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The shape of whisky

As Graham Eunson moves into his new role at Tomatin, we get an insight into his world of whisky and the future of the industry
By Phoebe Calver
With the first Scotch whisky recorded more than 500 years ago and fresh research into the earliest mention of a still used for the creation of ‘aquavite’ uncovered recently, it’s clear that, now more than ever, a history can mean as much to the industry as the liquid itself.
Graham Eunson has dedicated almost 30 years of his life to the whisky industry and eight of those years to Tomatin.

His early years with the brand have been spent in the role of distillery general manager, however, now is his time to step into a new position as distillery operations director

In an industry that is constantly evolving, this new role will see Graham creating long-term strategies, as well as large-scale projects for Tomatin, requiring an abundance of creativity and forward thinking to drive the brand.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with people that are extremely generous with their knowledge,” explains Graham. “People view whisky as a passion, the quality is there and the range of flavours and character is there to entice people. Whisky today is such an aspirational product. There are a tremendous number of rungs on the ladder, and no matter your disposable income, there’s an option for everyone to enjoy. You’ve got affordable blends, premium blends, single malts, limited edition single malts, and even single cask single malts – it’s limitless.”

In terms of his new role, “I’m lucky to do a job that I find very interesting. I love statistics, which is great from a strategy point of view, and looking after stocks in the warehouse is probably the biggest project I have.

“We need to satisfy demand in the market and ensure we have the stock to continue producing our expressions. If I had a crystal ball I’d sleep better at night. That being said, I love the challenge. Working to ensure you’re producing the correct levels of stock – sometimes looking 10 to 15 years ahead is a key part of the business. When you’re looking so far into the future, deciding on cask types is incredibly important. You’ve got to be proactive, while also accepting that you’re never going to be 100 per cent accurate.”

In such a heavily saturated market, hitting the mark with trend forecasting is vital to growth and with experience comes the ability to know what to do if plan A doesn’t pan out, as Graham explains, “Sometimes you have to roll to plan B – do we have stocks? Is there anything we can do to mitigate shortages in the future? It’s a challenging part of this business, but something I get a lot of enjoyment out of.

Since moving into the Duty Free market with its exclusive Travel Retail range, Tomatin has experienced success that has taken off quickly – no pun intended – and it has clearly become a pivotal market to make moves in.

“Stock management is quite an in-depth part of my job, for example, say the 15 Year Old in Duty Free is popular, that could eat into the stocks for the 12 Year Old. You’ve always got to be looking to the future.”

The shape of the whisky industry has changed dramatically during the past decade, and Tomatin has been no exception to that rule, with Graham witnessing it all first hand.

“Our whiskies are more complex, that is for sure, but what we’ve seen is a huge drive towards the premium end of the market. With that, the level of knowledge and interest from whisky consumers is far greater than it was when I started, as well as becoming a widely diversified group of people. Just look at the surge in whisky festivals and tasting events, there’s huge diversity of age range, culture and gender. The knowledge they have between them is just incredible.”

Few brands have changed as much as Tomatin over time, and in recent years the distillery has released a large number of high value products from Warehouse 6, something that Graham agrees would have been difficult to do a decade ago, “Back then we simply weren’t well known enough for someone to splash out on such a premium spirit. However, now I like to think that we have built up a reputation for high quality expressions.“

Despite the fact that the industry he entered in 1990 looks very different to the environment Graham is in now, it vehemently remains the place for him and his new role is a celebration of that. “Given the choice to live my life over again and do something different, I don’t think I would. I’m so delighted that my kids have joined me in the industry and no matter what, it remains such a friendly and warm industry to be a part of.”