Struan Grant Ralph is a Scotsman of a different kind – the globetrotting variety. As global brand ambassador of Glenfiddich whisky, he lives out of a suitcase and hops on and off planes more times than we can say slàinte (the Scottish toast meaning ‘good health’). But in that suitcase he also packs his kilt, sporran and a dry sense of humour. All of which were on show at a whisky paired sit down dinner at the ITC Gardenia in Bengaluru last week. Glenfiddich has been around longer than our forefathers, having entered India in 1909, brought by Glenfiddich’s founder-owner William Grant’s son-in-law, Charles Gordon to grow into India’s biggest selling malt whisky. The word whisky itself, came from the Latin phrase aqua vitae or water of life, translated to the Gaelic uisge (which then became the Scottish ‘whisky’ or the Irish and American ‘whiskey’). Incidentally, Ralph doesn’t live by a Scottish glen, but in buzzing New York city with his French wife and enjoys a good vintage champagne on occasion.
Which whisky would he pick if he had to choose just one? He pauses a while. “If I had to pick a desert island whisky, Glenfiddich 12 year old would be the one.” And others from around the world? “Sullivan’s Cove, based in Tasmania, Australia is an innovative small-batch distiller. And probably a Balvenie 21 year old. A Japanese whisky too – the rare Yamazaki 1984. The just launched Glenfiddich 26 year old.” Also, Hudson whiskey from a small distillery in New York and an experimental Glenfiddich variant finished in IPA (India Pale Ale) casks are worth checking out.
I chatted with him about the trends he may have spotted during his globetrotting sojourns. Whisky has a loyal band of followers who enjoy the stock age specific variants most, he adds – the 12, 15, 18 and 21; but the new in-thing is the popular rise of the NAS (non-age specific) whiskies, originally driven by stock constraints of the age-specific whiskies. These variants, he says, “Allow for more innovation by the distillers and do well because the modern whisky drinker looks beyond substance, at style too.” The Snow Phoenix, a Glenfiddich NAS is one, which disappeared off the shelves in a jiffy. “And Glenfiddich have the largest stocks of whisky in the world!” Look at what’s happening with whisky around the world and you’ll see a blurring of categories, he explains. Today whiskies come from countries all over, not just Scotland: Taiwan, Japan and countries you wouldn’t even imagine. With competition and sales growing, it’s all good news for whisky lovers.
“A whisky must engage all your senses,” he adds. (It helps that the weather in Bengaluru is quite Scottish – cool and drizzly.) Tongue firmly in cheek, he explains how whisky should be tasted. “Raise your glass, hold it at a distance and gaze longingly at it. Then take a whiff and nod approvingly. Now drink.”m firstname.lastname@example.org