It would take you less than two minutes with Martin Markvardsen, the Highland Park Senior Brand Ambassador to understand just how deeply the Viking soul runs through his veins. He speaks with a profound and genuine enthusiasm, both for the brand he represents, and about people - the people he works with, and the people he meets around the world - all who share his immense passion for great whisky.
Markvardsen is regarded as one of the hardest working ambassadors on the circuit. His intense travel schedule would either have you weeping at the check-in desk or eagerly wondering what you’d do with all the accumulated air miles. At the same time he still makes the time to engage regularly with lovers of Highland Park, particularly via the very active Highland Park Appreciation Society Facebook group.
The Dramble spent some time with Markvardsen at Whisky Live London 2017 where we spoke about what life as a brand ambassador entails.
When did you join the world of whisky and what were you doing before this?
I started my whisky journey about 27 years ago. Before I began in this wonderful industry I worked in the Danish Navy. I was in the Military Police and it was a great time, my interest for whisky came after a trip to Scotland. After a few jobs at different distilleries, I began to work full time at the Whisky World in Copenhagen airport. Later I moved on to become the whisky manager at the Craigellachie Hotel. Then, one day Edrington called me and ask me to work for them. Besides working with whisky, I workout a lot. I used to box a lot and was Danish champion and on the national team.
What does a normal day as a brand ambassador entail for you?
The good thing about my job – there’s no average days. That said, as I’m meeting a lot of people, a lot of my time is talking about Highland Park, might be masterclasses, interviews or just meeting Highland Park fans from around the world. Besides that, there is lot of preparing for events, cask selection, and when I’m back on Orkney, I meet the people that come to visit our beautiful distillery.
The best part of my job is to meet the people, and to work with the best team you can imagine. The team at our distillery is my family. It is a great fortune to be able to call them part of my average day of work. That’s simply amazing.
What are the key skills required to be a brand ambassador?
You need to know your brand inside out. Besides that, communication and presentation skills. Most of all you need to have the passion. If you do not have the passion for what you are doing people will look right through you. Honestly, I can say this on behalf of all my colleagues in the industry, we all share the same passion for scotch whisky and the brand we work for.
Do you have any advice/tips for people looking to become brand ambassadors?
I advise them to go for it 100%. Prepare as much as they can for the job and brand they want to work for. Keep a professional attitude towards the liquid - that means be responsible.
You travel a LOT. Where is the most exciting/unusual place you've visited?
Yes, it’s a great way to see different cultures. Last year I had the pleasure to do a tour in Asia, and it was great. Straight after Asia I went up to Svalbard in the Arctic circle to the most Northern whisky bar in the world - that must be the most unusual place I have been. Exciting places like Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpor, Singapore and Taipei are always amazing, but my favourite place will always be Orkney.
Does modern technology help with keeping in touch with your family whilst you're away
Without modern technology it would be harder. Things like Skype makes it a bit more personal to speak with family and friend, but also things like meetings it’s easier today when you travel.
What cultural differences do you see when it comes to whisky drinking/appreciation around the world?
Good question. I think you can see a big difference from Asia to Europe and then again to America. Asia is a lot about enjoying the whisky together with food instead of wine, in America there’s a trend right now with whisky and beer pairing and its spreading towards Europe. Europe is a bit more conservative in the way of enjoying whisky, although I’ve seen the changes to become more cocktail driven as well. That said, there’s still a good “respect” towards the enjoyment of whisky, and this is now in most countries. Let’s be honest here, there shouldn’t be any rules about how to enjoy whisky, as long as you have a good time, and do it with respect.
Do you have a favourite whisky moment which will stick with you forever?
I have had lots of memorable moments. My first dram of Bowmore with Jim McEwan in the warehouse at Bowmore. My meeting with the late and legendary John MacLellan at Bunnahabhain, where we shared a dram on the pier outside the distillery as the sun went down. My first glass of Highland Park 50yo. One moment I can do over and over again is having a dram of Highland Park at the Cliffs of Yesnaby on Orkney. The enjoyment and memory of that never ever fails.
From your experience, what new trends might we see in whisky in the future?
Trends like different barley types and yeast strains and maturation in different locations are things I think would be coming up. I think we have already seen what we could in terms of wood finishes. So, I think we will see distilleries doing full maturation in casks that previously were only used finishing. Full maturation in Port wine or Madeira casks etc.
Highland Park’s new bottling Valkyrie - can you tell us about the story behind the bottle as well as the makeup of the malt?
The Valkyrie is an amazing story. The Valkyries were the ones that chose which Vikings on the battlefield should live or die, and for the Vikings it was not the end, but the beginning as they made it to Valhalla and Odin. The box and label has been designed by a Danish designer Jim Lyngvild. His knowledge for Viking history and also for design made it an easy choice for us. It is a great looking bottle and whisky inside does it total justice. Our Master Blender Gordon Motion put this together with 3 different cask styles: bourbon cask, American and European oak Sherry casks. At the same time we used some of the heavier peated stock we have and increased the peat and smoke of the profile. It still carries the DNA of Highland Park, but with more creamy vanilla notes and a bit more peat.
What can we expect from Highland Park in the future?
We are always looking for new stories to tell, in near future we will change to design of our bottle, and a few new expressions will see the light of day.