Words by: Jane Ryan
She may be blond and from Essex but Georgie Bell, brand ambassador for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, is not to be underestimated.
I was half-way though my first year studying geography at Edinburgh University and my parents told me to get a job, to stop freeloading. Just don't get a job in a bar, they said, and definitely not in a nightclub. So of course that's precisely what I did, I started working in the most fashionable club in Edinburgh and I fell in love with the alcohol industry. When the summer came I stayed in Edinburgh and got deeper and deeper into the bar scene, from Opal to Dragonfly and then the Missoni Hotel.
After I finished my degree, all my friends were moving to London but I knew I wasn't ready to do that. I knew I wanted to carry on within the alcohol industry and thankfully a job came up on Gumtree for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I bombarded them with CVs, went in with more and met with the managers - basically I made sure I got noticed.
You don't see many young blond girls from Essex in the whisky industry. Sometimes I'll start a tasting with a corporate group and they'll look at me oddly when I go in. It doesn't bother me: I just see it as an aim to win them over by the end of the session. I try to pull out a golden 'bullet' of information that makes them go 'oh wow, she actually knows what she's talking about, we're going to listen'. But it generally isn't a problem and I think it is refreshing, really refreshing. It is less about being a girl and more about having the passion to do it.
I used to hate whisky, absolutely hated it, but I think everyone does. I think it's like olives or coffee, you're not born to like it, you gain an appreciation. I didn't like cognac, I didn't like rum, I didn't like dark spirits at all but I forced myself into it and now I like them. I hated Campari and now that is one of my favourite drinks. Same with whisky: I tried it and I tried it and I tried it again.
I started with bourdon because I found it sweeter and I would drink it in cocktails, particularly Maker's Mark. The whisky that got me into it was Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban because, again, it was sweeter. I remember finishing work one day and I had a craving all of a sudden for a really smoky Ardbeg Rob Roy and I was like 'wow, I'm finally there, I have the taste for it' - and that's why the job was so right for me.
I originally wanted to specialise on whisky because I didn't know if I'd get a career out of bartending and thought I might get one from a single spirit. But I still do a few floor shifts in cocktail bars in Edinburgh just to keep my hand in there. I also recently did a diploma in distillation, a mixture of bio-chemistry and engineering. Now I'm reading up on perfumery - that's something I'm really excited about, as I think incorporating perfumery and whisky together could help get more women drinking whisky. I'm also a big foodie and pairing whisky and food is also something I am keen on. That's what I am working on short term, long term who knows.
Recent highlights for me include being involved in the global launch of Mortlach. We did so much with the brand last year and finding out we won Global Whisky Launch of the year with Drinks International is just incredible.
I have also gained my Diploma in Distillation with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and I’m proud to have won the Worshipful Company of Distillers Scholarship Award for getting the highest mark internationally that year. I enrolled in the course as I wanted to completely immerse myself in the whisky industry, and show that age isn’t always everything for the category – it’s about flavour too. Having just finished university, I still had a learning bug, so I channelled my energy into the diploma. It was tough – you don’t cover any chemical engineering in geography (my original degree) – I essentially had five weeks out to travel and learn about pumps, filters and fluid flow in a distillery. It was hard, and I was probably a nightmare for my friends to deal with at the time, but it all worked out in the end.
Travelling is also another highlight for me – I spent about 8 months of last year on the road, meeting old friends and making new ones and introducing the world to the new Mortlach expressions. It’s been an incredible experience, full of stories, and I’m extremely grateful for all the amazing hospitality I’ve received along the way. Seeing the world in this way really highlights just how lucky we are to be in this close knit, supportive industry.
The advice I'd give to others is keep reading, keep asking questions, and put yourself out there! Go with your gut instinct. People keep asking me what my five year plan is…I didn’t know what I was going to do even two years ago, so in five years’ time? I have no idea! But I’d like to think that the road I’m currently on is a pretty exciting one and I’m going to roll with it. It’s also helpful to have some mentors – people from different walks of life that you can look up to and trust to give you the right advice. Take everything constructively.