It’s true about what they say – still waters run deep. This proverb made even more sense, especially after an encounter with Struan Grant Ralph, global ambassador, Glenfiddich. Born and bred in Speyside, the spiritual home of Scottish Single Malt Whisky, Struan passes as a nicely quiet gent. His recent visit to Kenya accentuated the fact that you’ll only probably take a second glance at him because of his lush beard and subtle outfit.
Maybe this is just a cultural thing here but it is a fact, you won’t know who he is or what he does for a living. However, all this seems quite intentional. Perhaps a facade. He doesn’t thrive on too much attention, inasmuch as he gets more than he’ll ever need when he’s back home. You’ll just need to engage him for five minutes about whisky and you’ll quickly realize that he’s spent his lifetime immersed in the rich culture and heritage of Scotch whisky production. But we were not ready for what actually makes him a true ambassador.
A born story teller and lover of Scottish history, Struan quickly amazes you with with tales of Whisky’s rich evolution. Never mind that he’s worked in the Radio and TV industry where all his efforts went into championing his native country, Scotland, and its primary export, Scotch whisky. He’s also a keen sportsman and sports fan that has traveled the world both for work and leisure.
He had an early development of his knowledge and passion for all things whisky. That came from his first job working at the Knockdhu distillery under the tutelage of the Distillery Manager. This followed him to his recent years that he spent with the craftsmen of the Glenfiddich distillery. All these experiences have created a love of the whisky industry and have given him a practical understanding in the art and science of whisky creation.
He also loves to read! Yes, Struan is a qualified Chemist and graduate of Glasgow University. That also means he loves to examine whisky at the molecular level and explore the true origins of all its incredible flavours.
How should one enjoy whisky?
“The best way to enjoy your Whisky is with friends and family”, advises Struan. “Make it a celebration. Make it significant because you’re opening something that is premium and something special.”
“The minimum age that they bottle Glenfiddich is 12 years so it has been aging and maturing for that long.” he continues. “That already makes it special to have because the whisky has a lot of flavour and depth to it.”
“If you really want the best experience out of this fine whisky, it only makes sense to pay respect to the whisky and just have it with a little water or on the rocks. Let this not stop you from being experimental, however, because the whisky is yours.”
I found this to be is correct and profound. Most Kenyans I know do not take time to appreciate whisky.
What’s the story behind Glenfiddich whisky?
Here’s where the interview got very interesting because the brand has a rich history and massive heritage. I found out that this is one of the last remaining family businesses of Scotland making whiskys. Furthermore, it celebrates 130 years of existence during the Christmas of 2017. The family are distillers by trade and William Grant, the founder, just wanted to create incredible whisky.
“William was a local man with a dream to basically create the finest Whiskys that he could. He built Glenfiddich in 1887.” said Struan. “We’re now in the fifth generation of his family and we have done a lot for Scottish whisky in the world.” he continued. “In 2018, we’ll be having some celebrations world over so keep watch!” he added.
“My mum and dad used to live in Nairobi and he said the only whisky that was available at his rugby club was Glenfiddich”, revealed Struan to my amazement. The Whisky has been in Kenya since the 70’s. The one thing that the brand has now done is to start actively promoting the single malt.
At the moment, Glenfiddich is the world’s most awarded single malt Scotch whisky and this is without a doubt. They have been very consistent at their achievements with the IWSC (International Wines and Spirits Championships) and the ISC (International Spirits Championships). They’ve also won the award for distiller of the year for 5 out of the last 7 years. All of the Glenfiddich products have won gold (best in their class) and this includes the 12, 15, 18, 21 and 26 year old malts.
Tasting the world’s most awarded single malt whisky
Tasting the 12 year old fresh pear subtle oak Whisky, which is the family’s signature expression and also the world’s most awarded single malt whisky, it has a characteristic, sweet fruity notes that develops into butterscotch cream malt and subtle oak flavors. It has a long, smooth mellow finish and on the nose, it is distinctively fresh and fruity with a hint of pear. It is beautifully crafted and delicately balanced.
The whisky has a unique freshness from the same highland spring water that the family has used since 1887. Its distinctive fruitiness comes from the high cut point that William Grant always insisted upon.
There’s also the popular 15 year old Glenfiddich which is a warm spice, honey, rich fruit. This one is different in that it is aged in three different types of casks and is the first 15 year old expression to enter the world’s top 10 best selling single malts. It has a silky smooth taste and bursts with flavour with a full-bodied characteristic. The finish is satisfyingly rich with a lingering sweetness.
The other variants include the 18, 21 and 26 year old malts and the product is exquisite with a luxurious taste.
They take time to make and you fully get to appreciate the taste with friends and family.
Is whisky going to change?
“The quality of our whisky won’t change.” insisted Struan. “The Scottish distillers themselves have an organisation called the SWA (Scotch Whisky association) that is paid for by producers and they are the ones that protect, develop and oversee that Scotch whisky culture is preserved.” he continued
“How is that?” I asked
“Well for starters, it’s not Scotch whisky if it’s made outside of Scotland. They’ll have lawyers that will contact you if you’re found out.” he explained. “We have a few laws in place, for example, minimum three years, has to be made in an oak cask, has to be made from fermentable grains, in the case of single malt – has to be made from barley, has to be bottled at a minimum 40% and such. they exist to protect the heritage and maintain the world standard.” he further explained.
“All scotch is whisky but not all whisky is scotch. Kenya is a surprisingly fast growing market for quality scotch whisky. If you want to appreciate good whisky, take it neat first and then you could add your water or rocks or ginger drink or lime” he finished.
Now I know that there’s so much more to whisky than meets the eye. This was a most interesting encounter with Struan Grant Ralph, global ambassador, Glenfiddich.