The Whisky People – Mark Thomson
Welcome to the latest article in our ‘Whisky People’ series. In this series we will be focusing on different people within the industry, getting their ‘whisky history’, feelings on the industry, delving into how they got involved, and discussing some of their favourite drams. In this article we will be focusing on Mark Thomson. Mark is the UK Brand Ambassador for Glenfiddich, and that role involves promoting the Glenfiddich brand all around the UK – as well as enjoying whisky!
Photo courtesy of Gabriela Silvera Photography http://www.gabrielasilveiraphoto.com
The first thing you notice about Mark is his absolute passion for whisky across the board. He is also quick to remove the ‘snobbery’ from whisky and encourage people to drink it how they like it regardless of popular perception. If you like it with ice, or in a cocktail, that’s fine by him as long as you enjoy it. He’s actually someone that puts fun and light heartedness into the industry without really having to try.
Believe it or not Marks first introduction to whisky came when he used to steal some of his grandfather’s Glenfiddich. Needless to say that at a young age his palate wasn’t developed enough for him to enjoy the whisky, but that didn’t stop him from stealing a sip… By the tender age of 19 Mark had moved from blended whisky with mixers to single malts, and from there he never really looked back. He does approach drams with a different attitude these days though and can happily enjoy a whisky and ginger ale on occasion, sip away at a blend, or appreciate the complexity of a single malt.
Mark’s love of wine and spirits really grew as he spent many years in the hospitality industry. Having moved through various positions gathering invaluable knowledge and experience he then started his own business. The business’s focus was hosting masterclasses, and that allowed him to focus his efforts on whisky, develop an all-round understanding of the spirit, and fully delve into the colourful history of the industry. The business grew rapidly and relationships were quickly founded to the point where Mark became an ‘ambassador for hire’ across many brands in the industry. William Grant and Sons were one of Mark’s many clients, and after 2 years of working with them on successful projects (such as the launch of Hudson and Girvan single grain) the position of ambassador came up, and Mark was invited to apply – the rest is history!
Mark’s ‘go-to’ whisky is actually the Glenfiddich 15 Solera. Why this dram you may ask? It’s down to its flexibility as either a straight up dram or old fashioned cocktail. It’s a slightly drier whisky and has lot more to it than simply being ‘3 years older than the standard 12’ – he even likes the price! Beyond his beloved brand he also admits to liking the Old Pulteney 17 year old. His grandmother was born in Wick (the hometown of Old Pulteney) and he grew up spending lots of time with her. She was a great cook and always had amazing smells in her kitchen (and on her hands) from whatever she was cooking or picking at the time. As far as Mark is concerned that particular Old Pulteney brings back fond memories of his dearly departed gran. It’s buttery with a salty brine aroma… Mark does admit that his cabinet isn’t all single malts though. He has a multitude of blends that he mostly picks up from auctions. This is one of Mark’s hobbies and he loves to try new whiskies regardless of the style.
What does Mark look for in a good dram though, this is the question… He admits himself that this is a tricky one and that he now views all whisky with the one approach, they are not all made for the same palate. Mark’s idea of a good dram would be heavy on American Oak maturation. He’s not a ‘sherry bomb’ lover and as much as he ‘dabbles’ in peaty numbers now and then his heaven would be a buttery, salted caramel, ex-bourbon Glenfiddich… The palate also has to hold the tastes and flavours of the initial nose, and the dram has to have a lingering finish. And if that description doesn’t have you reaching for the whisky cabinet, what will!
Having worked within many other drinks industries Mark really does believe that the Whisky industry is unique. Yes there are villains (and Mark feels every good story needs a villain…) and big marketing companies out to promote one thing or the next. At the heart of it all though is the whisky, and that brings people together like no other drink. It may have changed its face over the years, but Mark feels it’s still an industry with a human touch and camaraderie that allows even the bitterest of rivals to have a dram together at the end of the night. That’s a sentiment I share and most people in the industry will echo.
I can honestly say from personal experience that Mark’s Glenfiddich masterclasses and whisky deconstructions are not the norm, and that’s a good thing. As someone who loves to have their perception challenged I can really relate to what he does and where he is coming from. He’s a great asset to the industry and makes whisky accessible, regardless of your palate, interest, or knowledge on the subject.
Article by David McNeill