Above and beyond in Austria

There’s no doubt that the past two years have been challenging, but although there have been some trying moments, our European team have been on a mission to keep the whisky flowing while continuing to bring members together. This month, we’re shining a spotlight on Jutta Unterguggenberger, the country manager for Austria. Along with her husband Thomas and daughter Hannah, they’ve been going above and beyond for Austrian members

Jutta Unterguggenberger first came across the Society in 1998, when her then-future-husband Thomas became a member. At the time, Thomas joined the Society in Switzerland as the SMWS didn’t yet have a branch in Austria. Several years later, the Unterguggenbergers founded the Austrian franchise on May 15, 2010, eventually becoming a branch in August 2016.

Over the years, there have been quite a few big moments, including the branch’s recent 10th anniversary. This was due to take place in 2020, but due to Covid restrictions had to be rescheduled for 2021. When faced with ongoing restrictions in 2021, they teamed up with partner bar, Hotel Drei Hasen, to offer a home dining experience and virtual tasting to make sure this big moment could be celebrated. “A very special moment for me was our anniversary tasting, where we had Robin Laing, Alan Wood and Michael Binder with us,” she says. “We also managed to send out a hearty meal with the whiskies.”

Despite the challenges of Covid and Brexit, Jutta has been keen that members could still take part in Society offerings – no matter what. “For difficult times like Coronavirus and then additionally Brexit we made our own samples and sent them out to our members,” Jutta says. “It was definitely a challenge, especially when it was difficult to get whisky delivered to Austria.” Nevertheless, Jutta, Thomas and Hannah continued to host virtual tastings and create lockdown entertainment, including offering recipes and food recommendations to pair with some of last year’s advent calendar drams. “Through personal contact, we tried to make our members feel like they are part of a club,” she says. “That's the most important thing for us, as we are a club, a very big one at that.”

It’s this focus on personal contact that delights Austrian members old and new. Over the last year, Jutta has become heavily involved with the move to shipping direct to Austria. She receives all Austrian orders to her home before packing them up for final despatch to members. Before the boxes depart, she gives each member a personal call to let them know about the status of their order. She does this with help from daughter Hannah, who has spent several summers working at the Society’s head office at The Vaults in Leith.

Jutta with daughter Hannah and husband Thomas

Jutta with home dining kits in Austria’s Mariazell, with its famous Basilica

In addition to organising whisky deliveries, Jutta and her family also manage all Austrian tastings and festivals themselves, travelling through the country for these as well as hosting events in their own home. “Working as a family is very easy and flexible,” says Jutta. “We know each other, we know each of our strengths and weaknesses, so we have a good balance when working. Apart from that, our members are used to us handling things as a family and have come to enjoy this as well.”

ABOVE: Jutta and Thomas get traditional for a Society tasting

Everything Jutta, Thomas and Hannah do for the Society stems from a desire to unite members near and far. Whether it’s a surprise Society Christmas memory game, or organising a whisky hike to bring members together at a safe social distance, the team go above and beyond to share their passion for the Society. “I love the variety the SMWS offers, with each cask comes a new and unique whisky,” Jutta says. “Moving away from the whisky, I love how my colleagues are from so many different nationalities.”