single malts and someone will pull out a bottle from their bag that they have been saving and will give me a taste. Everyone wants to share what they know and have.
Every buyer/consumer/enthusiast is different. Some days, I am teaching people the difference between single malts and blended scotch. Sometimes, it’s the different styles of gin. Other times, we talk about how something can work in a cocktail. It’s always changing from day to day, appointment to appointment. I love it.
5. Do you a specific woman role model who is in the world of whisky? Why her?
I do! Kendra Scott of anchor is an inspiration. I had the pleasure of spending a few days with her recently. She is down to earth, funny, liable, and has some serious dance moves. But the best part? She makes incredible 100% rye whiskey. I’ve asked her how she feels being a woman in this industry and she is indifferent. To Kendra, she was hired as a tour guide and worked her way up with Fritz and Bruce (the master distiller) and has been a part of the inception of so many brands. It’s just what she does. Woman, man, doesn’t matter. I appreciate that very much.
6. Do you have categories that you place participants in during tasting events? (For example, the loud mouth, the know it all, the rookie, etc.)
I try not to do that. Everyone is there to learn. I access the level of knowledge and get to work with the 30-60 seconds I have with each person. That being said, there is one type of person that bugs me. The one who comes up to the table looking for the highest number on the bottle. “It’s old so it must be good.” If I have time, I will always have that person blind taste two side by side. It’s normally 50/50 as to which one wins out.
7. Do you have a favorite whisky tasting story that you can share?
There are plenty of great stories. The one that sticks in my mind currently happened about a year ago. A woman walked into this liquor store and went straight to the single beer cooler to pick out a tall boy of Budweiser. While she was in line, I asked if she wanted to taste my lineup of single malts. She fell in love with the Glenglassaugh Torfa and picked up a bottle for her and her husband to celebrate their anniversary with the following week. It was an unexpected surprise after tasting with a bunch of “whisk(e)y aficionados” during the tasting event. She was more open to trying and really tried to understand the differences in each expression more than anyone else that night.
(I, too, enjoyed the Torfa that Kelly shared at an Anchor tasting. The nose was smokey. The palate a merging of sea and smoke…a nice introduction to peated whisky. I rank it a 3 out of a possible 4.)
8. Do you have a current favorite whisky or whiskies? What are they and why?
I’m a situational drinker. My cravings change depending on the hour. Right now? I think Benriach 16 is one of the best bangs for your buck whiskies out there. Nikka Pure Malt is beautiful if I’m looking for a delicate peat. Glenmorangie Nector D’or is also really nice if I’m drinking my whisky neat. Lastly, Glenrothes 98 is my go to in general. It is bright, spicy, and all around delicious. Most of the brands I named are mine but….if you don’t like what you represent, don’t rep it!
9. Do you collect bottles of whisky? If so, do you have a theme that you follow? Are you on the hunt for a particular whisky at the moment?
Currently, no. I have a very limited amount of space where I am living. I will eventually start pulling in more bottles, but if I say which ones, they’ll become harder and harder to find… 🙂
10. Do you have any recommendations for someone exploring/tasting whisky for the first time?
Heck, yes. Glenrothes ex-bourbon cask is light, buttery, and palatable for everyone. But if you’re new to whisk(e)y in general, go with a lighter bourbon. The sweetness tends to get people interested. As your palate progresses you can get into drier or more spicy drams.
Thanks to Kelly for participating in my 10-4-10 series. Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 781-521-6693.
As a woman who is boundlessly enthusiastic about whisky, I find it encouraging that more women are not only interested in the spirit but staking out significant roles in the industry.
I raise a glass!