New Blog series: Whisky Behind the scenes #1- Mitch Bechard a Keeper of the Quaich, one half of Not another Whisky Podcast, owner of Copper Cairn and all-round whisky extraordinaire.
Hi Mitch thanks for agreeing to take part in our current blog series: Whisky behind the scenes. Giving our readers a behind the scenes look at the Whisky industry. You have worked with some of the largest and most awarded scotch whiskies in the world such as Glenfiddich, Johnnie Walker, Lagavulin and Balvenie. A Keeper of the Quaich now running your own company; CopperCairn, a podcast co-host and all-round whisky adventurer. What initially attracted you to a career in the alcohol industry?
My first peek into the industry was at the tender age of 20 when I started a part time position behind the bar in North Queensferry, from there I found that I loved the interaction with customers. I went on to spend 15 years in hospitality working in bars, hotels and restaurants in Portugal, Australia, London and of course my home country of Scotland. From there I became a Brand Ambassador for Diageo at a time when no one really knew what that was. After 5 years in the job, I was tempted by an offer from William Grant and Sons to move to California and take on a position as their Glenfiddich Ambassador in the USA. After spending 10 years with them I left in 2020 to start up my own company, CopperCairn.
You and Daz started the podcast off the back of two long standing successful careers in the whisky industry, both starting in hospitality. Have you got any advice for anybody reading this who wants to make the transition from hospitality to brand ambassador?
I think it is a natural progression for a bartender to transition into this role. Talk to as many ambassadors that you meet and find out how they started. The thing I love about the whisky industry is that everyone is very welcoming and open, but my biggest piece of advice is to have passion and work out how you want to be perceived as an Ambassador. Some people I meet lead with their knowledge of the whisky category, for me this is secondary, knowledge can always be taught, personality can’t. An Ambassador needs to be knowledgeable about the category, but first and foremost she or he must be personable. The job is very much relationship led and you must be prepared to be on your A game 24/7.
With so many whisky podcasts available, what inspired you and Daz to start your own podcast?
Lockdown and boredom is the honest answer! We were chatting a lot during the Covid crisis and thought, ‘do you think people would want to hear our whisky chat?’ This then led to us fumbling our way through the first couple of episodes which then got some really good feedback. The plan for the show was never to sit and chat tasting notes for hours about one dram with inside whisky quips, there is enough of that out there! We wanted something that was going to be informal and approachable. I like to think that Not Another Whisky Podcast is something that people who are just getting into whisky can easily listen to but there is also something there for the seasoned whisky drinker.
You recently announced that Daz would be leaving the podcast and that Nicholas Pollacchi would be joining you as your new co-host. Can you tell us a little bit about Nicholas’s background in the whisky industry?
Nicholas is a very interesting character and I am really excited to have him as part of the show. Who is Daz? Kidding, we are still great friends and still chat a lot; his new position dictated his departure from the show. It was a sad moment when he told me, and afterwards I had thoughts about calling time on the show but after recording 65 episodes and gaining a bit of a following now within the whisky world I thought that would be the wrong move. Nicholas and I have been close friends for over 13 years now and as soon as I asked him about co-hosting with me, he jumped on the opportunity. Nicholas has a similar background to me, working as an ambassador for whisky brands such as Macallan, Highland Park, Dalmore and Balvenie. He now runs his own company that created a great Japanese whisky call Shibui. The first official episode we did together went really well and felt really natural, we based this all around him (because he likes to chat about himself ?) – ‘The New Boy Episode.’
Except Matthew from GlenWyvis (obviously ?) who has been your most interesting podcast guest to date?
Matthew was great on the show, we are always really interested to hear about what the new distilleries of Scotland are up to, and you guys have a great story to tell. We have had so many great guests on and are always grateful for their time. We are fortunate to have so many great friends within the industry who are more than happy to come on the show. I feel like asking who was the most interesting is like asking me to pick a favourite child! I would say that some of the episodes that I have really enjoyed have been when we have done it in front of a live audience. The last time we did this was with the incredible Dave Broom. My other favourite episodes have been the ones with Charlie MacLean. Both were recorded at his flat in Edinburgh and were around Christmas, needless to say this led to a few drams during and afterwards!
On the podcast you have both shared some amazing experiences as brand ambassadors. What was the most memorable “I can’t believe this is my job” moment you experienced throughout your career?
There was a day that I think I am going to find hard to beat. I was living in California and received an email from Calvin Harris’s manager who told me he was a huge fan of Glenfiddich. We started chatting and I organised a few things for one of his videos. Fast forward a month later and I was doing a crazy event in Las Vegas that involved flying five helicopters into the Grand Canyon and tasting customers on 30-, 40- and 50-year-old. I had seen that Calvin was doing a gig that night in Las Vegas so I had invited him along. His manager said he could not attend but would like to meet up. We did the tasting, which by itself was unbelievable, and I kept some 50-year-old for Calvin and met him afterwards. I ended up going on stage with him and standing behind him for most of the gig. At one point he turned to me and went ‘this is alright, isn’t it?’ I remember waking up the next day thinking ‘did I just fly into the Grand Canyon then hang out with Calvin Harris yesterday?’
If you did not pursue a career in the whisky industry, what do you think you would have done instead?
I am into fast cars, thinking a Ferrari test driver would be a fun gig.
You must have tasted some awesome drams throughout your career. What are the top three whiskies you have tried?
That is a tough question! I would say the afore mentioned Glenfiddich 50 is up there. It is not overcooked and still so delicate while being incredibly complex with a velvet finish, shame it is now £36,000!! I have become a bit obsessed with Glen Scotia recently and their Victoriana expression makes the cut for sure! Such a complicated dram that I can sit with for hours and it keeps giving. I love that combination of rich fruits combined with the slight oily briny notes, it’s like sitting at the harbour on a summers day in Campbelltown. My third whisky would be the one that someone buys me in a bar ?.
Aside from being a podcast host you are the owner and founder of Copper Cairn; can you tell us about the services your business offers?
I started CopperCairn in 2020 with the idea of using my knowledge within the whisky industry to provide unique whisky experiences for people. The company is based in Speyside, regarded by most as the heart of whisky country and the experiences it provides range from whisky tastings to multi-day immersive whisky tours around Scotland. Lockdown was a tough time to start the company but since restrictions have eased, I have been hosting whisky fans from the USA, Brazil, Mexico, Denmark, Finland and even a group from Japan. I consider myself so lucky in that I now not only get to talk about my passion but also get to show people the amazing sights that Scotland has to offer.
You offer your services as a host for whisky dinners through your business. You must have had some delicious whisky dinner pairings over the years. What was the best whisky food pairing you have ever tasted?
I love a whisky dinner and when the pairing is done well it is one of the best ways to enjoy a dram. Over the years I have hosted these from fine dining steak houses, Michelin star Indian restaurants to a picnic on the Spey. It is always such a pleasure to work with bartenders and chefs on creating pairings that sometimes match perfectly and on other occasions can play off each other. I think my favourite pairing to date was when I first started the role as a Diageo Ambassador and doing oysters with Talisker at the distillery, for me it is sometimes about the location as well as the pairing!
Explore your own unique whisky experience with Coppercairn here.