Whisky Ambassador Corner: Kieron Elliott, The Macallan
Being a brand ambassador, especially for a Scotch brand, requires a combination of education, personality, and a little bit of a flair for the dramatic. Kieron Elliott, The Macallan brand ambassador on the West Coast of the U.S. since 2013, has all of that in spades. Elliot, himself Scottish, is a former actor and comedian turned bearer of this upscale whisky brand’s message to bartenders and consumers alike. He represents a newer type of ambassador: he hasn’t walked the distilling floor from a young age, but he’s well-versed enough in the craft to be dangerous.
I recently had the chance to catch up with Elliott while he was in Portland, Oregon, talking about The Macallan. Note this interview is edited for brevity and clarity.
The Whiskey Wash: All right, so tell me a little bit about being a brand ambassador for Macallan. How’d you get started with that?
Kieron Elliott: It’s a two-pronged approach. I’ve been in this industry for 26 years off and on, between bartender in college, and mixologist, running bar programs when I moved here. Always been a big advocate, coming from Scotland, where we have access to some incredible whiskeys. Went to whiskey tastings when I was in university and just started to learn as you go along.
The other side of route to this point is being a TV and radio presenter, voiceover actor and standup comedian. I’ve got that performance side, and really when I started to figure out that they were looking for people, there was just this brand ambassador job. I was looking for a little more stability career wise, and it just fit everything I love to do.
TWW: What attracted you to the Macllan brand specifically?
Elliott: Well, I was very fortunate that I met Martin Daraz from Highland Park, and at the time he was covering both brands. We got talking, and I started helping him. Essentially, rather than just do the events and walk away, I wanted to learn more about these brands. I wanted to learn the back story, and answer all of the questions that were asked, rather than just defer to Martin the whole time.
I really, really got into being a steward of the brand, if you will. I became a keeper of the information and under Martin’s tutelage, really started to enjoy the blossom of knowledge.
TWW: As a brand ambassador, how often do you find yourself on the road?
Elliott: A lot of the time. Yeah, there’s a lot of time spent away from home, which is a positive and a negative. I’ve always loved to travel. And it’s wonderful to get to travel to sort of talk about something I love.
At the same time, I’ve got a young daughter, and it’s always good to get home.
TWW: In the travels you’ve had, what’s the rarest MaCallan you’ve tasted with a crowd, and what was their reaction?
Elliott: It’s hard to say. Probably the rarest I had was at the Macallan distillery itself. We were there with the assistant master distiller, and he went into a cask and pulled out some whiskeys from way back, and he said it was close to 80 years old.
TWW: Where does The Macallan fall in the range of the single malt world? Is it seen more as a higher end whiskey typically?
Elliott: It’s hard to answer that question without denigrating anyone else, so I don’t want to say, oh, we’re the best in the world. I believe that, but that’s because I love the brand. We’re number one by value in the U.S., and number two by volume.
TWW: Switching gears a little bit, let’s talk more about brand ambassadoring. What’s most interesting about the job for you?
Elliott: It’s the people. I love the reaction on people’s faces. I love the way the people really react to the brand.
You know, because you can sometimes be road weary, there are times where you’ve said the same story or you’ve spoken the same elements several times. And then you deliver your piece, and you see people light up.
Yeah, so I love it. Doing presentations, and you see people just really connect and really enjoy what you’re saying.
TWW: One thing we’ve discovered from interviewing different brand ambassadors is that almost all of them have the story, or the stories, of interesting encounters they’ve had with folks as they’re telling their whiskey back story. What’s yours?
Elliott: We do the Scotch Fest on the Queen Mary, the big ocean liner of the 40s, parked in Long Beach, California. It’s quite a big deal for us. I love going to these Scottish festivals and seeing people in the highland regalia. So I saw this guy and his son with matching kilts, matching everything, and matching sporran. My first degree’s in biology, so I liked trying to figure out what the animal is this sporran is made out of. Couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was. Short hair, golden pelt, I knew it wasn’t a Scottish animal.
I went up and asked the guy what the animal was, and his face lit up. He went, “Ah, I’m glad you asked. Golden retriever.”
Turns out the dog had died, aged 15, and he found out how much it cost to stuff a retriever, and so he thought sporran. He saw the look in my face as a biologist and a dog lover, and went, “Oh, no, no, no, it’s all right. She was always sniffing around there. She feels at home.”
TWW: When you’re communicating to folks about The Macallan brand, what is the one thing you want them to take away?
Elliott: The funny thing is there are so many things I can talk about. There’s so many little pieces, or set pieces, stories, or elements that I can call on, that no two nights are ever the same.
I don’t ever set out with a specific aim, other than to tell the story as best I can, and mention the things that we are proud of. Because I like to ask people questions, sometimes it goes off on little journeys. No two tastings, no two pairings even, no two events are ever the same.
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Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and...