It's not often that you see someone as purposefully Scottish as Rob Allanson, global brand ambassador of Grant's whisky. Dapper in a kilt and a trimmed auburn beard, he's every bit the twinkly-eyed Scot - attired in full Scottish regalia as he stops by Delhi to give it a swill of malt culture and choose India's very own Grant's brand ambassador. He describes the qualities they are looking for.
"It's someone who you can look at and see yourself in. Because even if we don't want to acknowledge it, narcissistically it's what you want - to see ourselves mirrored in an attractive personality.'' Allanson himself is a former editor of Whisky Magazine. There is a lot of projection involved, he says, of the brand and the self that ties up into a smart package of passion, knowledge and self-effacing charm. "The ability to wow people with that spark is a rare quality. If you have that, you could land the most awesome job in the world."
The brand ambassador's role is one that demands ingenuity. They have to be constantly devising ways to take the experience of enjoying liquor up by several notches. "The things that they are going to be doing is limited only by their own imagination. The eclectic profile demands a mix of intriguing personality traits, so we have a bunch of brilliant people as ambassadors. There are two world class bartenders and an ex-military officer in Russia who can fill a room with his presence. We typically look for a personality who can pick up the intricacies of the brand. They have to be able to learn quickly and by instinct. That's why bartenders are usually very good for it because they have so much experience in knowing people. It's something they pick up on the job." People skills seem to be the overarching requirement - the first point of entry into the competition was recommendation by friends.
But, if you think any popular crowd-puller can get through, you're mistaken. "The ambassador for the brand needs to have a certain gravitas and presence. They should know everything about whisky there is to know."
From writing to tasting
Allanson's own experience has been a rollicking ride so far. From reading and writing about whisky, he has gone to being in the thick of things. His knowledge ranges from craft distilling and moonshine to Japanese bourbon. Intrigued by the art of blending and the resultant miraculous harmony, he was thrilled to try his hand at it. Grant's Ambassadors' Workshop affords that opportunity once a year. " We like to get our guys to roll up their shirtsleeves and get down to doing some work with the liquid."
This way they also learn to appreciate all the work that goes into achieving the perfect balance and consistency of each cask of whisky. ''One thing we do at the Ambassador's Workshop is make our own blend and you get to understand exactly how difficult it is. The funny thing is we try it only with three or four single malts and still get it wrong. Something like Family Reserve would have over 20 variations in it.''
Challenging the image
As the face of a brand with a modern, informal vibe, the Grant's ambassador in India has to be scintillating, he reiterates. "Our global team is young and I may wear a kilt but it's a 21st century kilt and that tartan image is gone. That image of whisky as an old man's drink is changing. And, it's changing rapidly in India where you have so many tiers between the high-end luxury whiskies and those in plastic bottles. I've tasted several of these and some of it is molasses-based. Amrut - one of the most well-established distilleries in India make some great whisky.
These are so far removed from that 'Old Man' image. There's stuff coming out from Sweden and small craft distilleries in the US, which are completely disrupting that image. We are spunky about what we do and the idea that a blended whisky should be drunk out of a crystal tumbler with ice and a cigar is just not true. I would think it can be drunk on a mountainside out of a hipflask, in a cocktail bar mixed with coke or stirred into a Rob Roy - and be enjoyed just about by anybody.
Whisky for its own sake
"It's the liquor which you enjoy with your mates when you catch up and want to have a good time. You talk about the world, solve problems, occasionally create problems but that's what whisky is. It's not a fuddy-duddy thing. Just because you're from a certain background or of a certain age, it doesn't mean you shouldn't try whisky.''
The Cocktail trend
The cocktail wave may raise eyebrows in Scotland, but certain places such as India or Taiwan seem to have started adopting it. When you're sitting with a martini glass and not a heavy crystal decanter, it makes a difference. "In my grandad's generation, even adding water to whisky was awful. The only thing you put in whisky is more whisky." "Grant's next release is going to be out in August. It's a rich sweet, smoky whisky. It takes Family Reserve and wraps in malt, sweetness and spiciness. It's a premium end whisky in a very nice bottle. The blend is great - we tried out many different ratios before deciding on this one. It makes a really good Manhattan."
"It is supposed to be in the standard category but there is nothing remotely standard about it. I believe it is one of the best blended whiskies in the world. I've had whiskies that cost tens of thousands of pounds and they are incredibly old and rare. Some of them are great but some of these, which have been in the cask for too long get woody. I would say Family Reserve is one of the best blended whiskies in the world. Mix coke in it and you've made a very simple Old Fashioned. There are aromatics, sugar, coke and it's a great drink. In India, especially during the summer, a long glass of soda water with lots of ice and two shots of Family Reserve is perfect."