An Interview with Danny Dyer, Grant’s global ambassador

Smartphones were perhaps the best invention of the last fifteen years. Not because they are practical and versatile devices, or because they contain all the knowledge of the world, literally by the touch of our fingers. And not because they help us save precious minutes in a world which greatest commodity is precisely time. No, the most important function is to disguise my social phobia.

The smarphone is a shield. A real invisible force field. When you look down and slide your opposing thumbs over the black screen, everything is forgiven. There is no remorse in silence, even in the most awkwardly social environment in the world – the elevator. With my cell phone in my hand, I never had to talk about time, the football game I did not see, or any other randomness.

And it may seem counter-intuitive, especially coming from someone whose job is essentially communication. But it is not. I have a hard time talking to others. I am afraid of the awkward silences. And of being boring. Or too excited. That, of course, sober. After a couple of drams, I can talk about everything – from the technical specifications of the hadron collider to the latest hit “Together and Shallow Now”.

So when I received an invitation from Interfood to do an exclusive interview with Daniel Dyer, Grant’s global ambassador, to learn about the recent visual redesign of the brand, I was tense. But in the first few minutes I met Danny, I realized that my fears were completely unfounded. And it was not just Grant’s Old Fashioned in my glass. The chatter flowed, to me, as well as new-make spirit down the Glenfiddich spirit safe.

Danny was chosen from more than five thousand participants in one of the biggest competitions in the beverage industry. The program was called “The Greatest Job Interview in the World” and was intended, precisely, to choose an ambassador for the new phase of Grant’s. That now bears the expression “Triple Wood” on the labels of some labels of their portfolio, as well as a more sophisticated bottle. But the best person to explain all this is not me. It’s Danny.

So, to start, you’ve been travelling a lot. What was your best experience?

I get this question quite a few times. I dont have the ones i like the most. I have the ones that were quite a shock to me, because i really did not travel before I got this job. And the biggest shock i got was when I went to Africa. You have an idea of how it’s like, but you really don’ t know until you get there.

I went to Tanzania and then to Kenya, Nairobi. We went from car to tanzania to kenya, and when we got to Nairobi, it coud be two different places. It was like a place with fashion, and energy. It was the first time I saw poeple with Grant’s on their tables. That never happens. I was really taken aback, and had a really great time there.

So, what did you think of Brazil? And what were your expectations?

Brazil is great. I did not know what to expect. Except for football. I’m a great football fan, I love the Celtics. And Brazil for me was always football. When I got here, it was pretty early in the morning, and went straight to Guilhotina (for a guest bartending and presentation to the bartenders). And from there, I felt more comfort, I was a bartender for a few years, so, from there, I could get an idea of the lay of the land.

From step one, they were so attentive and friendly and warm with me, sharing their knowledge, I knew it was a cool place. When you see the bartenders, you know how consumers will be like, how the nightlife will be. Very friendly people.

All going well, my boss sais i shall come to brazil in the next year, and hopefully I’ll have more time to explore and get to know the places. Fingers crossed I’ll come back next year.

Moving to whisky, tell me a little about Grant’s.

I think Grant’s is a great blend. Everything is balanced. The whole point of blended whiskies is this. When we were making single malts, and that was before we even had licences, we sold our single malts to the english, and they said it was too harsh, too strong. And so, we decided to blend it, to make it easier for the english palate. For me a blend really should be this perfect mix of parts working together. I like all whiskies, but for me, Grant’s is the one that stands out. It’s a classic speyside.

Glad you mentioned Speyside. You guys only use Speyside malts in the blend?

No, no. We actually use 25 different single malts from all over Scotland. Some are not from our portfolio. And we have our grain whisky distillery, whichi is a massive tall column still, 100 feet in the air. It’s stunning, it’s where they make it. The grain whisky is made with wheat instead of barley, and I had the opportunity to taste it. And the new make has pear, grapes. And when you have the opportunity to taste the single grain, matured, it’s like american hard candies, with a creaminess coming trhough.

Girvan Distillery – Grant’s Home

You have to mind that 60% of the blend comes from the grain, so when you have the most sought after grain (whisky) in the whole industry, you are strating off well. And we have Brian Kinsman as our master blender and Kelsie as his apprentice blender, they have to pick up 25 different single malts of all sorts, that have to work well with the grain. And five years from now, today, and five years later, Grant’s has to taste the same. The hardest thing in the portfolio is this – new distilleries are dying, and some are born. So it’s not like there’s a recipe. It changes all the time.

Tell me more about the triple cask maturation.

