Becoming a global brand ambassador for an iconic whisky company isn’t exactly an option when answering those career quizzes we are made to take after secondary school. Asked how he became the public face of Glenlivet, Ian Logan says it was “probably more good luck than good judgement”. Initially, he had wanted to be a gamekeeper as he was “a big hunting, shooting and fishing person”. He clearly never imagined he would be in this position now.
His first whisky experience was with his grandfather who, in later years, enjoyed the collectors’ bottles that Logan brought him. Logan started off selling whisky 30 years ago with a wholesaler before joining Pernod Ricard a decade later. Drifting through different sales roles, he suddenly found himself in the position of brand ambassador in 2002. He is still grateful for his luck, saying, “I’ve been incredibly fortunate in what I do”. In his travels, the title global whisky ambassador on his landing card leads to numerous amused questions.
Logan has also never been drunk on the job, explaining that “as soon as you start to abuse something, you lose the love for it”. While taking his role as Glenlivet ambassador seriously, his outlook towards work is upbeat and positive. “If you don’t have fun in this job, then you’re not doing it properly”, he reckons. His expertise on everything Glenlivet allows him to talk for hours on its history, never needing notes or PowerPoint as backup.
“I am 30 years in the industry and I’m still just a boy,” he declares. Master distiller Alan Winchester has 42 years under his belt while master blender Colin Scott has 43. Jimmy Russell from Wild Turkey, “the granddaddy of them all” as Logan calls him, has over 60 years in the industry. Logan says the enthusiasm and dedication of these whisky experts have rubbed off on him.
He has visited over 55 countries, and encountered his fair share of adventures. From an exclusive tour behind the scenes of the Metropolitan Opera in New York to hand-feeding antelope in South Africa, whisky has opened the doors to some unbelievable experiences. He recounts some of the most memorable. One was a presentation at Harvard and Stanford, which might seem a daunting task, but Logan performed with ease, claiming, “I don’t often get nervous”. He also had the chance to visit the Playboy Mansion, describing it as an experience that was “surreal, to say the least”.
He has also organised a tasting for a group of American lobbyists in Washington DC, garbed in full traditional Scottish attire — Sgian-dubh (a small single-edged Scottish knife) and requisite kilt included. At the security check-in, he recounts: “I thought I had better take the knife out and put it on the table, and the guy says, if you give us that, you can’t get it back”. The security guard then proposed that he drop his knife in the bushes outside and collect it later. To his own surprise, Logan did as suggested and at half past one, after the event ended, he went back to the bushes to get his knife. “There must have been half-a-dozen CCTV cameras outside the Senate building in Washington DC, recording me in a kilt, scrambling through the bushes looking for a knife,” he chuckles.
Logan’s passion for Glenlivet is very clear. “Whisky is made in a hundred countries around the world now but scotch is still seen as the best, with single malt at the very pinnacle, and there’s also that little flag at the very top that says Glenlivet, as far as I’m concerned.”
Glenlivet’s whisky-making process focuses on innovation and perfection. Logan reveals that “at 8 o’clock in the morning, you go to the distillery before we have any visitors come in, open the door and look for the smell of ripe bananas”. This distinct smell is key to a perfect batch.
Glenlivet’s Founder’s Reserve is a special whisky that maintains the signature “fruity, floral and toffee” flavours as a nod to its founder George Smith. Logan calls it his “fishing whisky” — best swigged from a hip flask on a relaxing fishing trip or out on a golf course. Its smooth flavour lends itself well to cocktails. “If you want to make great drinks, use great ingredients, and if a single malt gives you that flavour profile that you’re looking for in a particular drink, use it,” he advises. Although he is a whisky-water sort of guy, he still likes some old-fashioned cocktails like a Manhattan or a Penicillin.
There has always been much debate as to the best way to enjoy a single malt. “The beauty of whisky is that nobody smells the exact same thing,” Logan says. He calls ice “the work of the devil” as it closes down the flavours of the whisky, while water creates heat that releases its aromas. Adamant that whisky drinking should be done according to your personal palate, he stresses that “for drinking, by all means do what you want”.
“The people who are single malt drinkers are curious people by nature; they want to know where the differences come from,” Logan feels.
Food pairings are the next level. John Williams, executive chef of The Ritz in London, has even adapted his mother’s 30-year-old Christmas pudding recipe to suit Glenlivet 18.
Pairing whisky with Asian food is another exciting avenue. Nyonya kuih is said to go well with Glenlivet’s 18 Year Old and Chinese roast pork goes well with the entirety of Glenlivet’s range. Logan explains, “That’s the beauty of a whisky like Glenlivet — the fruitiness and floral notes lend themselves to different flavours.” Although he has yet to try curry with Glenlivet, he is sure it will have interesting results.
He is currently revamping the Glenlivet Whisky School and hopes to open the programme to Glenlivet’s Guardians in 2019. As part of a graduate programme Logan is undertaking — a rare task that makes him nervous — he is involved in the assessment centre that trains about 25 graduates each year to become brand ambassadors. “Now, I’m mentoring people, and it scares the crap out of me. I’m realising that the people I’m mentoring are young enough to be my children and when we’re doing nosings and tastings of old whiskies, I’m giving them whiskies older than they are.”He counts himself lucky because he gets paid for his hobby. He’s still learning and experiencing fantastic adventures, still travelling, and forever hungry for the ever-changing beauty of whisky. And he wouldn’t change a thing. He is a believer in a famous quote by Confucius: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. Global in outlook and in life indeed.
This article first appeared on Apr 2, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.