As the Senior Brand Ambassador for Highland Park Single Malt Scotch whisky, our Danish friend Martin travels extensively throughout the year, spreading the word about one of my favourite whiskies, from its brand home in Orkney to the World. Martin Markvardsen was kind enough to agree to my invite and to spare some time to talk with Inside the Cask.
Inside the Cask: Hi Martin, you are the Global Brand Ambassador for Highland Park Single malt scotch whisky. However how did it all start for you? Where did the interest in drinks, and more specifically on whisky come from?
Hi Andre, as you probably know I’m not from Scotland but was born and grew up in Denmark. Joined the navy and became part of the Military Police.
I always had a huge interest in Scotland. Loved reading about the battles, castles, kilts… yes, the history of Scotland.
So, one day I was chosen to go to Scotland on a navy exercise and during the week whilst we were there, we had one day off. Lots of my colleagues went pub crawling in Edinburgh, I rented a car and simply just drove around. Suddenly I was in front of Glenkinchie, went in and there was a guy in production that showed me around. That change my life forever. From that moment, I knew that I was going to work with whisky. In the beginning it was more the stories, the illicit period and how the farmers managed to get to fool the “gaugers”. Later it became about the whisky and now, for more than 20 years I have been working full time with whisky, whereof 17 years for Highland Park.
Inside the Cask: Most people see the social media side of Brand Ambassadors travelling and having fun but do not understand the work involved behind the scenes. What kind of preparation do you need to go through ahead of a training session? How much planning is involved?
Haha yes that is true, lots of people don’t see the behind-the-scenes work. There’s a lot of planning, endless meetings, and time away from family. A good example was the planning for the launch of the newly released 54yo Highland Park. Meetings after meetings, scripts to the different events…..and then the waiting, calm before the storm….boom then it’s all happening. Its basically the same planning for every new release, but it never becomes a routine. Then whisky fairs, masterclasses, trade visits etc, there’s a lot going on before the fun people see on pictures and socials….all the hard work.
I think you need to first have a very understanding family, but also learn how to use your time. When you are waiting in airports, spend your time doing your emails, reports etc. that gives you more time recover when you are back home. I also do education for my fellow ambassadors at Highland Park.
Besides that, a good advice: be true to yourself and the brand you’re working for, and most of all be careful. Although I love whisky, I basically never drink when I’m traveling.
I have a job to do, and I love doing it, but also want to be fresh and shiny next morning, so I can deliver the best for the Highland Park and myself.
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about Highland Park Single Malt Scotch whisky? What is so special about the brand and the Orkney Islands?
It is still the Northern most Scotch distillery. The location in Orkney is very special. Beautiful and relaxed, and at the same time rough and wild. The nature in Orkney forms Highland Park, together with the amazing crew we have at the distillery, with Marie Gulliver our manager that is undoubtably one of my heroes in the industry. I still today honestly believe we make the best whisky in the world.
From the malting floors to the peat from Hobbister that gives a lot of sweetness like honey, to the amazing cask policy we have and our cool maturation that only takes place in Orkney. On top of that, one of the most respected Master Whisky Makers, Gordon Motion, all that together, then you have Highland Park. To understand Orkney completely you must go there. The story, as mentioned the nature, the climate and most of all its people.
The people of Orkney are the friendliest and probably the most generous people I have ever met. First time I was there 25 years ago, that’s what I fell in love with. The people.
Inside the Cask: Scotch whisky remains a large and popular drinks category globally. Any up-and-coming trends or brands to watch out for in the category?
Yes, I think we will see much more to do with pairing, whisky and food, whisky and chocolate etc. I think we will see more older bottlings being released, and then I welcome all the new distilleries. My only worries, will they all survive? They bring innovation and some of them like Dornach, also “makes the back to the future” products. Bringing back old styles of yeast, barley etc. I’m so looking forward seeing what that brings.
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about your personal background? What else are you passionate about?
My family and my dog, that’s the backbone to be able to do what I’m doing. When I’m home I’m lifting weights, boxing, cycling (doing a 210-kilometre charity ride in Scotland in August this year with great colleagues from Edrington), music, making food and being together with my family, that’s what life is about.
Have a great job, that you love so much, that it doesn’t fell like a job, and then a family that supports you, what more do you need.
I always been serious when something interested me. As a young kid in school, I found out that I was pretty good at boxing, so school did not have my big interest, but boxing had. Trained 3-4 hours a day, learned the discipline, that I took with me in the navy, later with power lifting as well and now with the cycling. Discipline you need in a job like being a Brand Ambassador.
Inside the Cask: What would be your advice for anyone else wanting to work in the drinks industry?
Go for it. It’s the greatest industry in the world, so many amazing people, always a fantastic vibe around the spirits. There is no real manual how to be part of the spirit world, but simply just go for it. Remember my advice; be careful, and be true to yourself and the company your working for.
Inside the Cask: What surprised you most about working in the drinks industry?
Without a doubt the people. For me as a Global Ambassador, the people I met, I can call my friends, the people that have mentored me, the people I have mentored as well and most of all the people that I know so well that its almost family. Another thing, there’s a certain magic about the whisky industry, magic that never makes you 100% educated, new things to learn every day. That I love…. that I learn every day.
Inside the Cask: What is the favourite part of your job? Anything that you would like to share that not many people would know about you?
Favourite part of my work is traveling and meeting people. I love spreading the gospel about Highland Park and talking to people about Orkney and Highland Park. One thing few people know about me……I drink a lot of milk, skimmed milk, and that’s sometimes the biggest challenge when I travel. To find skimmed milk 😊