Whisky Conversations: Ewan Gunn

Having chatted with Ewan Gunn at length not only about whisky but about life in general there is much more to the “man from Haig Club” or ‘the travel guy” than is often portrayed in interviews.

Working for over twenty years with whisky has not dulled his enthusiasm, each new dram only fuelling his passion further. Ewan is a big advocate for grain whiskies (a passion that we both share) and indeed I first met him at the Special Releases launch in 2017 where he was presenting a stunning 52 year old Port Dundas.

Determined not to ask questions about David Beckham or ask for travel tips I sat down with Ewan for a quick catch up before he jetted off for a weekend of engagements in India. Then Singapore. Then Columbia…

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AD: How did you become involved with whisky and why did it it develop into such a passion?

EG: My first proper introduction to whisky was on Islay with a Lagavulin 16 year old. I immediately fell in love with the smoke and the richness of flavor and wanted to learn more about it. I don’t think I’ve stopped trying to learn more and more about whisky since that day over two decades ago. 

AD: Can you tell me a little about your career so far?

EG: I’ve had the great fortune to have worked with some wonderful companies, big and small, over the past 20 years. My first role after university was with Cadenhead’s looking after their export markets around the world. Upon joining I spent a few months working in Springbank Distillery learning hands-on every aspect of whisky making – from malting right through to bottling – this gave me a brilliant introduction to the world of whisky and I still use the knowledge gained there to do my job now.

My next role was with Angus Dundee Distillers looking after some of their export markets in Europe and the Middle East – this was a commercial role, but I also supported on the supply side for some projects. I next moved to Bacardi, handling Dewar’s and William Lawson’s, firstly as their New York based USA Brand Ambassador, which I did for four years before moving to the position of Global Brand Ambassador.

I moved to Diageo in 2011 as their Global Whisky Master and look after Haig Club and also our most prestigious Single Malts and Blended Scotch Whiskies.

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AD: What have been your particular career highlights?

EG: Launching Haig Club in partnership with David Beckham has been one of the highlights. Many people in the whisky industry have been keen to share Single Grain Scotch Whisky with the world for a really long time, and to be able to do it in partnership with someone as commited and hard working as David has been an incredible experience. 

AD: What project is next for you?

EG: We have recently announced a £150m investment in establishing the Johnnie Walker Experience in Edinburgh and upgrading all of our Single Malt Brand Homes so I expect these projects will feature heavily on my schedule over the next year or two.

We are also continuing to launch Haig Club into new and exciting markets, so there will be some international travel involved as well. 

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Artists impression of the Johnnie Walker Experience in Edinburgh

AD: If you weren’t doing what you are now (Global Whisky Master for Diageo), what would you like to be doing instead?

EG: It’s hard to imagine doing anything that would be as much fun to be honest. I’ve always thought it would be cool to be the person responsible for selecting music tracks for movie scenes, but I expect my musical tastes are a bit too eclectic to forge a new career doing that. 

AD: You recently became a father (of twins, no less) was there a special bottle that you opened to celebrate the occasion?

EG: There certainly was. I opened a bottle of Talisker 18 year old and had a dram the evening they were born, as it’s been a long time favourite of mine. I have set aside a bottle for each of them which they’ll receive in a couple of decades time. 

Talisker-18-Year-Old

AD: You are well known for your love of music, what’s on your record player just now?

EG: I’ve been listening to a fairly random mixture of vinyl recently. “Screamers, Bangers & Cosmic Synths Vol. 2” on the Triassic Tusk Label is getting played a lot (as is Volume 1), the recent album by Aidan Moffatt and RM Hubbert “Here Lies the Body” is brilliant, and I’m loving the new Earl Sweatshirt album. I’ve also been revisiting a lot of the early Rolling Stones albums and rediscovering Son House. 

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AD: If you could change one thing about peoples perceptions of whisky what would it be?

EG: That there isn’t a right or wrong way to drink it. I hear so many “rules” about how whisky should (and should not) be enjoyed, and so many of them are nonsense. If you’re enjoying it, and it’s putting a smile on your face then you’re drinking it the right way – whether that’s neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail. 

AD: Do you have a particular favourite distillery?

EG: My grandparents spent a large part of their lives living near to Lagavulin Distillery, so it will always be close to my heart. Talisker is also a favourite, partly because of the stunning location of the distillery itself, but also because the drive to get there from Inverness is one of my favourite journeys to make. 

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AD: You must have tried thousands of whiskies during your career, are there any particular whiskies that you would love to try but have never found?

EG: We have so many outstanding whiskies in our portfolio already, with new innovations arriving regularly, that I don’t spend too much time worrying about what I haven’t had a chance to try. That said it would be amazing to taste some Malt Mill if anyone happens to have any hidden away at the back of a cupboard. 

AD: Which bottle will your own drinks cupboard never be without?

EG: There are two. Haig Club Clubman because it is so versatile it can be used in a wide range of cocktails, and Johnnie Walker Black Label because for me it has everything great about Scotland in a bottle – all four corners of Scotland are represented, from Glenkinchie in the Lowlands to Clynelish in the Highlands, and from Cardhu in Speyside to Caol Ila on Islay. 

AD: Excluding whisky what would be your drink of choice?

EG: I love a cold brew coffee, and I am partial to the occasional pint of Guinness. 

AD: Moving back to whisky, what was the last dram you had?

EG: I can’t tell you, because we haven’t announced it yet. Watch this space though – there are some really exciting whiskies on the horizon. 

AD: Could you rate the following in order of personal importance: Complexity, Balance, Age, Spirit Character.

EG: Spirit Character, Complexity, Balance……………………….Age

AD: Can you describe your ‘Whisky Philosophy” in a single sentence.

EG: Forget the so-called “rules” and enjoy it however you like.

AD: Ok now some quick questions, so one word answers only please.

AD: Whisky or Whiskey?

EG: Whisky 

AD: Bourbon cask or Sherry cask?

EG: Bourbon Cask

AD: Single Malt or Single Grain?

EG: Both (they’re also great when combined)

AD: Peated or Unpeated?

EG: Both

AD: Red or White wine?

EG: Red

AD: Spotify or Vinyl?

EG: Vinyl

AD: Jazz or Soul?

EG: Soul

AD: Finally, Any truth to the rumour you once partied with Twisted Sister?

EG: The saying “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” exists for a reason, so no comment…

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Twisted Sister? No comment…

 

You can find more tasting notes and whisky news in the Amateur Drammers Archives.

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