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Interview with Amy Seton, Founder of The Birmingham Whisky Club

March 3, 2014

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After a great time at Whisky Birmingham 2014 on Saturday it was lovely to meet the founder of The Birmingham Whisky Club, Amy Seton, the following morning and talk to her about how she came to start the club and her plans for the future. I was interested to know whether the Club’s beginnings came from Amy’s love of fine whisky or her business sense telling her it could be a good commercial enterprise. It seems it was a bit of both: Amy does enjoy whisky and has become very knowledgeable about it – even while she admits she still has much to learn – but she also saw a gap in the market for something like the club in Birmingham.

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I also asked Amy how a woman starting a whisky club had been received; had she experienced any overt sexism. She told me there were positive and negatives aspects to this. In the main, she’d caused some curiosity, especially amongst the old school guard of male whisky drinkers. But she was pleased to see – particularly at Whisky Birmingham on Saturday – more and more women getting involved in whisky drinking and learning about the drink. I certainly witnessed this myself, sitting next to a wonderfully friendly and whisky-informed woman, Jazz, in the masterclass I attended, and also being led to my ‘dream token’ choice – a tasting of a special whisky – by a woman. Amy admitted that a positive aspect of her being a woman had been that it had generated a lot of press for the Club and, indeed, she was named one of the five faces in food to watch in 2014 by the Birmingham Post.

Amy has a real passion for whisky itself. She sees and loves it for the wonderful drink that it is (you can tell I’m a whisky drinker too!), but also for the wider qualities it encourages and nurtures. There’s an ‘intellectual curiosity around whisky’ she told me. Serious whisky drinkers are curious about the world, they like to understand things. There’s a slightly geeky aspect to whisky as any serious drinker will want to know about the different distilleries and everything peculiar to a particular brand: what makes the whisky from one distillery different to another, and at the top end, so special. The environment, weather, water and soil are all contributory factors to variations, as are the casks used and bottling, yet it is more than even this. Three distilleries in a small area on a Scottish island can produce quite different and distinctive whiskies and aficionados will be able to easily tell one from another.

Whisky comes with a long and distinguished history. Amy likes the fact that there’s a lot to learn and to discover – hence the intellectual side to whisky. There’s a rich tapestry of stories; there is craftsmanship. There is a mystery around whisky that bonds its fans into a kind of natural club. If you know anyone who is serious about their whisky they won’t have just one for you to try: they’ll have a collection. And they will want to share and get you to try different ones; they’ll want to discuss the benefits of one to another; the smoothness; how peaty it is; whether it would benefit from a dash of water or should be drunk neat. Whisky creates its own club of drinkers, but it is this sense of community that Amy has captured in The Birmingham Whisky Club. There’s no other club in the country quite like it. She told me that there are whisky tasting companies that organise tasting events nationwide, but because they are formulaic going to one in one place will be much like going to one in another part of the country. However, the thing that’s different about the Birmingham club is it’s a local club that makes the most of local expert knowledge – even if outside experts are sometimes brought in for events. The club is run from a local base, furthering the sense of community. Thus at the festival yesterday there were local retailers there; local cheese and chocolate producers came to discuss the matching of whiskies with their products; local restaurants came to provide food.

This all fits with Amy’s other reason for wanting to start the club. Not just to connect to all the passion and curiosity that surrounds whisky, but to promote Birmingham. Having lived in Birmingham for 12 years, Amy was a little tired of people running it down. She spoke enthusiastically about the regeneration of Birmingham in recent years with things like the NEC, and that it’s now seen as a foodie destination, indeed it was voted food capital of Britain by Olive magazine in 2011. And the Michelin editor praised the Birmingham food scene last year too, saying it was ‘world class’. I could understand Amy’s feelings. When my daughter Nicola moved to Birmingham five years ago, some of my London friends were incredulous: Birmingham!!! they stuttered, as if it was the most awful place anyone could choose to live. But thankfully, our nation is beginning to understand – especially with people like Amy promoting it – that Birmingham is a city rich in culture and a fantastic place to both live and visit.

The success of The Birmingham Whisky Club – Saturday’s festival was sold out – has meant that Amy has had to put on hold the next phase of her business plan, but she’s now moving ahead with other things. She’s sees the Club as a kind of fabric that could be introduced to other cities, not in a formulaic way, but using local talent and knowledge in the same way as she has done in Birmingham, so each is unique. But with her background in event management she wants to encourage more big brands to Birmingham and promote other foods and drinks.

Meanwhile, she is a planning a ‘dram fine summer’ later this year with film evenings with a whisky connection; food matching with different cuisines; day trips to whisky distilleries; classes and a whole range of other whisky-based activities. So, if you love whisky, don’t be left out. Visit the Club’s website and sign up to receive their latest news: www.thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk – or follow it on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheBirminghamWhisky Club

3 Comments
  1. Small batch whiskeys are very popular here and learning more about them is interesting.

    • That’s interesting to hear Karen. It’s always so good to learn more about a favourite drink or food and I think it enhances one’s pleasure. I hope to go to more of Amy’s whisky events.

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