PICTURED: Nicola Riske


Nicola Riske

For more than a decade, Nicola Riske has been sharing her passion for whisky as an ambassador for Edrington and The Macallan. Our very own SMWS ambassador for The Netherlands, Monique ten Kortenaar, caught up with Nicola to find out more about her journey and how to grow your understanding and appreciation of whisky

MtK: So how did whisky enter your life, Nicola?

NR: It was a happy accident! I was working in marketing and that was what brought me to whisky. I was introduced to the flavours, the aromas, its character, and I started to study and learn and ask questions, then travelled to visit distilleries in Scotland, Ireland, Kentucky, Mexico – all over the place.

I never knew that I would fall so far down the rabbit hole in terms of wanting to continuously learn. The thing is that the more that I learn the more I realise there’s always something new to learn. That’s part of the beauty of this magical spirit – forever asking questions and forever discovering.

I realised I really wanted to be a brand ambassador, so I studied hard and in 2012 I finally had the opportunity to join Edrington and The Macallan. My career with The Macallan began in New York as a local whisky ambassador and through all of that I’ve continued my studies and my learning. I did my general certificate in distillation and I’m working on my WSET [Wine & Spirit Education Trust] Level 3 right now. In 2016, I had the opportunity to move to Madrid, and work in countries like Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Greece. So I moved to Spain and never looked back.

MtK: What does your role involve in terms of whisky education?

NR: We have a global education leadership team, ensuring that our brand ambassadors are comfortable and confident in everything that they do surrounding The Macallan, whisky, education, and being able to bring forward a beautiful message of whisky being for everyone and of enjoying The Macallan, responsibly of course! A number of countries may not have full-time brand ambassadors, so that’s where I come in as well.

In terms of educating and inspiring everyone about The Macallan and about whisky as a whole, I work with our team, making sure they’re engaged and that they have an understanding of our brand and of whisky. I work with all of our third-party distributors, various brand managers, with the sales force and then the trade. It’s my job to inspire, have conversations and connect, understand what the challenges are, are they working with cocktails, how are people enjoying their whisky and how can I best support them and help them discover the beauties of The Macallan.

And then of course there’s the public, helping them fine-tune their noses and their palates and find the right whisky for the right moment.

MtK: What attracts you to whisky as a spirit?

NR: Exploration – the discovery is never ending. And nosing and tasting is a very emotional thing. What I love about whisky is understanding that there is an art, a science, and engineering to this as well. And I love never knowing enough about it. It’s putting that glass up to my nose and then starting to ask those questions and trying to understand that liquid. And of course, enjoying a dram with a friend.

When I first got into whisky, I wanted all the answers, and I wanted them to be straightforward. The beauty of it is realising that it’s not an exact science.

MtK: Do you have a favourite whisky or style?

NR: No! There are too many beautiful whiskies out there to nose and taste. Have I tasted some incredible whiskies in my lifetime? Absolutely. Have I found some exceptional favourites, some exceptional moments as well? Absolutely. But I always get excited about the next thing that’s in my glass, what’s in front of me, and being present with that.

MtK: Do you have tips or tricks to describe a certain profile or a certain whisky?

NR: I always say smile when you first start nosing a whisky. That actually makes you open your mouth and part your lips so that you can open up your full sense of smell when you’re nosing and tasting and approaching something delicate.

Use a proper nosing glass as well. There are a number of different ones out there, and everyone has their favourite, but find a great nosing glass. And one of the biggest ones is, don’t be afraid to add water to your whisky. Water is to whisky like oxygen is to wine. It opens it up. It changes it. That magic area between 15-30% abv, that’s where those congeners, essentially those different aromatics, really start to dance and open up.

ABOVE: Nicola believes water should always be on tap

Also, go and smell things. Go to markets with different spices and really tap into that. Have you ever picked up different kinds of lemons and smelled those lemon peels? With citrus, explore bergamot versus lemon grass or lemon verbena, they are completely different.

MtK: Do you believe that women have a better sense of smell than men?

NR: Well, science shows that we do. If science says so, then I’m going to go with that! However, I do believe that a person’s sense of smell depends on the individual, and it also can be trained and developed to an extent.

MtK: Do you think women-only tasting events are necessary?

NR: I do like them. I enjoy them. I love a great opportunity to get a group of women together, to sit down and have a great conversation, nosing a dram and discovering together.

Whisky, spirits and cocktails are not gender specific. It’s important we recognise that and understand that whisky is for everyone. For years whisky events have often been very male heavy, right? It’s great having events that are just for women to connect, to network, and when we’re all women together we communicate differently. Honestly, I think it’s just important to have a variety of whisky events so that there’s something for everyone.

MtK: Finally, any tips for anyone who wants to pursue their career in the spirits industry?

NR: Be committed to always being curious. Be humble. Don’t take no for an answer. I’m a great believer that passion drives everything, and more than anything it should drive you as an individual.