Caroline first met Cara Laing when she was a young, very capable marketer at Whyte & Mackay. She then went on to do good things at Morrison Bowmore before joining the family firm, Douglas Laing & Co., in 2013. She works alongside her father, Fred Laing, as head of brands marketing, looking after all aspects of marketing and communications; and she’s still young! This has been a momentous eighteen months; she also got married and became a Keeper of the Quaich.
What’s the view from your office window? Truthfully!
The sun is shining, rather unusually and I can see my old school from my office window!
Hope that’s a good memory! You studied marketing at uni and work internationally. Do you speak any foreign languages?
Definitely: my closest friends are from there.
I claim to speak French. Would like to be much better. France is a key market for us so would be good to speak it confidently.
It’s easy, honest! You got married fairly recently. Does the job get in the way of home life even though you work together?
We don’t allow it to! We have love for whisky but we also have strict ground-rules – we don’t talk work over the weekends or once we get in the car to head home after work.
Sounds an excellent rule. How much do you travel for work?
A sensible amount; about 2 long distance trips a year and a number of shorter key European market ones. Love meeting trade and consumers in markets. Key part of the job.
It is indeed. Loved those bits when I was marketing whisky. Was it always the plan to join the family firm? If so, did you feel you had to earn your stripes elsewhere?
Definitely not! After uni it was the last thing I intended; didn’t even like whisky. By sheer chance found myself at Whyte and Mackay and loving it. Then on to Bowmore.
Only as the chance arose here that Fred suggested I come on board. He always said if I joined, I’d have to add value, bring experience and prove my worth!
Sensible – and must be rewarding.
Yes; very special coming in every day to work alongside your dad in a company your grandfather established.
Very cheeky question here: you’re third generation in the family company. Will there be a 4th?
One day, I hope. But our kids would be encouraged to do whatever they have a genuine passion for; that said, it would be rather nice if their passion was also whisky!
Is social media now too much of a focus in marketing?
Not for smaller companies like us. An amazing way to reach consumers: very targeted and cost-effective. Allows us to get across brands’ personality / character.
Interesting and makes sense. I hear opposing views out there.
Do you get involved in blending/cask choices – i.e. do you have a good nose?
Fred’s great at involving me in both. Some of our labels carry my tasting notes which is lovely. It’s wonderful, a very fun part of the job. Now working on a vatted malt.
So your nose is good, or being trained.
Yes, I do have a good nose. My tasting notes are getting ever more descriptive; so sometimes have to tone them down a bit!
Much as I enjoyed marketing, I’d love to come back as a blender!
More use of whisky in cocktails with mixers including malts – yes or no? Purist or experimenter?
Good question, depends on my mood! I’m all for experimentation to bring new people in.
Any you like yourself?
Traditional whisky cocktails like Whisky Sours – Big Peat phenomenal in a Smoky Whisky Sour – but I prefer my malts straight up: no water, no ice, just 100% natural.
I love to try new things but tend to go back to the purist version.
Any new expressions in the offing you can tell us about?
Working on a new vatted malt – maybe joining the Big Peat, Scallywag, Timorous Beastie family next year. Been fun one to work on and excited to see
how consumers respond.
Will look forward to it. Your brands have won plenty of awards; Big Peat fairly recently. How much do they matter/help?
Always a good seal of approval. Douglas Laing is known for high quality. So consumers know to trust us but awards are a lovely addition and we’re happy to receive them!
Some of your label designs are more innovative & more interesting compared to other companies; e.g., Big Peat, Timorous Beasties, Scallywag. Was that your doing?
A real double act: Fred and me. We both love creative packaging. A great way to punch above your weight and get noticed on-shelf, without big marketing budgets.
They’re very attractive, especially the Timorous Beastie mouse.
Would you agree you need a passion for whisky to market it properly? Can it be done without it?
You must have enthusiasm. It can’t be faked if out meeting people at whisky shows etc. or you’ll be found out. Also, for me, leads to the creativity, ideas, work ethic.
Cara Laing and her father, Fred Laing
Amen to that. Seen enough graduates who just want to “tick off” a whisky on the resumé.
Any dreams to own a distillery or is the company happy as is?
Maybe one day. Currently focusing on brands and seeing what happens next in the industry. Many changes of late so we’ll see but no rush for one, nice as it would be.
Women who like whisky have strong character/opinion. Is it patronizing to market to them differently from men?
Yes and no. I’d hate to see “a whisky for girls” BUT I do think there are subtle ways of communicating to women about whisky.
Long serves where it’s tempered a little or just less butch marketing platforms. And David Beckham is indirectly probably a great way to interest women in whisky!
Well, he interests me! And that’s without the whisky.
You’ve said you like to run. Just gentle exercise or something more committed than that?
Ran a marathon; would love to do another. Right now only a 1 hour run a few mornings a week. It’s tough on dark, cold mornings at 6 a.m.! Been known to turn off alarm and snooze!
I wouldn’t even run to the end of my street.
I hear you also like to bake. How did that come about?
I’m new to baking. It was the Great British Bake Off that inspired me!
Still learning but make a mean banoffee cake. Full of stuff bad for you but tastes so good. A favorite with Chris and Fred and pairs beautifully with a dram of Scallywag!
A new line for Douglas Laing & Co…maybe.
You’re now a Keeper of the Quaich. What does the induction ceremony involve?
If I told you…I’d have to kill you!! An amazing ceremony. Must be truly exceptional for non-Scots: full of old Scottish tradition and great whiskies! A huge privilege.
What does Keeper of the Quaich do for the industry?
From my perspective, it’s the ultimate acknowledgment of your commitment to Scotch whisky; it’s for those who go above and beyond the 9-5 whisky “job.”
Your ambitions for a) the company and b) yourself; anything unfulfilled?
To continue growing and delighting our customers but we don’t want to get too big; we like being specialist and hands on.
Lots! I’m heavily involved in our production department but keen to have knowledge of all elements from sales to logistics; finance to stock management.
Yes but personal ambition?
Oh, right. Skydiving! I have an overwhelming fear of heights and don’t terribly enjoy being in a plane. To combine both and overcome my fears would be amazing. One day!
Lastly: what is your desert island dram? You’re allowed to appreciate the work of others!
Our most recent Port Ellen release; genuinely the most remarkable whisky I’ve ever tried. Sentimental value, too; it was my grandfather’s favorite distillery.