Ailsa Bay Big interview Brian Kinsman Draw-In Feature Features Girvan Glenfiddich Grant's Health master blender Monkey Shoulder Scotch Whisky The Balvenie William Grant & Sons

‘We need blended Scotch to be relevant’

‘We need blended Scotch to be relevant’

William Grant & Sons might have the best-selling single malt Scotch on the planet and the third-biggest mix, however every part it does comes from its unbiased spirit, exemplified within the work of grasp blender Brian Kinsman.

*This function was initially revealed within the September 2018 problem of The Spirits Enterprise

Off the coast of Girvan, throughout the waters of the Firth of Clyde, sits the well-known island of Ailsa Craig. The Scottish solar is making a welcome look as I sit with William Grant & Sons’ Brian Kinsman, consuming within the view. It’s been virtually 9 years because the grasp blender took over from his acclaimed predecessor David Stewart – however that was removed from the beginning of his whisky journey.

After graduating with a level in chemistry from the College of St Andrews in Scotland, Kinsman envisioned a profession working in a extra ‘traditional’ scientific subject. However after spending a number of years within the dental business, he diverted to spirits, becoming a member of Girvan as a chemist in 1997. Taking to the whisky world like a duck to water, Kinsman first labored on the chemical evaluation of the liquid and in addition shaped a part of the corporate’s sensory panel.

Kinsman accomplished a number of tasks with grasp blender Stewart earlier than formally turning into his apprentice in 2001. After eight years of shadowing Stewart it was time for Kinsman to come into his personal – and he took over as grasp blender for William Grant in 2009.

“When you have what’s essentially an eight­-year handover period, it becomes a very natural progression,” Kinsman recollects. “And that was the thinking really, that it should be something that’s a completely natural progression; not one person stops and one person starts. Nearly nine years later I still see David on a regular basis; we still catch up and chat about the products.”


For an unbiased firm, there isn’t any scarcity of excessive­flying whisky manufacturers to hold Kinsman busy: Glenfiddich, The Balvenie, Monkey Shoulder, Girvan and Ailsa Bay, to identify only a choice. He attributes a lot of the agency’s success to its family-­owned standing. “It doesn’t actually make sense that a company of our scale could have all those products. Being family-­owned sits as the fundamental reason why it works because you have this central decision making, reinvestment of profits, and desire from the family to grow the business that then permeates everything we do,” says Kinsman. “We’re significantly smaller than Diageo or Pernod or Bacardi, and yet we’re the number­-one single malt brand in the world,” he provides, making a reference to Glenfiddich.

Gross sales of the only malt rose by four% in 2017 to attain 1.three million nine-litre instances, in accordance to Model Champions 2018 knowledge. Over the previous few years, the model has emphasised its progressive streak with the launch of the Glenfiddich Experimental Collection, which Kinsman says has bolstered its success and opened up the model to the fashionable drinker. Beginning with Glenfiddich IPA and Undertaking XX, the vary has been joined by the likes of Glenfiddich Winter Storm and the smoky Glenfiddich Hearth & Cane, completed in rum casks. “Getting new consumers in, things like the Experimental Series have become really important to us because it’s a good, if you want to use the term, ‘old fashioned whisky’ – as in it tastes great but it’s got a modern take,” Kinsman explains. “We’re trying new things. We’re trying to get different flavours, different stories, different angles to talk about.”

The brand new Grant’s vary

With “total and utter freedom” to experiment with liquids, play with flavours and “create something with a story to tell”, these days there have been many new releases and revamps. One of many staff’s most up-to-date endeavours, and the rationale for our assembly at Girvan, is the in depth overhaul of the group’s flagship mix: Grant’s. Regardless of being the world’s third-­largest­-selling Scotch whisky model by quantity, Grant’s is a product that not often makes headlines.

“Grant’s doesn’t get a fair bit of air time,” admits Kinsman. “It almost doesn’t command the attention of other blended whiskies but actually, in a glass, side by side other whiskies, it deserves it.”

As of July, Grant’s boasts a streamlined core vary of 4 blends – the rebranded Grant’s Triple Wooden (beforehand Grant’s Household Reserve), and three new expressions: Grant’s Rum Cask End, Grant’s eight Yr Previous Sherry Cask End and Grant’s Triple Wooden Smoky. This special approach for Grant’s is indicative of William Grant’s want to increase the model’s notion amongst shoppers and provides it a extra “approachable” edge. “For all ranges, especially whisky, you’re always looking at what’s the core and how you can grow flavour from there,” Kinsman explains. “The rum cask blend gives us a chance to go into pretty new territory, possibly a bit more accessible, bit more of a drink that bartenders can play with and do interesting things with. The eight-­year-old is definitely in the more traditional end of the spectrum, but hopefully delivering a real depth of flavour.”

Nevertheless, the brand new editions sounded the top of the road for a number of present expressions within the vary – although not as a like­-for-­like swap – together with Grant’s Signature, Grant’s Cask Ale End and Grant’s Sherry Cask End. Eradicating whiskies from the collection was removed from a simple process, Kinsman explains.

Monkey Shoulder broke the rules

Monkey Shoulder broke the principles

“Taking stuff out is hard, and probably as a company we’ve not necessarily been good at that over the years,” he says. “But you can’t just keep adding new variants. Eventually you’ve got to tidy up and say, well, Signature was only in a few markets anyway, that’s maybe the obvious one to get rid of. You need someone apart from me – as I’m close to the liquid – who can just be a bit ruthless.”


