He’s tall, and rugged, with the blue eyes and dark hair that belie Scottish ancestry. Meet Struan Grant Ralph, 35-year-old global brand ambassador for 130-year-old single malt brand Glenfiddich. “Scotland has 120 distilleries, each with a story to tell,” he says. “Part of my job is to show that if Glenfiddich has been successful over the last 130 years, it’s because it’s really good.”
It’s also the whisky that created the single malt category, decided upon in 1963 by William Grant & Sons, and brought it to the world. “We are regarded as one of the last bastions of independence, as we’re still a family-run company,” says Struan. “We’re one of the few remaining distilleries where we have passed our expertise and craft of making whisky from one generation to another. If you step into the Glenfiddich distillery in Speyside, you come expecting a factory. But it’s small, with a team of coopers, and space for barrels and warehousing (an oak barrel yields 370 bottles of whisky).” Last year, people around the world drank 14 million bottles of Glenfiddich, such is their output. The man who takes the decision to bottle the spirit from the American Bourbon oak barrel (which gives it its unique fruity flavour), is the malt master. “He smells the cask, literally working on whisky timelines,” says Struan. “He anticipates demand. This is the untangible way we create products, and it’s the craft of the malt master.”
And what is Struan’s craft, one wonders? He’s currently in New Delhi to judge Glenfiddich’s Most Experimental Bartender Competition (the award was picked up by Prateeksh Mehra and Brijesh Vyas). “These competitions are new,” he says. “India is one of 11 markets, and we’re finding new and innovative ways of consuming Glenfiddich. As a single malt we are breaking down boundaries of what you can do with it.” While Struan’s favourite Glenfiddich is the 12 (“mixable and full-bodied”), as a cocktail he likes the Brooklyn with the Glenfiddich 15, stirred with sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and an orange twist.
It helps that he ran his own bar in Melbourne for a couple of years before being picked up by the brand to become their ambassador five years ago and relocate to Kuala Lumpur. But before that, he grew up in Speyside, a place “steeped in whisky history. Every corner you turn, is a distillery, with steam rising from it, and the culture that goes with it”. He says he learnt to drink it the “proper” way with his family, and his first taste was as a youngster from a flask clambering up a mountain on a cold winter day, receiving a brief respite from the welcome spirit.
Today he travels the world, as whisky season is in full swing. “We have 2-3 events a week, so I’ve gone to UK, Germany, Poland, Mexico, India, Ireland, and back to New York, which is home,” he says. He meets bartenders, buyers, and takes part in classic whisky tasting events. “It’s not something in a glass, but heritage and history.”
As for pairings, he says, “As an overarching guide, single malt whisky has a distinct flavour, so strong foods like chilli, garlic, and espresso may not work with it. On the flip side, you have sashimi, dark chocolate, and cheese.” A Vintage cask can be paired with a tandoori, as it’s a peaty, smoky whisky, while you can treat the 12 like an aperitivo with smoked salmon; the 15 is quite robust, so think game or butter chicken. The Glenfiddich 18 is full of flavour, so it’s best paired with a cigar or chocolate truffle. The 21 is a rum cask, so it’s very delicate and goes perfectly with a creme brulée. The rarest Glenlivet is a 1937 vintage cask that retails today for a cool £100,000. If that is not spectacular, we don’t know what is.