Twitterview with Gordon Dundas – Brand Ambassador, Ian Macleod Distillers
A slightly different format this time as I can’t gather people from family companies round a table and Zoom doesn’t create the same interview vibe. This is an interview format I came up with and used for a few years, writing for Whisky Advocate in the US and which I called In 140 Or Less where both questions and answers had to be no more than the 140 characters (not counting spaces) that Twitter allowed at that time. It’s done in real time, by e-mail, batting Q&A back and forth.
I’ve decided to go back to it here as Twitterview and stick to that original 140 character count to keep things succinct.
My first interviewee in this occasional format is the excellent Gordon Dundas of Ian Macleod Distillers (IMD) and I’m grateful for the couple of hours of his time on this. I’ve known Gordon since the very early 2000s when he was charged with ad sales for Whisky Magazine when he was trying to sell me ad space for my whisky tourism company (he succeeded!). He was also instrumental in the running of the Whisky Live events they went on to create and stage in several cities.
I caught up with Gordon from our respective homes in this coronavirus lockdown.
1) Where were you born and brought up?
I am a west coast boy brought up in Helensburgh, 25 miles west of Glasgow.
2) Coastal then. I’ve heard you say you lived in Asia for a while which must have been very different – when, where and why?
Yes, Taiwan is a great market for single malt so I lived there in 2014.
3) Was that when you worked for Beam Suntory and what did you do out there?
2014 was the year Suntory bought Beam and I was developing the brands in Asia through tastings and advocacy.
4) I’d love to do your job. Why did you move from running ad sales and involvement in Whisky Live for Whisky Mag to a brand ambassador role?
Whisky was my passion so to work promoting, educating and influencing directly was a great opportunity.
5) Understand that one entirely! But your education background was engineering. What did you originally intend to do from that? Don’t say, “Be an engineer”!
I left school not sure of my vocation so I felt an engineering degree was a solid platform to build my career.
6) A lot of us have taken that kind of decision. Beam Suntory – large company/great brands. IMD smaller, family-owned /great brands. Differences? Effect on your job?
Large companies give structure and scale but a family business offers nimbleness, flexibility for producing whisky and diversity in my role.
7) Are you also closer to the decision-making? Please differentiate your current brands for us in your terms and what’s your favourite thing about the IMD portfolio?
I like that I work closely with the brand teams for Glengoyne, Tamdhu and Rosebank giving us a breadth across our whisky portfolio.
8) Sounds good but what characterises each brand for you? Do you work on Smokehead also? Let’s do them one at a time for character count! Glengoyne?
Glengoyne is a classic Single malt style with enormous depth of flavour.
8b) I’d second that. Tamdhu?
Tamdhu is creating a classic sherried Speyside style which is so sought after.
8c) And those casks must make it more expensive to produce. Rosebank?
Rosebank is reviving a much loved classic triple distilled Lowland. It’s still some way off, though.
8d) Will look forward to trying it when it’s finally ready – and the new spirit once works are finished and you start producing. Smokehead? It’s a single malt too.
Smokehead is a like it or not whisky – it’s a peaty Islay. Taste driven, nothing else.
9)Love all but I’ve little experience of Rosebank, understandably. Still encounter malt/blend snobbery? How to counter it?
I do and it can be challenging. Similar to views on age of whisky. Best example for me is Hibiki, Japanese blend but more considered a great whisky whether blend or not.
10) I guess encouraging people to broaden their horizons is key. You travel a lot. How much luggage do you have to cart around with you to cover different event types?
I have got quite good with luggage and have some tricks. I travelled twice round the world in trips in 2019 and had to cater for all weathers.
11) Do the whiskies you need to use go separately?
No, I carry samples too, so arriving with no bag smelling of whisky is great!
12) You’ll need to pass on those tips you mention in a the podcast. What do you do to combat travel stress/jetlag, if anything?
I suffer from that a bit. Change my watch to the time where I’m going, drink lots of water, sleep if tired. Try to leave countries in evenings if I can. Doesn’t always work!
13) Sound advice, though. I don’t travel so much for work since I stopped marketing certain whiskies. What do you like best and least about your job?
Love to travel but at certain times of year it can be relentless. That’s the industry. Great part – meeting new whisky folk and fans who love our brands in many countries.
