In the latest GreatDrams interview, I speak with Lucy Whitehall of The Famous Grouse about all things brand, liquid, and of course The Famous Grouse.
I guess it would be handy for readers to understand what your role and day to day responsibilities are at the The Famous Grouse?
I’m very lucky to have a varied and exciting role within the industry. Education and training form a major part of what I do at The Famous Grouse. I meet and talk to people on a daily basis about our Famous brand. It is my responsibility to tell the fascinating product story of Scotland’s Favourite Whisky and to engage with consumers not just in the UK but also in our mature and emerging market across the globe.
In addition to a hectic schedule of global brand training, I also look after elements of education, development and social media for our brand home in Crieff, at Scotland’s Oldest Working Distillery, The Glenturret. We have a couple of exciting initiatives that I’m heading up at the moment, which include improvements to our Distillery Visitor Experience and the expansion of our Roving DrammolierTM programme, where we travel around venues across Scotland bringing The Famous Grouse Experience to life with interactive and engaging nosing and tasting sessions.
You have quite an interesting history within the industry, can you give GreatDrams readers an overview of your career journey to date?
I began my career within the whisky industry nearly nine years ago as a tour guide at The Famous Grouse Experience. What started out as a part time position whilst studying at University soon turned into a friendly, exciting and engaging industry that I didn’t want to leave.
After completing an honours degree in animation, I became determined to pursue a wider role within whisky and when the opportunity came up for a Global Brand Ambassador position I jumped at the chance to apply for it.
I was very fortunate to secure the role in January 2013 and I’ve never looked back since…only forward with a great dram in hand!
When I visited you guys, we spoke about the uniqueness of the Glenturret distillery and The Famous Grouse in general, what makes The Famous Grouse stand out from other brands?
The Gloag family have always believed in crafting a product of the highest quality. They set guiding principles for their very special Famous blend. These principles are what we refer to as The Four Fundamentals of The Famous Grouse. Together they make The Famous Grouse truly unique.
The Famous Grouse was created in 1896 by Matthew Gloag, a Fine Wines & Spirits Merchant who owned his family run business in the city of Perth. The Grouse Brand, as it was originally known, was named after Scotland’s national game bird, the red grouse.
This was unusual at the time, as other brands like Dewar’s, Johnnie Walker and Bell’s were all named after their founders. Matthew’s daughter Philippa drew the very first label for The Grouse Brand. Due to increasingly popularity, Matthew registered his whisky as The Famous Grouse Brand in 1905. The business’s FOUNDATION year 1800 and Matthew’s signature, still sit proudly on the bottle today.
The Gloag family had a tenacious obsession with quality. As early as 1868 William Gloag wrote that:
“It is thus of paramount importance that only the very best materials that can be procured should be used in the manufacture of whisky. This obsession with the FINEST materials is something which we are still obsessed by today. We use the very best malts and grains, naturally sourced peat and water, distinctively shaped copper stills, exceptional oak casks and thousands of skilled people around the world to craft The Famous Grouse.
Sherry casks have always played a very important role in creating The Famous Grouse whisky. The Gloag family asserted that sherry casks were of “un-purchasable benefit” to their whisky and that the FLAVOUR which they imparted crafted a product which was “superior to the finest French brandy”.
In order to craft our blend, we have 80,000 high quality casks of three different varieties, working silently on our malts and grains, gifting an annual Angels’ share of one million litres. Our Famous spirit will only be removed from the slumbering casks when ready and never before.
It takes a tremendous, skilful FUSION of the finest people and ingredients to produce our unique blend. Our Master Blender, Gordon Motion, continues to ensure that everything we use to craft our whisky is of the highest quality. He oversees the expensive tradition of marrying our whiskies together and he insists that every part of the blend is quality checked no matter how demanding that may be.
The Gloag family promised their customers that they would deliver, ‘a blend of all that is best’; this is a sentiment still upheld to this day. It is what gives our unique whisky its full of body and flavour.
One of the very special Single Malt whiskies that helps create The Famous Grouse is The Glenturret. The Glenturret is produced at Scotland’s Oldest Working Distillery in Crieff, Perthshire. Whisky is made there by hand and by heart with traditional techniques which are seldom seen today. The distillery proudly features the last remaining hand operated open Mash Tun left in Scottish whisky production. The Famous Grouse is the only blend that The Glenturret contributes to. It is also the beautiful location from where I work as Global Brand Ambassador.
Can you please talk about what The Famous Grouse means to you and what you think it means to consumers around the world?
The Famous Grouse will always be a very special whisky to me. It reminds me of all the fantastic characters that are involved in its creation. From the banter in the Cooperage to the skill in the Sample Room, it’s a product made from passionate people. I have yet to meet an individual who doesn’t like what they do in the industry. The sheer knowledge and experience alone is incredible. Two of our coopers for example, have 78 years’ experience between them, it is something that never fails to amaze me!
I think that the majority of consumers associate The Famous Grouse as an iconic global brand and also as a brand that has well established quality credentials. Consumers also often comment on the smooth rounded character of the blend and the extra mouth-feel that the brand has in comparison to its competitive set. Ultimately consumers will have their own personal preference in Scotch but The Famous Grouse is a truly memorable and different Scottish brand that most people will wish to have a connection to.
What of your work with The Famous Grouse are you most proud of and why?
I’m most proud of securing my Ambassadorial role within the industry. I know how tough the job market has been over the last few years and how fortunate I am to have been able to work in an industry and role that I love. I know that this is not the case for every individual. I’m also very proud to represent The Famous Grouse, Scotland and whisky women in the industry on a day to day basis.
How important is packaging in consumers’ decision making? I know you have just been through a brand redesign… Any sneak previews for GreatDrams readers?
Packaging is an incredibly important part of our whisky, particularly where brand communication is through packaging alone. With so many brands out there it is crucial that you stand out and that you are able to effectively convey the right messages to your customers. The Famous Grouse’s visual identity has been reworked in order to firmly establish the brand’s premium credentials and to enhance the performance of the brand against its competitors. I’m delighted to inform GreatDrams readers that we will be launching the new look pack for The Famous Grouse in May 2015.
How do you think the redesign will affect perceptions of the brand?
The redesign will reinforce that The Famous Grouse is a quality and premium whisky. I expect the redesign will have much more stand out on shelf against its competitors and it is already starting to feel like a younger, more progressive brand.
What are the biggest challenges you’re facing at the minute in getting your message out?
It is inevitable that with any new communication it may take some time for consumers to adjust. However, we believe that the new positioning has come at the right time to ensure the growing global success of The Famous Grouse. By changing the visual way in which we communicate the brand, it will actually resolve many challenges that we currently face. In certain markets for example, it is not possible to advertise with people or animals. We have now overcome this challenge by developing a new style of visual identity which allows us to be a recognisable brand in markets where we face these challenges.
Finally, aside from your own, what would be your top three whiskies? Does it differ by occasion?
There are so many wonderful whiskies out there that really get me excited. I’m partial to a whisky sour in the evening and I like to drink Grouse up by the Loch Turret on the moor. It tastes even better out in the open, as if it belongs up by the grouse’s natural habitat, it’s a fantastic experience!
My top three whiskies at the moment, aside from my favourite tipple of The Naked Grouse, would have to be Single Cask 18 year old Glenturret, The Macallan Elegancia 12 year old and Old Pulteney 21 year old. GreatDrams indeed!