Five minutes with… Georgie Bell

The Aberfeldy global malts ambassador on women in whisky and why she’d love to share a wee dram with the Queen

Food and Drink 29 Jan 2020

Georgie Bell, Aberfeldy global malts ambassador
Aberfeldy 40 year old whisky

What is it about whisky that inspired you to work in this industry?

I really love the stories behind it and the spectrum of flavours; whisky isn’t one-dimensional – it’s not just Scotch – it’s almost like liquid history. I also really love the people involved in the industry and that’s what got me into it. The whole time I was studying (at Edinburgh University) I was bartending and when I graduated I started working at a whisky bar. I’m so glad I did, because I fell in love with the drinks industry and being around people.

Did you like whisky to begin with?

Absolutely not! I got into drinking it through cocktails and slowly started getting my palate used to it. It isn’t a flavour you’re born to enjoy. It’s like olives or coffee – it’s acquired. That’s the great thing about cocktails, they act as a stepping stone. A lot of people think you shouldn’t put Scotch in a cocktail but, especially here in London, there are so many great bars doing really interesting things with whisky – so that’s a stereotype that is definitely changing.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given in your career?

Do interesting things and interesting things will happen. I think staying curious and looking out for inspiration is important. That definitely comes with my job through whisky tastings and getting to talk about our Scotches to people around the world.

Who is your role model and how have they influenced you?

A lot of my peers are my role models. After 10 years of being in the drinks industry there’s a lot of people, women especially, that I look up to. There’s a friend of mine in New York called Allison Parc who owns her own whisky company called Brenne – she’s an absolutely incredible and inspiring entrepreneur. Here in the UK there’s Annabel Meikle who runs the Keepers of the Quaich, which is a Scottish whisky association. There’s also a lot of female blenders who have given me words of advice in my career, like Dr Rachel Barrie and Maureen Robinson and our master blender Stephanie Macleod. One of the things I love about the drinks industry is that everyone is there to help each other and we are this global-yet-local family. It’s a force for good.

If you had to pick, what is your favourite whisky and why?

I would like to think that my favourite whisky is the next whisky in my glass, but it’s got to be the Aberfeldy 40, which was distilled on the 22 August 1978. We uncovered it in 2018 and to be able to taste and imbibe that liquid history is incredible. There’s a versatility of flavour in whisky but when I taste this it takes me right back to the distillery.

Aberfeldy 40 year old whisky with hand-dipped gold seal

What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?

An eye mask and trainers. I really enjoy running. I’m very lucky that I get to travel a lot of the year with work so running, especially on a very tight schedule, is a great opportunity to explore a city. And a silk eye mask because I’m great at sleeping on planes.

Where are your favourite places to eat in London?

I really like Lyle’s in the Tea Building in Shoreditch. It’s owned by a chef called James Lowe and they do amazing modern European classics. It’s great food that changes from season to season and I absolutely love it there. They’ve also got a sister restaurant in Borough Market that’s just opened, called Flor, that I really enjoy going to.

What about a late-night tipple?

Two of my favourites are Milroy’s in Soho, which is one of London’s oldest whisky shops and bars and also Black Rock, which is just behind Liverpool Street station; their downstairs bar is incredible. If I’m going for a cocktail, two of my favourite places are Lyaness in the Sea Containers and The Langham hotel.

Apart from whisky, what are your biggest passions?

Exercising and eating and drinking around the world. I was in South Africa at the end of last year and going up to Boulders Beach and lying down and seeing all of these penguins running in and out of the water while drinking whisky highballs was absolutely amazing. I also really enjoy going to cocktail bars. I think cocktail bars for me are like what museums are for other people. That is one of my passions.

If you could choose anyone from today or history to share a bottle of whisky with, who would it be and why?

I would like to choose two people: the Queen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I’ve just got into The Crown and it’s absolutely incredible. The Queen, especially when she started out, was this fierce, inspirational woman who had to deal with so much and she was so resilient and she must have the most incredible stories. And Phoebe because I think she’s great and very ‘woke’, but I bet she also loves a dram of whisky too! I would hope the three of us could have the first half of the bottle at the Aberfeldy distillery and the other half at Sandringham.