Destined for Excellence
Struan Grant Ralph has always been a bit of a maverick. From his first job working at the Knockdhu distillery in Speyside, Scotland, to his role today as a Global Brand Ambassador for Glenfiddich whisky.
The roots anchoring his love for the industry began to take in Speyside where he earned a practical understanding of the art and science of whisky making. His passion for whisky (and Master's degree in Chemistry and a Distinction from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust) has taken him all around the world, where he has mastered his trade as bartender and whisky ambassador in locations including Osaka, Manilla, Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur.
In his role as global brand ambassador, Struan has introduced the delights of Glenfiddich to whisky enthusiasts and trade partners across all over the world.
How do you define the role of what you do?
My role is to represent this whisky brand all around the world - to bring its heritage and its culture to life for people. I’m basically tasked with getting people to taste our whiskys, hear our stories, and celebrate all the incredible things that have happened here. I’m the the link between our tiny little town in the north east of Scotland to all these whisky fans around the world. I’m a story-teller, really.
And how did you get the gig?
A combination of a chemistry degree and a lot of experience! When I was doing my degree I was also bar-tending, so I had this unique education of classic bar-tending and how it has all these ratios and reactions that occur to create different end-products. I guess I just had a real interest in where flavours came from, and then you know - coming from only 10 miles down the road in Speyside, I'd got this whiskey background, so the ball started rolling for me.
I worked with quite a few distilleries doing traditional trade shows for them - presentations and cocktail masterclasses and that sort of stuff. I’d jump in a van and head to new and exciting locations like York. I guess what I do now isn’t all too different. I’ve just swapped a van for a plane and York for China! So I did that for a couple of years, and then I actually moved over to Melbourne to work in a whisky bar with some friends of mine when the Glenfiddich job came up. And that's where I had the break for this job.
I think I tend to celebrate people. It’s got to be something that will resonate with everyone, and everyone knows people, right?
What do you think of the idea of the maverick and what that represents for Glenfiddich? How do you convey that individuality?
I suppose the thing that underpins it all is family ownership and independence. If you lined us up against a lot of the distilleries that we see out there, you’ll find that most of them are owned by big large corporations and multi-nationals. Glenfiddich on the other hand has always had the right to say that it is a staunchly independent company which has succeeded by doing things differently, taking risks, and being inventive.
When you’re trying to sell your product overseas, where there are no real preconceived associations with Scotland or the highland heritage, what aspects of the company do you trend to lead on?
I think I tend to celebrate people. It’s got to be something that will resonate with everyone, and everyone knows people, right? You have the standard aspects of aroma and you obviously have everything going on in the glass. But that's just one element of a whiskey tasting. If I was sitting now with a room full of people, I could talk about flavour until the cows come home, but to bring it to life I’ve got to involve people and place and provide them with a tangible sense of Scottish history. Not heather and weather, because heather and weather doesn't mean a thing to someone who comes from Siberia. I like to bring up the sense of the renegade and how the original Scots who first made whiskey up here were smugglers who did it illegally. I guess the true mavericks have to break the rules and that’s something exciting that everyone can relate to.
Have you been surprised by the growth of the industry in the Middle East?
Not really. We have our first ambassador out there, which reflects the growing importance of the region. And I think it's symptomatic of what you see in other markets. The growing popularity of whiskey itself is obvious. But it's fed on from the popularity of craft beers over the last few years, with people being more interested in the provenance of what they're consuming.
It’s sort of like having a cup of coffee and wanting to know more about where the beans have come from. Customers want to be more aware. So a single-malt is almost a kind of natural progression from there. In the Middle East in particular you've also got a growing expatriate community who desire these sort of products. We even have records here of the very first whiskies that were being transported into Saudi by camel, case by case. So distributors have always been out there bringing whiskey, no matter what boundaries the mavericks faced they have always found a way.