18 August 2014

Whisky Insiders Interview - Rob Allanson

William Grant & Sons

Global Ambassador for Grant's Whisky


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
Well I've now been the Global Ambassador for Grant’s Whisky for four months, early days but a very exciting time to join the team. Before this I worked for eight years with Whisky Magazine covering the industry.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Other than landing a dream job with William Grant and Sons, one of the things I was most proud of was the redesign of Whisky Magazine. This involved a few months of going to and fro, between me and Whisky Magazine’s Art Director Paul Beevis, and I am still incredibly impressed with what we came up with. It was a real marker in the sand for the magazine, "you know we're here and this is our direction and style". We just wanted to shake the physical nature of the magazine up a little, which turned out to be the biggest redesign to date in terms of lay out and paper stock.

Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
Well I think it was either Highland Park or Bushmills Black Bush, both were favourites of my grandparents and parents so that was what was in the house. I remember being bowled over by the taste sensation, hot, spicy and sweet.

What does whisky mean to you?
For me it is quite a lot of things about marking moments and occasions, where whisky becomes part of the mix rather than taking centre stage to friendships. There is nothing better that pulling out something special and sharing it with a good friend. Those moments should be a reminder to never lose the joy of things. The world and whisky are full of wonder and amazement; there are breath-taking things out there, just remember to pack a hipflask!

Where would you like to see yourself in five years time?
Well I would hope I am still working for Grant’s in this capacity, still out educating people and spreading the blended whisky word. There is nothing like that light bulb moment where someone finds something they like. I have seen this a lot when you tell people to add water to their whisky to reduce any burn they feel and then ‘bing’ they have found their way into whisky, it becomes accessible and understandable.

What was your last dram?
It was a Manhattan made with Grant’s Family Reserve, vermouth and chilli pickled cherries.

Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
Ah now, food and whisky, great bedfellows. I have done a few pairings and whisky dinners with my great friend and Dublin pub owner Seaneen Sullivan, but one she put together for a Grant’s Brand Ambassador workshop recently totally blew me away.

This was not your average sit down and dryly go through a range tasting interspersed with food, we served up Grant’s Family Reserve with soda water and bitters; and even revived the boilermaker using Brewdog’s 5AM Saint.

Seaneen worked with the drinks I had in mind and used the food to amplify and highlight flavours in the whisky. To be honest you cannot complain about candy floss with 18 Years Old Grant’s atomised over it.

Because I am lactose intolerant a lot of the chocolate and cheese pairings are out for me, unless they are goat’s cheese. So the pairing menu Seaneen put together was incredible and is now responsible for some of my favourite pairings. It was so well thought through, each element was balanced and a perfect fit with the whisky. Who can say no to bacon jam and Grant’s Family Reserve... rich, unctuous and deliciously smoky.

What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
There have been a lot to be honest, but the ones that always stand out are drinking with friends. Whether it is on the back of my dad’s boat watching the sun go down over Windermere, sitting under a sunset with a warming BBQ, smoking cigars and drinking setting the world to rights, sitting up late nights with friends on sofas just having fun, listening to music and enjoying life. All responsibly of course.

I did some recording in the Balvenie maltings with the band I play in. It was a very special few days doing things that I love; whisky and music. The whisky of choice was not what you might be expecting. It was an old Canadian Blend called Crazy Horse.

There also those moments of drinking in warehouses at the distilleries. They can never be replaced, and I heartily recommend them.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
I have a feeling that the grain category is about to become increasingly hot. The recent Girvan and Haig releases I think are just the start of something. People seem to be understanding it more and more; it’s almost like whisky’s version of rye.

What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
Oh now that is a question. It changes dependent on the time of year, place, my moods and who I am with; also indoors or outdoors, cooking or eating. Too many combinations but thankfully there are a lot of expressions out there to help fit the moment. So I think the answer is to keep a well stocked cabinet.

The current house pour is Grant’s Family Reserve, followed by a new travel retail expression we have launched called Voyager. A little bit more peat that the usual Grant’s expressions. Honestly I think the answer is the one that is open on my sideboard. It can be anything from light and airy lowlanders to big sherry bomb Japanese whiskies and all shades in between including well made blends such as Grant’s.

Many thanks to Rob Allanson. Who will be the next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!