Recently, Glenfiddich, one of the world’s renowned single malt whisky launched its latest variant Grand Cru in Nigeria. To mark this event, the brand’s ambassador for Scotland, Mark Thomson flew to Nigeria to serenade guests at a curated event n Lagos and Abuja. Thomson shares insight on the brand with Vanessa Obioha
What were the profound things you knew about the brand before you became an ambassador?
My link to the brand goes way back to when I was a child. Whisky is very popular in Scotland and my grandfather always drank Glenfiddich during special occasions and times of celebrations. I was young and didn’t know what it was at the time, I didn’t even know it was whisky, better still, Glenfiddich. I just knew that the green shiny bottle contained something special. Later, when I was of legal drinking age, I rediscovered whisky and Glenfiddich in particular. My grandfather was still alive so with this rediscovery we had a real connection. From sitting and dining with him as a child, listening to his stories around Glenfiddich to now having Glenfiddich with him was quite a great feeling. To top that off, Glenfiddich is a family company and the synergy between the two siblings was meant to be.
Who were the immediate class of people you influenced when you assumed the role?
I would say there are about three different classes of people. Firstly, you have the whisky drinkers who probably think they know what they are talking about, and perhaps their knowledge is based on what a friend said in the pub, what somebody said at a party to them or perhaps from their grandparents. It is knowledge passed down which is often incorrect. They are the first to tell you that you are doing something wrong, they are the ones to tell you that you can’t do single malt in a cocktail, that it is a rule.
Then, there are those who have that knowledge but want to find out for themselves, so they come searching for answers. And probably, the best of all, which is the younger demographic of legal drinking age. They are coming to whisky from a completely different angle. It is not about heritage, it is about what they want to do, it is about their lifestyle. They are in the right clubs, partying, socializing, drinking a lot of cocktails and finding new ways to explore whisky. To them, that exploration is uninhibited by historical or mixed legend rules and barriers.
This class of people are probably the best to speak to because they are actually very knowledgeable, they have done research themselves and tend to be younger individuals from the age of 25-35 years. They have disposable income and time on their hands to explore the world. They pick up and make up their minds on how they choose to enjoy something. They are great because Glenfiddich has different types of whisky such as the experimental series which is almost perfectly created for this category of individuals. New whisky excites their imagination and certainly appeals to these younger explorers.
What is special about the Grand Cru?
We have always been a company that has an abundance of liquid stock and I am very proud of it. We are also one of the very few remaining family-owned whisky companies in Scotland. We are quite rare and will be 133 years, with that, we have built up this enviable stock of whiskies being at the forefront of evolving the whisky industry for many years.
We understand that there are people who have been exploring whisky for a long time and are now eager to try new things that suit their lifestyle. Grand Cru is about elevating celebration, getting people to think about how they celebrate in different ways and bringing liquid of excellent quality to them, utilizing some unusual methods that have created something truly exceptional.
Did you find that unique elevated celebration in the Nigerian setting?
I certainly found this across the globe as we launched in various markets. The category of individuals drawn to the Grand Cru product are those who would frequent these types of locations. I’ve seen some past images of launches around Africa in general and Asia as well, and it just fits. There is a real burst of energy and desire here. I also think we have a wonderful brand which people know, trust, and recognize.
How intense is your work as a Scotland Ambassador of the brand?
I have been the brand ambassador in Scotland for two years and in the UK, for three years, I have been with the brand seven years in total and no two days are the same. Ordinarily, I am supposed to work as an ambassador and an educator spreading the good works of the brand, touch points however can be very different depending on who is being spoken to, and where they are.
I spend most of my time travelling, training bartenders, hoteliers and wholesalers, so they really understand the product they have on trade. And other times, I engage with customers, that is, people that want to know about the product, people who want to know what to drink. This might entail hosting a dinner somewhere in a venue where you can only stock the product, gathering some people on a random evening, doing a food match and a party, or press interviews on radio, television and magazines. It’s really any place where the product is out of the hands of the sales force, but not yet in the hands of the consumer. One has to slot in there and become this bridge between one and the other.
Since you came on board, how would you say that the brand is specifically different in the African market?
There are several markets around the world. It is about understanding whisky and those individuals you see having a drive and desire to find out more. Quite a lot of markets are the same. People would drink something because it is their favourite brand and they have confidence in it. What we are seeing in the African market here is an understanding of the time, the effort, the family behind the brand and the quality of the product, hence there is a differentiation between the “I go to that brand because I know it” sayings to “I’m going to this brand because I understand it, know its history and also understand it.” I think that is quite a large growth for the market now.
What are those unique traits that sets Grand Cru apart from other brands in the market?
Well for a start, the casks we’ve used are very unusual – the cuvee casks, which are exceptional. But it takes the delicacy of what Glenfiddich is known for, and literally elevates it into something superb with that cask finish, and that’s a culmination of past skills, our malt master, our stock, and having the freedom to play with that stock to get something that works and not every experiment we try will end up in a bottle. With Grand Cru, it’s the perfect alignment – we’ve got a beautiful balance of liquid.
It is hitting that point where we understand that we are really proud of our achievements so far and we should shout about this a lot. And we haven’t really as a company, and as a family brand played in the luxury market very often in the past.
It’s been a long process getting to where we are with Grand Cru. It’s the first of the company’s grand releases, which is quite exciting. I think by doing these launches and inviting the kind of people we’re inviting; we hope that it sets the placement in their mind that Glenfiddich can do this and therefore the future release we have will fall in quite nicely.
After ageing the whisky for 23 years, we’ve moved the product into American oak casks that have previously held Cuvee wines, for three to four months, and there’s this interaction of flavour. That’s where that lovely roundness (of the Grand Cru) is coming from, the fruitiness as well. If I could introduce anyone who’s never tried whisky before, this would be the one I would introduce them to, and they’d be whisky lovers for the rest of their life.