By Joe Bates

This Travelling Life: Diageo senior global brand ambassador Ewan Gunn

In this edition, Diageo senior global brand ambassador Ewan Gunn talks about two new rare expressions from Talisker and The Singleton, his tips on starting a whisky collection and why travelling in a kilt has its challenges
Joe Bates (JB): This interview is all about travel and I understand there is a fantastic maritime travel story behind the Talisker 43 Years Old.
Ewan Gunn (EG):
Renowned adventurer James Aiken sailed single-handedly across the Atlantic Ocean, following the 3,264-mile journey undertaken every year by the few brave rowers who participate in the annual Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. The 10 casks used to mature this whisky each included 10 staves which travelled with James on his epic voyage. Just as the waves of the Atlantic crash on the warehouse walls of the distillery, these staves experienced the full force and power of the ocean for 24 days.

JB: What has been the impact of so many years in the cask on the Talisker 43 Years Old?
EG:
The classic maritime and spice character of Talisker is still most certainly present. More than four decades of maturation have definitely not tamed the full flavour of Talisker, but have layered in an element of richness, resulting in a rounded and elegant experience.

JB: The Singleton 54 Years Old launched last month. What can you tell us about this rare 1966 vintage?
EG:
This whisky is not only the oldest expression of The Singleton of Dufftown ever released, but it is also the oldest single malt Scotch whisky that Diageo has released to date. Originally filled in 1966, this European oak cask was the last remaining cask from that era. The maturation revealed exceptional richness of character that only time can reveal, before The Singleton malt master Maureen Robinson... [finished]this single malt in a single Pedro Ximénez-seasoned cask.
The Singleton 54 Years Old release

JB: What advice would you give someone just starting out who wants to build themselves a collection?
EG:
I tend to buy whiskies to open and enjoy with friends and family, and I have a reasonably well-stocked and interesting bar for exactly those occasions. That said, there are definitely a few bottles that I have set aside to be enjoyed in the future. My approach (and my advice to anyone building a whisky collection) is to have a few classic drams that you consider ‘must haves’ such as Lagavulin 16, Mortlach 20, Talisker 18, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, etc., along with some more unusual and rare whiskies. Those rarer whiskies should talk to your personal area of interest – if you’re interested in ‘ghost’ [closed] distilleries then bottles of Port Ellen, Brora and Pittyvaich would be well worth considering. If you love Islay whiskies, then some Fèis Ìle bottlings and a Lagavulin Jazz Festival bottling or two are always interesting. Our annual Special Releases are also a brilliant opportunity to build an instant collection showcasing a broad selection of styles. Lastly, for the ultimate collection, I can certainly recommend our Prima & Ultima releases, which I consider to be one of the finest selections of whiskies ever brought together, showcasing some truly exceptional and impossible to repeat expressions from some of the greatest distilleries ever to make whisky.

JB: What have been some of the most memorable and interesting places that you’ve visited for work?
EG:
Scotch whisky is truly loved the world over, and as a result my 20-plus years in the whisky industry have involved considerable travel. I’ve travelled to nearly 100 countries around the world (some of them 20 or 30 times), and also had the opportunity to live in New York for four years. I’ve genuinely enjoyed every country I’ve visited, as there’s always something new to learn, a new food to experience, different music to discover and new friends to make. A few places do really stand out – Lebanon, Colombia, China, South Africa and Australia have always been amazing, and New York will always hold a special place in my heart.

JB: What’s the most memorable whisky you’ve had on your travels?
EG:
For me, Scotch whisky is about more than just the liquid. It’s about the people, the place, the music, the emotion, the moment, the story. There have been so many memorable whiskies in so many places around the world, but one I’ll never forget was tasting Brora Triptych at Brora Distillery a few weeks ago when we filled the first cask of Brora since 1983 at the newly reopened distillery. It felt like a truly historic and quite emotional moment, marked with three exceptional whiskies.

JB: You must spend a lot of time on the road. What travel tips do you want to pass on to our readers?
EG:
This one’s easy – never check a bag, bring plenty of music, good headphones and a good book. Stay curious: try all of the food and drinks; go out and meet people. Always be grateful.

JB: We have a long 12-hour flight ahead, what book would you recommend we read?
EG:
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. It’s such a brilliantly written book that hits every emotion and has moments of incredibly dark humour. It’s not written in chronological order so warrants re-reading a few times.

JB: Tell us about something funny or unusual that happened to you when you were on your travels.
EG:
There have been lots of stories that can never be retold, but just yesterday Facebook kindly reminded me of the time over a decade ago when my hotel lost my bags and all of my laundry and I had to travel from Puerto Rico to Inverness in the clothes I stood up in. Unfortunately, this happened to be a kilt. Customs and Immigration in New York was a delight.

JB: If you had 24 hours to spare between connecting flights, which city in the world would you most like to explore?
EG:
That’s a really difficult question – there are so many cities I wish I knew better. I’m going to say Tokyo, because despite visiting there already I feel like there is so much more to discover.

JB: You’ve been shipwrecked on a desert island. Which bottle of whisky would you like to find washed up on the shore?
EG:
As a Lagavulin fan, I’d definitely love to find a bottle of Malt Mill wedged in the sand, but I expect that’s highly unlikely, so instead I’m going to opt for the Lagavulin 25 Years Old 200th Anniversary Edition. I’ve only tried it a couple of times and it’s incredible.