In 1909, Charles Gordon, son in-law of William Grant (founder of Grant’s whisky), set off on a yearlong journey to market Grant’s whisky to the world. He went from Scotland to Lahore, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Sydney.
Grant’s whisky is today one of the world’s top exported blended whiskies. Its newly appointed global ambassador Daniel Dyer relived that journey recently.
Who is Daniel Dyer?
I do not know who I am. I think very few people know exactly who they are. I am constantly finding out who I am and this job helps me with that.
I could say simply that ‘‘Danny is that whisky guy from Scotland.’’
You mean whisky is what defines you and there is nothing more to you?
I suppose so, but I hope there is more to me.
Who are the people closest to you in your life?
My mother is the most important person in my life and the only woman I trust. Always supported me no matter what I have done. My brother Steven is the other person I look up to. He is my idol. If I would be a perfect me, I would be like him; caring, giving and strong.
If I was to ask your brother what kind of person you are, what do you think he would say?
That I am the black sheep of the family and that I am absolutely mental, but caring. That I get into trouble that I would have easily avoided and sometimes I do not learn from my mistakes. But above all that I know my stuff.
I did an acting course, but then when offered an acting gig on a TV show I declined and set off to Australia for a year. After Australia, I did all sorts of work and always going a bit too hard on stuff, unlike my brother Steven, the sensible one.
How was your childhood?
I was born in Glasgow, at a time of high religious sectarianism. I was born Catholic and went to a Catholic school. Then there were the Protestants who went to the Protestant school. These two groups had a bitter rivalry. Our schools were next to one another, so it was either you find your way home or you run home. And then there were also two of the biggest football teams in the area at the time, one Catholic and the other Protestant. The rivalry was intense.
It wasn’t the best area to grow up in, so when I was still young my family moved to the northeast of Scotland, to the Speyside, the home of whisky. This is where you have Glenfiddich and Grant’s and others.
How did this affect you?
Having been in Glasgow, a vibrant city and then moving to a countryside of like two thousand people is beyond culture shock. All my friends were in Glasgow.
I did not understand what the people in Speyside were saying because they spoke English like it was a different language. It was a big shift, but it soon became home. That is where I learnt about whisky. I was at the heart of the whisky world.
Have you always loved whisky?
Oh, no! I hated it the first time. My first experience with whisky is still my worst time with alcohol, ever. I was 16 and I took my father’s bottle of whisky without him knowing. It was for a birthday party, and everyone tried and hated it. But I am Scottish and I decided that since I had brought the drink, then I would drink it myself. It was a terrible. I had a three-day hangover. I didn’t touch whisky for two years.
So how did you end up in the whisky business?
I turned 18 and was looking for a job as a tour guide in a distillery and I told these guys that I hated whisky, but needed the job. They gave me the job! It was my uncle, Dennis, who sat me down, and told me the history of Scotch whisky. I found it exciting and I fell in love with the whole history. Then he told me how it is made, taught me how to drink it; how to smell it, how to mix it with water to awaken the flavours. All credit goes to Uncle Dennis for getting me to love whisky.
What can you say about the interview for Grant's?
It was incredible. Charles Gordon's marketing journey was legendary. My job interview to become global brand ambassador for Grant’s was to recreate that journey (well, parts of it) so that we sell this whisky to the rest of the world like Gordon did. They sent me to Russia, Taiwan and Australia. It was tough, amazing, crazy fun, but also gruelling.
It was a competition, and we were down to three contestants. I had 10 days to prove myself. I was on the road or in the air every two days. In Russia I was behind countless bars making cocktails. I made food for bloggers and influencers in Taiwan. And in Australia, I almost died because one of the challenges involved surfing and yet I can neither surf nor swim.
Why do you think you won?
I honestly do not know. Maybe it is because I gave it my all or because I love whisky, talking to people and travelling. Or it could also have been my energy, my willingness to try anything even if it means almost killing myself trying to surf in Australia.
And now here you are, in East Africa. What are your impressions of Tanzania and Kenya?
In Dar es Salaam, the first thing I said the moment we got to the hotel was that it was hot. Not Kenya kind of hot. Dar es Salaam has an oppressive kind of heat. But we hit it off right away with the public and we did lots of bartender training. I swear I have never seen so much love for Expresso Martinis like I saw in Tanzania.
The interesting thing about Tanzania, these guys drink and eat at the same time. In Scotland we eat and then go to drink. But in Tanzania it was drinking, then a nice proper meal break, then back to drinking. Crazy!
When we crossed over into Kenya the energy changed immediately. Nairobi has such a buzz. So long as there is a bottle you guys will just keep drinking and partying. I am Scottish and I do not think I can keep up with any of you. There is this laidback, chill kind of atmosphere in Tanzania, but here you guys want to party now and you want to party hard.
What do you prefer, blended or single malt?
Both. I used to be a single malt person before I started working with Grant’s. Usually people back home look down on blends, even though 90 per cent of whisky exported is blends. The craft behind making blends is incredible. Like for Grant’s, we have to marry 25 different single malts to make this drink and it has to taste and look the same beautiful, smooth way, whether made five years ago, today or five years from now.
So far what do you think of your career?
Growing up I wanted to be an actor because I really love theatre. The funny thing is that talking about whisky is a performance of sorts so my childhood dreams and my adult dreams are converging and it is the best thing ever.
Besides whisky, what else do you do?
I walk other people’s dogs. There is this app called Borrow My Dog. It is like Tinder, but for dogs. People put up photos and profiles of their dogs and then you choose whom you will walk.
So after Kenya, what next?
I will probably need to sleep after this. Then the rest of the world, but first I have to break for Christmas, I will be home with family. And the dog walks, of course.