14) Good job satisfaction then. What’s the general male/female split in your audiences and has that changed over the years? Does it vary by market?
It is definitely balancing out. I hear the biggest growing single malt drinking category is women.
15) And the markets?
It does vary by market but certainly the amount of women I see at events is always increasing which is fantastic. It’s a drink for everyone!
16) Indeed, it is. That’s good news. You always seem quite relaxed. Do you ever get nervous before an event?
I guess I am lucky. I prepare before every occasion, try to understand the audience and what they are looking for. This helps make me relaxed about what I am going to say.
17) Good advice for any speaker. I was wondering though about before starting your Whisky Unscripted podcast with Gordon Dallas. Has he thrown you a curve ball yet?!
It was great to start the podcast. Gordon is great at hosting. He has such knowledge and a sparky character. I anticipate plenty curve balls, it is unscripted after all!
18) It is but it runs nicely and is a great little series. I think Gordon Dallas runs on Duracell batteries! Will you keep it going after virus lockdown?
I hope so. We are keen to provide a unique insight as a producer, while talking about all in whisky. That gives us plenty to chat about so I am sure we will carry on with it.
19) Changing tack, I believe you like food/whisky pairing. I love doing client dinners where I pair whiskies with a chef’s menu. Any matches made in heaven for you?
Whisky and food is a great combination. Seafood and whisky is a lovely one, particularly Islay whiskies.
20) Any other tips for readers?
Complimentary food pairings are obvious, but contrasting ones like hard cheese and whisky are excellent.
21) Indeed, I recall you did that at a previous distillery you represented with me and Gavin Smith. Do you cook yourself and do you have a signature dish?
I assemble rather than cooking, but been doing more recently. I love seafood and tried a paella this week…fail!
22) Better luck next time. Post pictures! On that note, social media – pleasure or pain?
Predominantly pleasure as we have such an engaged group of fans for our brands so doing live broadcasts or posts is fun.
23) Do the Brand Ambassadors from the various companies socialise at big events, like your own wee exclusive club? Friendly rivalry or all sweetness and light?!
Oh we are friends. Great to catch up but little time at events so we try and meet up outside to hear what other brands are up to. You can get too caught up in your own world!
24) Any unfulfilled ambitions for a) work and b) you personally?
Plenty. Personally never been to Africa or South America. Work – always thinking of the next career steps and highlight. Becoming a Keeper of the Quaich is hard to beat.
25) It must be, indeed. I can boast a trip to Peru – enlivened by strikes! Favourite countries to visit for a) work and b) leisure?
Love Asia – have a fondness for Taiwan. I do love the Asian market. Japan always excited me in terms of Whisky culture. I went for the Rugby World Cup last year. Fabulous!
26) Now I do envy that trip. Glengoyne has just launched a lockdown jigsaw. Have you tried it out?
To be honest, no! Katy the Brand Manager clearly forgot to send me one! lol
27) What would be your desert island dram? You’re allowed ONLY ONE! Doesn’t have to be one of your own but you’ve got some great candidates at IMD.
Desert Island dram…….I would have to choose between a Bowmore or a Glengoyne. Black Bowmore has been one of the finest drams I have ever tasted so I think that would be it!
He’s not a cheap night out, then… And we’re done. Thank you, Gordon
I’ve not mentioned before this column the Whisky Unscripted podcast Gordon is now doing with the other Gordon – Gordon Dallas at Glengoyne; only mentioned the live tasting they did some weeks ago. Type into your browser whiskyunscripted.podbean.com . Do tune in. They air a new one each Wednesday about lunchtime (UK time).
Also, the jigsaw I referred to has just been launched this last week. It’s a painting “Spring Blossoms at Glengoyne” by John Lowrie Morrison (known as jolomo) and made into a 500-piece jigsaw to raise funds for drinks/hospitality trade charities. We’re also told, “Those lucky enough to also find one of 10 golden jigsaw pieces up for grabs in their order will also win a pair of tickets to a Glengoyne Wee Tasting Tour, redeemable once the distillery re-opens to visitors.” The jigsaw costs £10 and you can purchase with any 70cl bottle of whisky from Glengoyne’s online shop. Something else to do in lockdown with a dram in your hand! Their Teapot Drams are a great favourite of mine but for a permanent expression, it would be Glengoyne 18 Year Old or 21 Year Old for me.
Stay safe and happy dramming.