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How does someone feel as they unveil a product that represents half a century (and therefore most) of their working life? What emotions does it conjure up as they share the culmination of a great personal journey with strangers and colleagues?
Those were the questions I asked the other night of Glen Grant Master Distiller Dennis Malcolm (above) as he showcased the Campari-owned brand’s magnificent new 50yo single malt whisky at its launch in Hong Kong.
During the course of our working year, The Moodie Report receives, I suppose, around 2,000 press releases. Heavy on hyperbole (and sometimes abuse of the English language), they are often overflowing with executives’ ‘quotes’, words and phrases that people simply would never say.
Dennis Malcolm is not like that. Hardly the servant of any PR machine, he tells it as he sees it, particularly when it comes to the love of his life, single malt whisky.
As mentioned in my last Blog, Glen Grant was showing its (and Dennis’s) new (albeit mature) baby at two big trade launches in Hong Kong and Macau this week. The 50yo is a statement not just of age but of intent by the Campari group, as it finally gives a very fine single malt the limelight it has long deserved after being lost within the broad portfolios of multi-nationals Seagram and Pernod Ricard in recent years.
Perhaps suffering from its huge success in the Italian domestic market over many years with a young, unaged malt, Glen Grant has seldom got the recognition it should have for being a fine Speyside whisky in its own right, and one with the ability to take on great age.
All that is changing and the 50yo, unveiled against the magnificent backdrop of the Hong Kong harbour skyline on Monday, affirms that momentum in spectacular style.
The quite gorgeous crystal decanter – shaped like the swan-like Glen Grant stills – is one thing, the US$13,000 price point another, but it’s the juice that really matters here. Certainly to Dennis, who sees this very much as the fulfilment of a life’s work spent entirely in the Scotch whisky industry, starting as a 15 year old and following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather at Glen Grant.
Let me tell you the juice is stunning. Unlike many very old malts, it has not been overtaken by the wood, nor has the fruit declined to the point of bitterness and huge but sometimes unpleasant flavours. This is a huge toffee and vanilla-laced number, still brilliantly balanced, with a thrilling finish as long as the River Spey.
Scotch whisky companies often roll out ‘brand ambassadors’, some of whom are highly articulate and humorous but possibly picked for those qualities rather than their real knowledge of all aspects of Scotch whisky production. Dennis, conversely, is a walking, talking, nosing, supping and savouring ambassador for all that his malts – and those of others – stand for. Scripting him, I imagine, would be a nightmare, but he’s all the better for it.
So, back to the questions, I posed at the beginning of this Blog – and to Dennis just after he unveiled the 50yo with a magician’s flair from behind a dark curtain.
And do you know how this man answered, a man who had been in unstoppably exuberant free flow for the previous 30 minutes as he talked about the Glen Grant range, his philosophy towards single malt whisky production and plenty else besides? The answer is he didn’t. He couldn’t.
After I finished my question, he smiled thoughtfully, his eyes went moist and then he looked away for 30 or 40 seconds. There was absolute silence in a packed and hitherto noisy room. The thought of him first laying down this barrel of whisky 50 years ago and then presenting it in such exquisite form all those years on, briefly overwhelmed him. The memories and emotions swirled like a Scottish mist in his head. His silence was not met with embarrassment but, as it should have been, with a standing ovation.
It was the antithesis of so many over-scripted launches, a poignantly humane reminder that great single malt whisky is a combination of man’s craft, nature’s powers and the irresistible power of age. And you knew, you just knew, that in this bottle was housed a malt whisky that was the best, the very best that a callow youth who had long since become a man could ever produce.
[Left to right: Dennis Malcolm, Travel Retail Business co-Owner Nigel Hardy, Martin Moodie and Gruppo Campari Global Travel Retail Director Andy Holmes (also pictured below]
[I have the great honour of proposing a toast to John Hoover (below), a fantastic servant of DFS, who retires from the company next month]