We’ve recently had the pleasure of interviewing one of the whisky industry’s most interesting and active bloggers. Anne-Sophie Bigot is the owner of the Whisky Lady blog, through which she brings a fresh perspective to the whisky world, attempting to remove the preconception that whisky is but an “old man’s drink.”
Apart from managing her blog, Anne-Sophie works as a whisky auctioneer and a freelance representative for several French distilleries.
With a long history in the industry, and a whole lot of experience, we were overjoyed to pick her brains on several different aspects of the industry and get the opinion of such a seasoned whisky enthusiast.
Anne-Sophie went into great detail and truly helped us understand her time in the industry. Let’s dive in to the interview.
You work as a freelance representative for distilleries in France and estimate bottles for whisky auctions. How did you get involved in the industry?
I wish I could say that I fell in a whisky barrel when I was younger or that I lived in the middle of the Scottish Highlands as a child… But I didn’t. My love story with whisky began more than 5 years ago, when I first stepped foot in Scotland for a quick city break with my Scotland-born partner. As proper tourists, we went to visit a distillery and couldn’t miss a tasting of Scotch. This distillery happened to be Auchentoshan (near Glasgow), if it definitely isn’t the first whisky I ever had in my life, it was the one that made me appreciate the amber nectar and motivated me to embark on my discovery journey.
I was studying Chinese at university at that time, not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life (I even went to Art school before which wasn’t a success either), when I first thought I could turn my passion for whisky into a potential career.
I still finished my degree in Chinese and then completed a Masters degree in hospitality & tourism management, during which I chose to focus on whisky tourism, more specifically studying how to enhance the visitor experience in distilleries. I went to live in Scotland for a while to improve my whisky knowledge, worked in a few distilleries & other whisky-related positions and was then offered a job, straight after my studies, on behalf of a French whisky distributor, where I only stayed for a few months before creating my own business.
Beside this – wobbly – educational/professional background, I kept educating myself for years : attending all sorts of whisky festivals, tastings, reading hundreds of books and visiting many distilleries in many different countries.
Can you tell us a little about your role with Catawiki?
I’m a whisky auctioneer for Catawiki. If you’ve never heard of it before, Catawiki is an online auction house specialised in collectible and exclusive objects, you can basically find everything as long as it’s valuable, hard to find and sought-after by collectors : from Rolex watches, classic cars, Louis Vuitton bags, stamps, comics to diamonds and… Whisky ! But for collectors to be able to find their « wow » online, as a whisky auctioneer, my main role is to curate and estimate the lots we’re offered by sellers, making sure they are genuine and suitable for auctions. We auction around 300 whiskies every week, and our team of 3 goes through every single bottle… Let me tell you that’s not a detail! While some bottles may be easy to authentify some older gems can imply extensive researches where we sometimes need to contact the distillery etc.
I find my mission as a whisky auctioneer really thrilling : I consider whisky as a real work of art and getting to see all those amazing bottles is like working in an open museum to me ! The other « thrilling factor » of my role is to know that I’ll make someone happy when he/she wins. You know, the thrill of the chase is really exciting for whisky collectors, the quest for a bottle can sometimes be even more self-fullfilling than actually owning this bottle.
The only downside of the auction system is that obviously, when two people are fighting over a bottle, only one will end up happy, and the other person will be disappointed… But that’s the auction game right ?
What do you enjoy most about working in the drinks industry?
Probably the community feeling that exists within this industry. I remember hearing about this vague concept of “coopetition” (mix of cooperation and competition if you don’t get it ) when I attended marketing courses at university, now I know what it really means.
As I often say, I think the whisky industry is a big loving family, some fellow whisky bloggers called it the #WhiskyFabric, that is only willing to welcome new members.
Working in the drinks industry has also enabled me to meet incredibly inspiring people, I find my inspiration in human encounters and this industry is fuelled by amazing people who have a story to tell. With my blog, I’m trying to tell their stories.
