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A chat with Ross Blainey – Whisky Specialist at William Grant & Sons

Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, Ross Blainey has been in the alcohol industry for over 10 years. From bartending to sales in whisky and wine and now his current role as Whisky Specialist for William Grant & Sons. Drinks World’s Lukas Raschilla sat down with Ross to find out about his love of whisky and his new role.

Lukas Raschilla: Can you tell us a little about how you started working in the alcohol industry?

Ross Blainey: Of course! I started out working in my local pub when I was 18 and loved it. I was given the responsibility of growing our whisky range when I was 19 and grew it from about 10 to 180 whiskies! I didn’t know anything about whisky but that was a great way of starting to learn. From there I moved through a few different roles but the main thing for me was keeping the passion and loving drinks and hospitality.

LR: What is your current role at William Grant & Sons?

RB: I have recently taken the role of Whisky Specialist. Sounds fancy but basically what I do is an ambassador role – spread the love and build the brands in our amazing whisky portfolio including The Balvenie, Kininvie, Hudson whiskey, Tullamore D.E.W. The Balvenie was in the first lot of whisky I bought in my first pub job 10 years ago and its been special for me since then so it’s amazing for me to be working with a whisky that means something to me personally.

LR: Other than being Scottish, what made you want to work with whisky? 

RB: I don’t think being Scottish made me want to work in whisky. We grow up with whisky in Scotland and its part of our culture so we inherently understand it, but I wanted to work in whisky because I love it! I love the hospitality, romance and emotion that whisky has. Sharing a dram is a special thing and it’s how it’s been done for a long time. I’m amazed at how whisky came from such humble beginnings, farmers tipple to lofty heights of fancy restaurants and high prices at auctions. I just think that’s an amazing feat!

LR: What’s the most exciting part of your job, day in day out?

RB: Honestly, the whole thing is pretty exciting but I did spend a day in the lab with David Stewart, The Balvenie Malt Master of over 50 years. Excited isn’t even near to what I was when I walked into the room with him! He casually pulled out a bottle from 1967 and I think I nearly passed out. On a day to day basis though it’s exciting to meet so many people who share the same passion and willingness to learn. Seeing happy faces after a tasting never gets old.

LR: You’ve just arrived back from a trip to the Scotland and Ireland visiting some of the distilleries. Any standout memories and whiskies you were able to try during the trip?

RB: I have to say my favourite part of the trip would have been the day I spent working in The Balvenie malting floor. As one of the last reaming distilleries to malt their own barley that’s special in itself but getting to actually take the barley through the whole malting process was such an eye opener. We laughed through the whole day as well, it’s such hard and physically demanding work that sometimes laughing it off gets you through a lot easier.

LR: Do you think the consumer is now appreciating higher end whiskies? 

RB: Definitely, people have a hunger for learning about what they drink and the more they learn the more discerning they become. That pushes them towards higher end whisky. Unless you’ve got money to burn most people aren’t comfortable spending a lot on anything until they know exactly what they are getting but now because of the great bars, bottle shops and events around people have that deeper understanding and they are happy to spend that bit more.

LR: I have to ask this one, and it might be a difficult one to answer. What’s your personal favourite expression of The Balvenie? (If you can decide!)

RB: It’s not easy but The Balvenie 12 Doublewood. There are so many great whiskies in the range like the 21 Portwood, the 30 year old but when it comes down to it the 12 Doublewood is a perfect whisky for me. It’s all about balance and depth but its also an important whisky in history by pioneering sherry cask finishing. Cracking drop, Slàinte!