That’s something we’ve been doing for a good time in Grant’s. Been using three particular types of casks to mature all of or whisky. But no one knew about it. And last year, with the launch of the new bottle, and the new portfolio, it was the time to tell the people of the quality that goes into our blend.

So, the three casks are new oak, a refill bourbon and american oak. When you are drinking it neat, you get a spiciness, that’s from the virgin oak, that’s coming through. A tannic, dry, oaky flavour. The ex-bourbon brings a sort of classic bourbon notes, vanilla, hazelnuts, brown sugar. And finally, with the first fill american oak you get the distillery character coming through, because the influence of the cask is lower, and the new make shines through.

Using virgin oak is pretty rare in scotch whisky industry. You guys use it a lot?

Well, I’m not sure I should tell you, I might get in trouble. Well, sorry Brian, here goes. We use about 5% of virgin oak. 5% of the fill is virgin oak. The reason is that it is so intense. The flavour is so strong. And it brings this spice, and quite affects the colour as well. It looks like a sherry cask, but when you taste it, it has that tannic, oaky flavour. And that’s only 5%;

And what about the composition? What are the core malts there? Glenfiddich and Balvenie? And what about the new distillery, Ailsa Bay?

We’ve opened Ailsa bay designed to be almost a replica of Balvenie and how it distills. I’m not gonna say it is the most technologically advanced distillery, but it is incredibly advanced. One person can run the whole show, it is very impressive. I’ve spent some time with the stillmen there, and he explained me you can actually change what the mash is doing – don’t get me wrong, there’s six screens in front of the guy, and they actually know exaclty what’s happening and what will happen if you change something. Grant’s Triple Wood and Grant’s Smoky have Ailsa Bay, and you can really feel it in the blend.

Ailsa Bay has a still with a stainless steel worm still, instead of copper. Copper cleans the new make, but the steel makes the smoky, sulphury aromas come through. And when I saw it, I though – It can’t make such a difference. But it does. And it’s one malt. One malt changes everything.

Ailsa Bay

Glefiddich and Balvenie are massive single malts. So, I’ll probably be killed for saying that, but about 6 or 7 years ago we stopped using Balvenie in Grant’s purely because the whisky world is going mad for single malts. So, Glenfiddich makes Glenfiddich, and Balvenie makes Balvenie. There’s no Glenfiddich or Balvenie in the blends, because it’s all bottled as single malts. Unfortunately, we cannot use it. But there are so many other distilleries we can use to our specs and our standards and use in the blends. With Glenfiddich and Balvenie, that’s with their whisky.

Tell me about the rebranding. Why is it important to put the info about the casks on the label?

I think consumers are getting more savy. In the past there was a lot about the product being still in the family, and choosing the best grains and all that, but I think anyone can say that, right?

It’s not about catching your eye in the travel retail. But it feels better and looks better. So, for a bartender, when the bottle looks good and they know the story, it just makes sense.

When putting “triple wood” there, although not everyone that buys whisky is as geek as you and me, they see the importance. Wood is 60% of the flavor that comes in the blend. That’s what’s affecting the flavor. But it is not just the name. it’s the change of the bottle. The old bottle is a little like a tall and uncomfortable guy. The new bottle is stronger, it feels stronger. And consumers also feel that way. Way more confident – I know where I’m going.

And it’s true, that’s great.

Yes, and it’s real information, it’s not bullshit. It’s real (laughs).

Grant’s should be for everyone. We have a stigma on grant’s that it is an old man’s liquid. It’s not. The quality of the liquid is so good that it is a shame someone does not get to try it. So, if it means that if we change the bottle and the name to show how good we really are, then so be it. We can start showing. We’ve been doing it for 125 years, so, we’re doing something right. We are the third biggest alcohol company in the world and the third best selling scotch.

Grant’s has received a lot of awards. The one that I really think is important is IWSC. Just last year Grant’s won distiller of the year. Also won scotch whisky producer of the year. And it’s not an one-off. It won distiller of the year 12 times. And this is the biggest change we’ve done in our portfolio for a long time.

It’s not just the name. It’s also our clan motto “Stand Fast”. It means to hold strong to your views, to stand with your family and friends and grow strong together, and that’s what Grant’s is about. We also have what we call “our muscle”, “our master” and “our maker”. Our muscle makes the casks. Our master blends our whisky together. And the maker, makes the whisky. And we are the only distillery in the world to have the three under one roof.

The facelift

You’ve been ambassador for how long? And how many countries have you been?

