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Whisky Ambassador scheme launched for bars in Scotland

23 January 2012
Whisky Ambassador scheme launched for bars in Scotland

A scheme designed to grade bar and pub staff on their whisky knowledge is set to be introduced in Scotland.

VisitScotland, the national tourism agency, is backing the project - the first of its kind to be accredited - to provide a boost for the tourism, whisky and hospitality industries.

Whisky connoisseur Victor Brierley, who runs the Glasgow Whisky Tours, is co-launching the venture, called the Whisky Ambassador, this month, after being "shocked" by the lack of knowledge many bar staff have concerning Scotland's National drink.

Brierley said he wanted to create a network of whisky "ambassadors" able to explain things such the difference between a peaty Islay and a sweet Speyside but also able to recount the story of the origins of whisky.

Whisky tourism is booming in Scotland, with more than 210,000 people passing through the doors of Diageo's 12 visitor centres in 2010, a 20% rise on the figure for 2008.

The scheme will award bar staff the title of "Whisky Ambassador" after undergoing an exam. Its aim is to boost sales of independent whiskies and luxury malts not currently widely stocked in bars, which often limit choice to best-selling safe options.

Brierley said: "There are some excellent whisky bars and a lot of knowledge in some places, but many bar staff even in high-end bars and hotels don't know what they are talking about. Premises will have sommeliers who can talk about Champagne and red or white wine until it's coming out of their ears, but shockingly, they often don't know the first thing about whisky, our national drink."

He added: "Bar staff should be able to talk about what whisky is, the colour, the age, the peatiness, the sweetness, and how it has come to find its way into bars all over the world. They should be knowledgeable and confident enough to "upsell", encouraging people to try a malt, even if it costs a couple of pounds more than a blend."

Stella Callaghan from VisitScotland, who project manages the Glasgow Tourism Service Initiative, said; "Glasgow Service with Style applauds the innovative approach being taken by Victor Brierley in his creation of the Whisky Ambassador training scheme. We wish them all the best with this venture that aims to raise the standards of service being offered to Scotland's visitors and helps instil pride in those who are promoting one of Scotland's best-known products."

The training scheme takes place over a day and costs £199. It is the first in a series of the Whisky Ambassador courses which will be aimed at giving increased levels of knowledge. Other courses will include distillery visits, blending courses and hands-on training to create "whisky bars" from scratch.

The Whisky Ambassador is working towards accreditation by the British Institute of Innkeepers and will go towards part of the bartender's Individual Learning Account. Those earning less than £22,000 can get the training paid for by the Government.

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By Neil Gerrard

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