It’s not every day you see a giraffe carving carefully (and intentionally) placed on a table while interviewing someone but then again, it’s not every day you get to interview the Glenmorangie Single Malt Whisky Global Brand Ambassador and Director of Corporate Social Responsibility. Hamish Torrie has worked in the drinks industry for nearly 30 years, marketing it, producing and drinking just enough to grow his palate and vast experience.
The exceptionally smooth and complex Scotch whisky has four variants, namely the Glenmorangie Original, the Lasanta, the Quinta Ruban, Nectar D’Or and Signet. I had a chat with Hamish where he shared his love for the Glenmorangie Signet especially as a Christmas gift, Glenmorangie’s growth over the years and yes, the million dollar question, “what’s up with the giraffe carving?”
How did you get into the world of whisky?
Hmm… serendipity is the word for me… a happy discovery. I was born in the region where whiskey is made. When I was six years old, I was walking through a village to get to my school and there were two distilleries in the village and I got that smell of the malt, barrels… and I had that smell on my nostrils from a very early age. It’s amazing how much smell is part of memory because that’s what shaped my journey. From then on, I kind of ‘officially’ got into whisky when I was looking for a summer job and I got one rolling barrels in the warehouse and that meant that I got some experience into making whisky. And then after a while I managed to get into the office and before they even allowed me to talk about whisky, I had to make it for six months. I fully trained in the art of whisky production and spent the next 30 years marketing it. The fun about making whisky is very much about where I come from which is part of my culture so when I visit a wonderful country like Kenya and I’m asked to talk about whiskey, my mind, my senses are working on my memory of growing up.
What drew you to Glenmorangie Whisky?
Again, that was serendipity. After spending six years in whiskey, I went into beer marketing for eight years and then worked for a luxury goods company and then came back into whisky twenty years ago so you realize that your career isn’t just a straight path. But the one thing I would say is that I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work in Scotland but travel the world, so Glenmorangie was like a natural extension of my previous distilling career as well as my experience in marketing. I joined them (Glenmorangie) in 1999 and the company has gone through several big changes since then; in terms of ownership and in terms of focus and expansion. Back then we were a UK company and now we’re an international group serving a little bit of the UK market. So we flipped the whole company in the 20 years that I’ve been there.
The Glenmorangie team at the Scotland distillery is quite small. How are you able to produce such quality drinks through and through?
We’ve expanded both our distilleries which means we make about 6 million litres of alcohol now and it was about 3 million when I arrived so we’ve doubled production. Despite this, it’s still very much a craft product made by the men and women of Tain. Also, as part of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), we try to ensure that we’re very integrated into the life of the community surrounding each distillery. This is kind of our succession plan to ensure we continue production for like the next 100 years. Everything we’re doing is long-term; for example we have the 10 year old Glenmorangie now which means we have to think 10 years ahead in production for the next one. My mother always says ‘Leave the world better than you found it’ and that’s what we try to do with our company.
Most people associate pairing wine with food but whisky is usually left to the sidelines. What would you pair Glenmorangie with?
The Glenmorangie Original, which is one of our biggest in sales, is a very light and delicate whiskey and ideally you’d want to start with this because it’s very much an aperitif when dining. These other Glenmorangie whiskys are darker and richer so you’d pair them more with savoury dishes like steak, meats. For the Signet which is a beautiful and luxurious whisky with a particular method of production, you’d probably have this as the digestif or with a very nice chocolatey dessert.
How do you take your whisky and what are some changes you’ve seen in its consumption?
30 years ago people wouldn’t make cocktails with whisky and now everybody does. I enjoy my whisky neat or with just a little bit of ice so that you don’t kill the flavours but an Old-Fashioned cocktail with ginger ale and orange bitters is really nice with Glenmorangie Original and for Ardbeg, since it’s a smoky whisky, works well for a Mojito. So you can take the classic styles of cocktails and re-fashion them with whisky.
The million dollar question is, why do we have a giraffe carving on the table and behind us?
(all laughs) The elegance and fruitiness of Glenmorangie comes from the height of the copper still and the higher the still, the more elegant and fruity your whisky will become because as the vapours go up and try to get on top, the heavy vapours fall back down and go round again, something we call reflux. So only the very elegant and light vapours get on top to be collected and that gives it the personality. It so happens that the height of our still is the height of a fully grown giraffe. We have the tallest stills in the whisky industry.
What are your thoughts on cooking with whisky?
You can put whiskey in some desserts and then if you imagine a lovely big sizzling steak and just pour some whiskey on top of it, ah, that would be a divine treat.
You’ve been in the whisky business for a while, what has been your best whiskey experience?
I think it’s about place in the sense of moments you have with your whiskey. I’ve had some fantastic moments down by the shore beside Glenmorangie, early morning watching the dawn, and the sea is there all very still and you have a sip… that’s heaven. It’s also true that most of our sensory tastings of whisky, especially when doing proper production, is usually by 10 o’clock in the morning, that’s when your nose and sensory receptors are most fresh and haven’t been polluted by the activities of the day.
It is Christmas season, so if you were to gift someone a bottle, what would it be?
Oh, I’d go for the most expensive one (laughs)… if it’s coming from me. The Glenmorangie Signet would be a great option (about Ksh 40,000). It’s a special whisky with so many different types of whisky in it and there’s real art in its creation. It’s made from roast dark chocolate malt grain as opposed to normal barley which gives a sort lovely Rubin coffee intensity. It’s my tip for a Christmas gift.
What about for New Year’s?
By New Year’s you’re trying to count pennies a bit and you might want to tone it down a bit and have the Glenmorangie Original.