Regardless of the present fervour surrounding single malts – “they’re very in fashion” says Kinsman – blends stay the bedrock of the whisky world. Exports of single malt Scotch grew by 14.2% in 2017 to £1.17 billion, in accordance to HMRC export knowledge cited by the Scotch Whisky Affiliation. However think about that the general worth of Scotch, together with blends and single malts, totalled £four.36bn, and it’s clear which fashion nonetheless guidelines the roost. Although single malts are producing pleasure, Kinsman says: “It’s really important for the industry that blends don’t lose their place. We need blended Scotch to be relevant. Grant’s is really important, it’s a big volume play that can also be a value play.”

Nevertheless, one model within the William Grant secure intent on not simply breaking, however smashing the mould of conventional Scotch whisky to items is likely one of the group’s newer creations – Monkey Shoulder. Bulldozing its approach into the whisky sphere, blended malt Monkey Shoulder has caught shoppers’ and bartenders’ consideration with its playful, disruptive power. “We wanted to achieve a way into malt whisky that was accessible, relevant, fun, didn’t have any of the baggage of some of the history and heritage of single malts, but had all the flavour potential,” Kinsman recollects. “And a big thing for us was it had to be mixable.”

With Monkey Shoulder’s arrival, gone have been the constraints and contentions about water or no water, ice or no ice; right here was a model rocking up to occasions with big cocktail cement mixers, actively encouraging bartenders to shake and stir Scotch into cocktails. “It’s been a slow burner, not an overnight success – it took 15 years for us to get to where we are now,” explains Kinsman. “It’s definitely catching on, because of all those things. It’s got great flavour so a traditional whisky drinker can appreciate it, but it’s got the freedom to not worry about its heritage. It’s just a fun whisky.”

As demand for its merchandise grows, William Grant has been investing closely in increasing space for storing. Warehouses are being constructed at a fee of two a yr, in accordance to Kinsman, however the group “won’t do that forever”. “Eventually you have to start bottling some of the whisky, but, clearly, the market is growing generally. We’ve got a lot of confidence in brands we think are going to grow.”

Kinsman additionally has a whole lot of confidence in one other “hugely overlooked” whisky fashion: grain. With its lighter, sweeter character, the grasp blender is for certain grain whisky will in the future take off in an enormous method. However for now, the fashion is one other space the place larger schooling is required – and maybe an business­large rethink about model positioning and worth factors.

“It’s going to be a slow burn, but I believe by the time I retire grain will be significantly bigger than it is today,” he predicts. “It’s almost a no­-brainer; the flavour absolutely works. Brand positioning, where it appears in a bar, where it appears in a liquor store, how you put it on shelf, how you get the messaging out there, that’s probably the bit that needs to be cracked more. If you get it into people’s hands, it will sell.”

Whisky is becoming increasingly popular in cocktails

Whisky is turning into more and more common in cocktails


Kinsman is clearly not afraid to take dangers when it comes to creating new liquid and relishes the prospect to experiment and switch whisky making on its head. Two years in the past, William Grant marked its play in peated whisky with the launch of Ailsa Bay. The constructing of the distillery itself in 2007 aimed to create one thing “fantastically controllable”, says Kinsman. “In other words, we could do a lot of really precise work and play around with different flavour profiles,” he explains. “One of the things we were looking to do was to own a peated malt brand, and over the years the company’s looked at different possibilities of owning brands. But actually, in a typical William Grant way, we said: ‘We’ll do our own thing.’ So from the day it was built we set out to create a peated malt with as high a smokiness and character as possible, but retaining sweetness.”

Final month, the group introduced out a brand new sweeter recipe for Ailsa Bay, permitting Kinsman to “evolve the flavour notes and push the balance in taste, without compromising on the quality of the liquid”. A grasp’s work isn’t carried out.

So once you’re the grasp blender of the world’s largest­-selling single malt Scotch, third­-biggest blended Scotch, a trailblazing, custom­-shattering blended malt, and all that’s in between, the place is there left to go?

“In terms of my own legacy, that’s probably two-fold,” he solutions. The primary half is sustaining the requirements of the grasp blenders earlier than him. “Most of the whisky we’re bottling today, certainly on the single malts, is before my time,” he says. “We don’t have a nine-­year­-old age statement on any of our single malts, so clearly they’re all before me.”

The second half is “filling the warehouse full of interesting things for the future. There are already things we’re trialling and doing that I won’t be here to see because that’s just the nature of the business. So you want to make sure you leave a legacy, a proper tangible legacy of interesting stuff for the future,” he explains, whereas stressing that he’s “here for the long term”.

There are “definitely no plans right now” to construct or purchase any new distilleries, Kinsman insists – although who is aware of, given the group’s first in­-house foray into American whiskey with the launch of Fistful of Bourbon final month. “We are a very dynamic company and the thing that always amazes me is decisions are made very quickly”, he says.

What, then, does the longer term maintain for Kinsman as grasp blender at William Grant & Sons? “I genuinely have no idea where we’ll go next, but that’s exciting,” he says. “We’ve got various innovation groups and there are times you think to yourself ‘I think we’ve just about done everything we can do’, then suddenly an idea just appears. So I’m sure there are hundreds of more ideas to come.”

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