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Whisky jobs… Katy Fennema on being a tour guide

Whisky jobs… Katy Fennema on being a tour guide

Katy Fennema is a tour guide and co-owns Braemar Highland Experience with her husband, Julian. Together they provide whisky tastings, road and off-road tours and guided walking across Scotland. We asked her to tell us more about the day-to-day and what qualities are required to succeed in the role…

One thing I love about our business is that no two days are the same, because no two clients are the same. We will often incorporate more than one experience in our tours. Some driving or walking followed by a whisky tasting, for example.

Our tastings focus on the story of whisky past and present – how and why it was made in the remote glens and how it’s influenced Scotland’s history. We look at the process and how it affects flavours, introducing clients to four whiskies as we go.

I’m responsible for most of the initial contact with clients and have great fun planning whisky tastings in amazing locations, coming up with something unique for our guests. Sometimes we incorporate distillery visits into our day, along with trips to other whisky related places – Speyside Cooperage is a favourite.

We’ll often head to the site of an illicit still and share a dram there, matching whisky to a picnic that we’ve brought with us. Coordinating all of this takes up a lot of my time, so if I’m not out and about with clients, I’m likely to be planning future tours.

After all of that planning, the reality is that flexibility is key! We’ll pass something on our day that catches our clients’ eye and head off to explore, so being able to think on the spot and make quick decisions is important. Obviously, it’s also important to enjoy spending time with people – we have this amazing opportunity to sell Scotland and Scotland’s whisky to them, so enthusiasm and passion are a must.

I’m fairly new to this business – our company is three years old. However, talking to other people working in this area, I’d say that our clientele has changed a lot over the last ten years. We now have far more people coming over from the Unites States. Presentation has become even more important, and a personal welcome too. Our guests love becoming part of the family for the duration of their trip. They often become friends, and when they return, we will often curate their trip from beginning to end.

My background is in something completely different – I was a musician in the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Well at least, some of my job feels different, but in other respects I think it’s pretty similar. As a musician you are constantly performing and our whisky tours and tastings are no different, with the same unsociable hours!

I regret not starting a whisky tasting diary earlier in life – I’ve tried so many wonderful whiskies throughout my life, and I’d love to be able to look back on my notes. As a whisky ambassador, a knowledge of Scotland is important. Jump at every opportunity to explore our amazing country and find the really special spots that others don’t know about.

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