How do you drink your whisky – with a little water, ice, neat, in a cocktail?
I’m always confused by these kinds of questions because it all depends on the moment, the occasion, the location, the people I’m sitting with…
I love a good whisky cocktail when I’m out for instance. When I’m drinking at home, if I’m, for instance, reviewing a whisky, I would first have it neat and then add a bit of water if I feel like it would enhance the drink and reveal more aromas. Well, the only thing I’m not into amongst this list is ice, because the cold temperature hides the flavours, but not blaming you if you like adding ice to your whisky on a Summer night.
There’s no “right way” to drink a whisky, even though people are trying to tell you their rules, there aren’t any. At the end of the day, it’s how you enjoy it that counts.
Do you remember your first taste of whisky?
I actually don’t, because it was probably very late in the night and above all, because it wasn’t a memorable experience. I used to hate the taste of whisky when I was younger, only drinking it mixed with coke when there wasn’t anything else to drink (yes, I’d rather go for the cheap 2€ supermarket cooking wine at that time… How French is that…).
But I do remember my first taste of good whisky. As explained before, it was during a visit of Auchentoshan Distillery and it blew my mind. I never got back to 2€ wine.
Whisky seems to have been marketed to, and consumed, primarily by men in the past, though increasing numbers of women are becoming more visible in the industry. Do you think there are more women drinking whisky?
Definitely. The whisky world has always been seen by beginners as a codified universe and boasts quite a dusty image of being an “old man’s drink”. This is something I’m constantly fighting against. However, I do believe this image is slowly evolving. There are now more and more females involved in the industry and considered as real experts (Rachel Barrie, Angela D’Orazio or Allison Patel to name but a few), so hey, girls know their drams.
I think the craft spirits & mixology trend helped a lot to rejuvenate the image of whisky, I see more and more youngsters (and females) attending whisky festivals or even willing to open a distillery and that makes me happy!
Many of the women I’ve come across in the industry are eager to champion ‘Women who Whisky’, do you think this is a beneficial approach to take?
I’m not sure. Women in whisky have been commonplace for a long time now and – within the industry – they’re really treated equally. From the outside though, it’s definitely not the same story, I can’t even count how many times I’ve been asked why I was working in the whisky industry as a woman. But in the end, most people I know find it pretty cool.
I believe “women in whisky” shouldn’t be a thing, if we keep this approach, WE stigmatize ourselves. Some will continue to do it, because it’s great for journos, it’s a typical clickbait (I gave an interview last year and the title the publication came up with was “this girl is proving whisky isn’t a drink for old grumpy men” – in French – needless to say it attracted a huge amount of clicks, but in the end, it’s reductive and the whole point of the article wasn’t about this. But in 2017, being a woman in a supposed “men’s world” shouldn’t be regarded as strange or ballsy.
Here at Whisky Foundation, we love the variety offered by independent bottlers. Are there any independently bottled whiskies high in your list of favourites?
There surely are a lot! Independent bottling is often a great way to have access to unique whiskies, that would not necessarily have been bottled by distilleries, or that would be a lot more expensive as official bottlings.
For instance, I am a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and I would encourage anyone willing to discover whisky to consider a membership. They release 15-20 new single cask whiskies every month, focusing on aromatic profiles, I find this approach really modern and interesting. They recently released a whisky finished in ex-gin cask and oh my.
I also love the work of Gordon & Macphail – I recently had the chance to be sent samples from their Speyside Collection (featuring whiskies from as far as the 1950s). That was amazing stuff! Their Connoisseurs Choice range is also worth checking.
Last but not least, I’m a huge fan of Douglas Laing’s Old Particular range (special thumbs up for the Strathclyde 10 & Cameronbridge 24 if you’re into Single Grain).
Also, in my “personal 2016 whisky awards” list, I featured a Bruichladdich 2005 matured in Rioja casks and bottled by independent bottler Claxton’s Spirits – if you can get your hands on this bottle, don’t think twice and do it!