For eighteen months. And I’ve lost count of the countries. But at least 20. I’ve been to amsterdam last week. And from here, I’ll go to Mexico, then Africa. It’s great, I love it.

So, now, about that job interview.

That question always makes me smike and laugh. It was the most silly thing that happened. An year and a half ago i was working at a whisky bar, and one of my friends gave me a call one day and asked me if I wanted to travel the world. I did not have instagram or anything, and not really into social media.

So I made this instagram, bought some bottles of grant’s and invited my friends over, bartenders, to make some cocktails. Actually, I don’t remember much of that night, but a cocktail was made and posted. And a few weeks go by, and I receive an e-mail with “congratulations”, quickly followed by “you are among the final 250”. So, congratulations and 250.

And it said I had to make a video and tell about your take as an ambassador, and you’ll be off to Dufftown (where Grant’s is) if you are selected. Then I called a friend, who’s a filmmaker and actor – I used to be an actor as well. And I said “i know what I want to do, I have the script in my head, we’ll go down to the Water of Leith in Edimburgh. Bring your camera, ok”. We actually had a dram of Grant’s for breakfast that day. And in the first take it was perfect, and we sent it off. A week later, I was down to the final 20.

And it was great. I don’t know if you ever been in a place full of whisky fans, and enthusiasts. The people from Grant’s are really good at picking people. There was a great energy there. They managed to pick up 20 people that were not only enthusiastic, but no completely assholes about the subject. We did a lot of challenges, and I remember the last day, when we had a few drams to celebrate. And in the next day we were by the Distillery shop in Glenfiddich, all lined up for the selection. I was the second name they called, and I started crying. I could actually taste it.

And they said I was going to travel to Russia and then Taiwan over the course of ten days to present the whisky. And those ten days were the most crazy ten days of my life. I landed in Russia, and it was quite a flight. I was exhausted, but very excited. And the next three days with the team in Russia, I did not sleep. I was doing cocktails in Speakeasies and everythere I went, it was like “go behind the bar”, “are you sure”, “I’m sure, go behind the bar”. So I get a fuzzy memory of what was Russia, but a lot of fun. I was also doing some scottish poetry for them too! “I’ll do some Robbie Burns”. And end up with Bukowski.

And then I went to taiwan, and the places could not be more different. Russia has like a mask, that when you remove it, you got to love it. Though Taiwan I had people randomly running up to me and waiving at me because I was a little different. It was amazing. They had some challenges, or tasks, as they called. One of them was pairing food with Grant’s. It was really lovely.

Finally I went to Australia and met the team there. Justin, who is our Monkey shoulder ambassador was there, and said to me “you should be really really tired, we will give you a break”. And as soon as I got off the plane and to the hotel he said “joking, you are about to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge”. I was everywhere making cocktails. In a boat, also. I met some great people had, we had a laugh.

And when I went home, I felt weird. I went to work a few days later, and it was like a part of a motion has left my work. It was like “Im here, I’m doing it, but everything changed”. And about three weeks later I got a call from our brand director at the time, he said “you got the job!”. I was starring at the wall at the phone, and said “are you sure?” and I was swearing, and saying “I’m sorry, but are you sure?”. From there, I told my mum and dad, and it was great.

Let’s move briefly to cocktails. what’s your favourite drink?

I think Old Fashioned. Old Fashioned shows really what the whisky is. But there is one that I love just because I absolutely hated it as a bartender. What’s the cocktail we hate because we are ten minutes from closing and someone asks for one or two, and then suddenly everyone is ordering them? Expresso Martinis!

And a Expresso Martini with Grant’s is great. Because you switch that neutral spirit with something with more taste, and it makes it warmer.

Back to whisky – what’s your favourite Grant’s whisky?

When it comes to Grants, the smoky is very, very good. I also love Grant’s Ale cask. It was the first whisky ever to be finished in an ale cask. Not Glenfiddich IPA. This one was twenty years later. Mr. Balvenie (David Stewart, master blender at the Balvenie) did this in 1996. And I still think its one of the best Grant’s out there.

But the one I like most is probably the Rum Cask (finish). At my second week at the job I went to see Brian Kinsman, and he had these whiskises in front of him. And he said “you are going to try some whiskies”. “ok”. “so, what do you think about them?”. And I said “well, they are very nice”. And he asked me “which would you choose?” And I picked one. He then looked at me and said “You’ve just picked Grant’s Rum Cask”. And I said “noo, really?”. This make me really happy.

You and Grant’s were made for each other

Yes, I guess it just makes sense!

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