Three years ago Struan Grant Ralph, a chemistry graduate and a bartender, was appointed brand ambassador for Genfiddich Scotch whisky. Today, he travels the world, talking about how the drink means different things to different people.
The brand in India
Charles Gordon was the first Grant family member who came to Goa in 1909, working with merchants. As a single malt, it arrived in the 1960s. “We launched the single malt in 1963, creating that category. Up until then, everything was blended Scotch,” says Ralph.
Purely in terms of flavour: fruitiness, an influence from oak casks, and a sort of sweetness.
About the way Scotch is marketed
It’s a bit of a paradox, he says. “Whisky was a part of the rebellious nature of the Scots, going back 500 years to the Celts.” Now, with mega brands, “There’s this perceived sense of what Scotland is: tartan and the Highlands. Some of it kind of exists, but modern Scotland isn’t as simple as the guy playing bagpipes on a mountain. Maybe we’re doing a better job now of representing what modern Scotland is. Hopefully I’m not fulfilling a stereotype.”
How different countries react to whisky
“In a nightclub in Nigeria there’s a very high-energy environment, with hiphop playing,” he says. The Japanese are mellow, and it’s always food-paired. “In South Korea, it’s drunk very quickly and in huge volumes,” while the Chinese drink the entry-level version with green tea. In Iceland, with their close connection to nature, and barely no bar-culture, “We opened a bottle on top of a glacier, overlooking a mountain.”
“In India, there’s more of an interest in flavour. People want to know how to food-pair and how it fits into celebration,” he says. Delhi duty-free is one of the biggest in the world. Ralph says Glenfiddich is probably the first single malt people encountered, so the connect with it is strong.
The 18-year-old is a dessert-style whisky. “You can pair it with crème brulee, panna cotta, dark chocolate.” The 21 is best as a nightcap: keep to one, and make that good.
Who picks what Glenfiddich
He’s not hot on stereotypes, but, “Bartenders have a flavour for the complex and the 15-year-olds are sometimes made up of three types of casks. Very seasoned whisky drinkers do the 18-year-old. At tastings, often everyone ends up liking the oldest, most expensive one, so the 21.” He recommend Glenfiddich 12 for someone starting out. “From there more robust maturations of whisky will come later — things that are smokey, high in strength. People come back to what they started out with. The thing about 12 is that it’s reliable — it’s going to be there at almost every single bar you go to, and it’s consistently good. The blue cheese of whisky is probably sherry casks of Islay whisky. You have to calibrate your palate for them.”
Ralph’s favourite cocktail with Glenfiddich
Glenfiddich 12 in a classic Highball: ice, a lemon wedge, good soda water. Very palate-cleansing, lowers the strength.
In April 2019, the Glenfiddich distillery will complete 50 years of its visitor centre. Tours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., £10