24 March 2016

Whisky Insiders Interview - Kevin Abrook

William Grant & Sons

Global Whisky Specialist - Innovation


How long have you been working in the industry?
My journey in the whisky industry began over 20 years ago in 1994 when I became Global Marketing Manager for Tullamore Dew after the company I was working for at the time, C&C, acquired the brand from Irish Distillers.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Thankfully there are quite a few, so the most recent innovations I worked on spring to mind.  In 2013 I launched The Girvan Patent Still Single Grain scotch, and Kininvie Single Malt, both of which played a key part in Wm Grants winning the trophy for Scotch Whisky and World Whisky Innovator of the year in 2013. It’s not every day you get to say you were involved in creating a ‘new’ category in Scotch, with single grain.

I am also very proud of the concept and design work I did for Ailsa Bay Single Malt. This is a fantastic peated single malt, but we couldn’t “out-Isaly Islay” with all their heritage and tradition; so the packaging had to have a contemporary look that reflected a modern, 21st Century distillery. I think it works well to convey this; I’m biased of course, but I hope others like it too.

Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
I can't remember what my first dram was, but it was certainly an Irish Whisky as I moved here in 1990 from the UK. I do remember my whisky ‘epiphany moment’ though. That was when I was tasting three different potential samples for the launch of Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old, the eventual winner [the current product] was quite simply sublime – and still is!

What does whisky mean to you?
Whisky can mean many things depending on the occasion, from chilling out with friends and highballs on a sunny patio, to quiet contemplation with a classic aged single malt. So I’ll answer a different question! What separates whisky from other spirits? For me it is a sense of specialness that elevates whisky above other drinks. It is more reflective, about winding down rather than winding up. I am at peace with the world with a whisky in hand.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years time?
Hopefully I will still be exciting, educating and informing people about whisky. It is a privilege to be working as Global Whisky Specialist and I feel very lucky to be working with such a range of whisky innovations...and you should see what’s coming down the line! There’s great camaraderie in the industry, despite the competitive nature of the business, which I love.

What was your last dram?
It was a Girvan No.4 Apps highball, with a thin slice of pear dipped in sugar syrup – you really should try it. Fantastic drink for the summer.

Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
Of course, it is known that whisky goes very well with chocolate and cheese, but when it comes to food in general I have to confess that I always thought wine was a better companion. That was until the press launch of The Girvan Patent Still in Paris. The chef created an absolutely stunning starter paired with The Girvan Patent Still No.4 Apps: Salmon baked with a hint of vanilla; served with an orange coulis. It complemented the vanilla and citrus notes of the Girvan single grain perfectly, and, being a lighter style of whisky, it did not dominate the salmon. The French food and wine journalists present even said it was genuinely better than white wine as a pairing for the dish – you know you’re on to something then!

What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
Anywhere with like-minded people who appreciate what has gone in to making the whisky.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
Japanese whisky is on trend and has been for a while, but that has largely been amongst knowledgeable whisky consumers; now you will start to see it becoming big in the mainstream. Japanese whisky was given a boost when Jim Murray awarded Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 the accolade of best whisky in the world for 2015, so it will be interesting to see if Canadian Whisky follows suit now that Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is his 2016 selection. I hope so as it is often overlooked as a category. But ‘World Whiskies’ from non-traditional whisky making countries will begin to make an impact too as part of the broader ‘craft’ trend – whisky drinkers love to experiment and always will.

What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old, the first new whisky I launched and my ‘epiphany moment’ dram.

Many thanks to Kevin Abrook. Who will be our next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!