Whisky three ways: Three whisky ambassadors disrupting the category

From left: Mikey Lowe, Ross Blainey, and Luke Sanderson.

The whisky business isn’t what it used to be, and that’s no bad thing. With more and more experimentation happening in the category, we spoke to three ambassadors with William Grant & Sons — Balvenie’s Ross Blainey, Glenfiddich’s Luke Sanderson, and Monkey Shoulder’s Mikey Lowe — about their journey through the dram life.

What amazes you about whisky right now?

Ross Blainey: Whisky isn’t just what’s in our glass, it’s all those stories of the people behind the liquid. Those hard working people at the distillery spend years, decades or lifetimes putting their knowledge and passion into making it. Every set of hands that impact what we drink all have a story. That amazes me.

Luke Sanderson: It’s all that, and such a great platform to experiment and challenge the status quo. In a category full of rules and regulations, the expectation has been that we cannot step out of those parameters. It’s exciting to be part of a brand that is thinking differently and continuing to ask questions and innovate.

Mikey Lowe: Whisky’s cooler than Bob Marley in a bobsled and geekier than a Klingon spelling bee. Whisky had created obstacles to inviting new drinkers. It was seen as an old man’s drink. Perspective and not taking yourself too seriously push the category forward. 

How did you end up in this role?

LS: By always searching for a solution or asking the question, why? I learnt so much at the Black Pearl by asking questions and finding a fresh way of approaching challenges. That’s how you have to work as a Brand Ambassador.

RB: For me it was all about passion and hard work. I genuinely love this stuff. I think if you can communicate real passion that really helps with getting a role like this.

ML: I was simply too dumb for New York and too ugly for L.A. Also, timing… I was ready to take a step into this role, and the role presented itself at the right time.

What is it like being a brand ambassador?

RB: Once you’re in, it’s a lifestyle. You don’t really stop or have days off and that’s not a bad thing. The reward of helping people to love and understand the Scottish national spirit is what keeps me going.

LS: If it’s one thing, don’t underestimate the role. It’s not as easy as swapping the apron for a suit jacket, however it is a lot of fun. An ever changing landscape keeps you on your toes but the satisfaction of bringing a brand to life is the ducks! 

ML: BA work is like being Jack Kerouac with a credit card. Ever on the road. We’re always on and always hard to switch off. We survive by working as a team. And whisky, ever whisky.

Where would you like to take the category?

ML: I think I speak for all of us when I say that we need to challenge the conventional. Stick it to the rules. Consider the big guy in the Hawaiian shirt and make sure you’re having a whisky with that guy, because he’s there to have fun.

LS: Totally. There’s so much energy in this industry, no matter what your position there is chance to experiment. The category is so rich, and ripe for us to work creatively with each other. 

RB: Let’s take away that hesitance to try whisky and get people involved. It can look intimidating to some, but whisky is for everyone not just the experts. I think local distillers around the world are playing a huge part in this and I love it!

Three Brand Ambassadors, one category. Would you swap?

RB: I think we fit our brands pretty well — plus, I tried Mikey’s cowboy hat, and I looked like a desperate Bono. I heart David Stewart!

LS: No chance! I love the innovation aspect of Glenfiddich. I’m excited to keep experimenting with flavours and finishes.

ML: I’m not giving up animal print for anyone.