A dram with... John Glaser

A dram with... John Glaser

This week, we’re having a dram with John Glaser, founder of Scotch whisky blending house Compass Box

Interview | 05 Mar 2024 | By Lucy Schofield

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It’s time for another instalment in our Q&A series with inductees of the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame. This week, we’re having a dram with Compass Box founder John Glaser, who was inducted in 2020.


Although he aimed for a career in wine marketing, John found Scotch whisky when he took a job at Johnnie Walker, which eventually landed him in London. It was in London that he started Compass Box, a Scotch whisky blending house that holds creativity at the heart of its mission. Last week, John announced his intention to step down from Compass Box in spring 2024, after more than 20 years at the helm.


In our Q&A with him, John tells us how he found himself a dual citizen, the whisky he can’t get enough of, and why we’re in a golden age of whisky.  


How long have you been working in the whisky industry? 

Back in 1994 I was in Columbus, Ohio, eagerly trying to break into wine marketing anywhere in the US. Armed with a master’s degree in business and a bachelor’s in literature, I had already delved into various roles in the wine business, including retail, wholesale, importing, and even picking grapes and working at a winery in Burgundy.


But fate had other plans for me when I stumbled upon an unexpected opportunity: a marketing brand manager position for Johnnie Walker in New York. Despite my lack of familiarity with Scotch whisky at the time, I got the job. After a few months, the company sent me to Scotland to learn more about the product. I visited distilleries, met with blenders, and my eyes were opened to the magic of the product, and… I fell in love with Scotch whisky.


So, it's been a good three decades now.


Where did the journey of your career start and where has it taken you over the decades? What was your favourite stop along the way? 

A turning point came in 1998 when I moved to London to join the Johnnie Walker global marketing team, which was a dream come true at the time. I saw Scotch whisky as this undiscovered gem among my peers, and I was loving the opportunity to share the joys of Scotch with more people in the world.


Living in London felt like a perfect fit, but I travelled a lot in my role and with each trip abroad, returning home to London became more comforting. Little did I know, London would eventually become my permanent home, and I would proudly hold dual American-British citizenship. 


What is the most exciting change you’ve witnessed in the whisky industry over the course of your career? 

Founding Compass Box in 2000 was, of course, a pivotal moment for me. At a time when Scotch whisky sales were sluggish, I envisioned a brand that would challenge conventions and redefine whisky enjoyment. Witnessing the gradual shift in global perception towards Scotch whisky since that time has been incredibly fulfilling. It feels like today we're experiencing a ‘golden age’ for whisky drinkers worldwide. 


Name a whisky distillery or brand that you feel is underrated. 

While I'm thrilled by the devoted following Compass Box has garnered worldwide, I'm also aware that our reach remains modest compared to industry giants. However, I believe our ethos of doing things on our own terms and our commitment to making compelling whiskies resonate deeply with those who encounter us. So, perhaps it's not about being underrated, but rather being quietly humble in a world filled with whisky noise.  


Is there a whisky or brand you are particularly enjoying at the moment? 

I can’t keep enough Glasgow Blend in my house these days. It is certainly the sleeper in the Compass Box range. 


When you’re not drinking whisky, what is your drink of choice? 

My fascination with wine dates back to my university days. Despite deviating from my initial path towards winemaking, my love for wine has only deepened over time. I’ve been making wine at home for several years from grapes imported from Italy and in a few months I’m taking a course in viticulture at Plumpton College in East Sussex. 


Would you rather read a book or watch a film? For whichever option you choose (book or film), tell us one of your favourites. 

How about I turn this answer into a double feature? I love reading a book and then seeing how a filmmaker interprets and brings the story to life. For instance, the journey from Heart of Darkness to Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now or The Great Gatsby to Jack Clayton's 1974 film adaptation with Robert Redford and Sam Waterston. The creative process to go from one to the other has always intrigued me. 


Describe your perfect Sunday. 

Long lunch. Roast chicken. White Burgundy. Followed by tarte Tatin and sherry cask-aged whisky or Calvados (or a blend of the two). 


Describe your dream holiday – where would you go and what would you do there? 

Eleuthera. Nothing. (Is that enough description?) 


Name one item you never go travelling without. 

Stuff to read. Even on the Tube.  

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