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Jan Beckers: “Whisky Is My Life”

Global Malt Ambassador and trained Chef, whose Belgian Chocolate Mousse made with “Big Peat” became legendary (although he keeps the recipe a secret) also happens to be a really fantastic person and kindly agreed to give Premiere an interview.

Why did you choose such a unique profession?
It happened a long time ago. At the time, I was studying engineering and was looking for a job for the summer season. I applied at different distilleries. The distillery manager told me that I required 5 weeks training in order to work independently and that it wouldn’t be worthwhile for them if I was leaving after 3 months. So I started as a guide at the Glenfiddich distillery and it was such an incredible experience for me that I went back 6 summers in total. Also in that period, I quit my engineering studies to train as a chef which comes in very handy to develop food and Whisky pairings and to develop my nose and palate to host Whisky tastings. This all led to the role as Global Malt Ambassador with Douglas Laing about 8 years ago.

Do you have any other hobbies in life except whisky?
I love to cook! Unfortunately, when you are a working chef you don’t have the pleasure to see how your guests are enjoying what you have prepared. When you cook for friends or loved ones with them all gathering around one table, it’s an incredible pleasure sharing the food you cooked for them and the drinks you have selected. I also have another passion which is dancing, and not only Scottish dancing. The Charleston, Swing and 30’s dancing are all my passion.

What are your recommendations for the combination of Whisky with a meal?

There are many variations of Whisky that can be combined with food. For instance, richly spiced Whisky matured in Sherry casks goes well with meat. Also heavily peated Whisky goes well with really dark chocolate, and my chocolate mousse with Big Peat (a peated Islay Malt Whisky where the malted barley is dried over burning peat which infuses it with rich smoke) is a good example of that.

What is your greatest achievement in your career?
I think for me, the biggest achievement was the initiation into “The Keepers of the Quaich”. The ceremony itself was slightly “Masonic” in style and was held behind closed doors.

“The Keepers of the Quaich” is a privileged society of Scotch Whisky was designed to strengthen its reputation and to pay tribute to those who have made a significant contribution to its development. At the moment, the Society has a huge number of representatives from all over the world, more than 2000 and more than 150 Guardians and Masters (from 86 countries). Cuach or Quaich — an ancient Gaelic word meaning a vessel with two handles has always been associated with Whisky.

The Society “The Keepers of the Quaich” was founded in 1988 to spread the culture of Scotch Whisky around the world. Keepers are actively supporting the reputation of the Whisky industry and reward those who have made a significant contribution to raising the prestige of the beverage. Before you are nominated to become a Keeper of the Quaich you need to prove that for at least five years, you have brought the most “significant contribution” to the development of the Whisky around the world.

What is a normal working day of a «Whisky Ambassador»?
Being a Whisky Ambassador is a very diverse role. On the one hand you travel around the world (which often means getting up at 4am in the morning to catch that 6am flight to Amsterdam) and host tastings and attend different Whisky events.

On the other hand there are days that I spend in the office. Very often, by the time that I arrive in the office, my colleagues would have prepared cask samples to be tasted by myself, Fred and Cara. I also try out different combinations of Whiskies when we are creating a new brand or new bottlings. And together with the marketing team I will write blogs about my different trips and prepare web content.

In front of us is a piece of peat, which as we know you always carry with you. What is it for?
This is a piece of peat (turf) which is compressed vegetation in the soil that under wet conditions and pressure becomes a useful source for heating. If you leave it under high pressure for a couple of thousands of years it turns into coal. People have used peat for heating houses but it is also used to dry Malted Barley at some of the distilleries. Then it will give this smoky flavour to your Whisky.

I always carry a lump of peat with me to explain that part of the production process as well as some samples of both peated and non-peated malt.

Do you require a special talent to become a Whisky Ambassador?

I think that the people that work in the world of Scotch Whisky have many talents and they all come back in the people that you meet from different Whisky companies. First there is the passion for Whisky, its wide variety and its rich history. Secondly is being able to share that passion with other people.

Another great part of the Scotch Whisky industry is that although there is competition between different Whisky companies, we generally are willing to help each other out and business is often set aside by our mutual passion for the world of Whisky.

Уou travel frequently and we would like to know what your favourite country is and whether you travel not just for business but for your own pleasure?
While you are travelling for work, you often go from the airport to the Whisky event, then the hotel and back onto the next flight. Although we sometime have time to explore the cities that we visit and I am always open to discover local culture and cuisine. And sometimes you have the opportunity to take some extra time off and explore the country further. And I always try to find a place where I can have a cheeky dance. Slainte Mhath! To your health!