Entrepreneurial spark ignites passion for the luxury of whisky

Whisky, that great social leveller enjoyed by all walks of life for more than 500 years, is attracting attention from a new class of connoisseurs.

  • Full feature in Issue No. 11

Cash-rich, time-poor enthusiasts from around the world are flocking to Scotland in increasing numbers to indulge their passion for the water of life.

Whisky tourism is now big business, with around 120 active whisky distilleries, 40 more in the pipeline and distillery visitor numbers reaching upwards of 1.5 million per year. More than 95 million cases are sold across 256 countries, yet when it comes to promoting the product to well-heeled fans and welcoming them to the home of their favourite drink there is often a disconnect between distilleries and the visitors.

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Kirsty MacGeoch

“There is a definite gap in the market,” claims entrepreneur Kirsty MacGeoch, founder of the new luxury whisky experience service, Whisky Co.

Based in Edinburgh, and supported by RBS’ Entrepreneurial Spark start-up business accelerator, the 27-year-old former whisky PR manager has discovered there’s a growing demand for tailored whisky experiences.

“Whisky is a huge Scottish success story, but there’s a missing link between the distilleries and the whisky lovers coming to visit,” said Kirsty, who first began drawing up plans for her business five years ago when she left university.

“I’ve always felt that there wasn’t a luxury, personalised service available to the public that offered something special to visitors. Whisky Co. is here to do just that, by providing extra-special whisky experiences based on exactly what the customer wants, rather than providing just another pre-packaged whisky holiday.”

Visiting distilleries is one of the most popular types of visitor attractions in Scotland, attracting more overseas visitors than any other attraction and generating the highest average spend per trip.

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“There are plenty of little tours all aimed at the mass market rather than the higher end, and that’s where there is definite need,” said Kirsty, who creates bespoke itineraries individually suited to guests’ requirements whether they are novices or connoisseurs.

“Often high-worth visitors don’t have a lot of time so they are looking for someone to organise everything for them, from accommodation and restaurants to travel and personalised distillery tours.

The whisky industry accounts for more than 25 per cent of the UK’s food and drink exports, contributing more than £5 billion a year to the overall value of the UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Many overseas visitors come from Germany and France or the USA but increasingly the number of whisky tourists visiting from Russia, China, Israel and India have been on the increase, many of them women.Industry research suggests that almost a third of whisky drinkers in the UK, and more than 25 per cent globally, are now female.

Images of celebrities such as Canadian Super Model Coco Rocha, Bollywood actress Mandira Bedi, singer KT Tunstall and model Kate Moss enjoying whisky have helped to turn more women onto the drink.

“Much more women are getting into whisky than ever before. Although it’s still often seen as a male thing women actually have a better palate when it comes to testing things. They have a better sense taste and smell and can really appreciate the subtle differences of each whisky,” said Kirsty, who has seen an increase in enquiries from high-end stag and he parties.

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“Scotland really isn’t capitalising enough on the top-end of the market. These people spend more than £50million pounds a year on tours, meals, accommodation or bottles of whisky but many leave disappointed because they don’t feel they have seen or done everything they wanted to do.

“These are people who have money and want to spend it on their passion for whisky. It’s up to all of us to ensure visitors get the best out of what our country and its wonderful whisky have to offer so they want to keep coming back.”

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