I recently had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Ray Pearson, who is Brand Ambassador (Western Division) for Glenfiddich single malts. Here is part II of our interview; part I can be found here.
What is Glenfiddich’s whisky-making philosophy – what are you trying to achieve in your single malts?
RP: The first Glenfiddich spirit flowed on Christmas Day in 1887 and for the past 122 years we have followed the vision of our founder, William Grant, to make “the best dram in the valley”. We continue to do this by using traditional whisky-making methods, sometimes at the expense of more economical production choices.
For instance, we continue to heat our stills by direct fire, we maintain our own cooperage and we have our own coppersmith to tend the stills. Also, we use water from the same source (Robbie Dhu Spring) to reduce the alcohol level from cask strength to commercial strength prior to bottling, as was used in the original production of the spirit more than a decade ago.
One of our goals is to maintain balance. Glenfiddich is a remarkably complex single malt, yet none of the flavors or aromas dominate each other. There is a “foundation taste” that exists in each of the different range extensions that celebrates the distinctive Speyside style of being easy on the palate, with full, fresh and fruity flavors.
Tell us a little about the various wood barrels that you employ in your range – rum, oloroso sherry, etc.
RP: At Glenfiddich, we maintain our own on-site cooperage to ensure the highest quality of wood management in the industry. We have a team of seven coopers working for us, the youngest of which has 14 years experience – and our head cooper, Don Ramsay, has an amazing 48 years experience!
The two main types of wood barrels used are American Oak (previously used to age bourbon) and European Oak (previously used to age sherry, including oloroso sherry). Depending on the Glenfiddich variant, other woods play an important role in the aroma and taste of the finished product – used rum casks and new wood casks are among these.
Given Glenfiddich’s market share in single malt scotch sales, how does the brand view itself today in the world of scotch whisky, and where are you heading over the next 3-5 years?
RP: Glenfiddich is the world’s most awarded single malt Scotch, and the largest-selling brand globally. William Grant & Sons just announced record profits due in part to significant activity in North America. We continue to expand, not only in our traditionally-strong markets like France, US, UK and Spain, but also around the world – China and Russia are two of our fastest-growing markets and we are excited about the prospects for continued growth.
We are the ‘real deal’ when it comes to scotch whisky – we have remained an ambitious independent family-owned company who has maintained its record of success and commitment throughout the years. We are not a public company that has to answer to stockholders, so we are able to maintain our dedication to the product and to our customers without having to sacrifice quality for cost-cutting.
Are there any new trends in single malt scotch (manufacturing, marketing or retailing) that you have been impressed by?
RP: The first is a move to updated, contemporary packaging within the category to make single malt more relevant to an increasingly younger audience. We are definitely separating ourselves from the stuffy image of scotch being something old, bald men drink in front of their big fireplace at home! Glenfiddich packaging includes information right on the front label to guide consumers to a particular style of aroma and flavors like pear, spice and honey.
The second is the release of new variants by many distillers. Glenfiddich recently released its Distillery Edition – 102 proof, and non-chill filtered, and will release the extremely rare Glenfiddich 50 year old in December. Glenfiddich also annually releases a limited edition vintage, always in excess of 30 years old.
question. What would you recommend
for the newbie scotch drinker, someone who wants to learn more – it can be at
least as intimidating as learning about wine if not more so. Books, specific scotches, classes or
Last question. What would you recommend for the newbie scotch drinker, someone who wants to learn more – it can be at least as intimidating as learning about wine if not more so. Books, specific scotches, classes or tastings?
RP: The single malt novice has a wonderful array of resources, including the Internet, both for general information, as well as distillery-specific sites, online and traditional booksellers, and, of course, the local pub. Attending as many single malt whisky tastings as possible is a great way to meet like-minded people, share opinions and experiences, and taste a variety of whisky, served by experts. Patronize your local bar that has a good selection of whiskies and ask them a lot of questions – people are very happy to share their knowledge and it is the best way to figure out what you like best, no matter what the books or experts say.
Thanks, Ray, for your time in educating us on the story behind Glenfiddich. Keep an eye out for Ray at a single malt tasting in your area soon!