Roger Mallindine had been selling blended whisky for decades and understood how the luxury whisky business worked. Now it was time to sell single malts. He suddenly found himself in a world of many privileges and memorable events.
The Malt Cellar
In the last days of the Distillers Company Limited (DCL) they had introduced the Ascot Malt Cellar which comprised Rosebank 8 Year Old, Linkwood 12 Year Old, Strathconon Vatted Malt, Talisker 8 Year Old, Lagavulin 12 Year Old and Royal Lochnagar 12 Year Old.
I remember thinking ‘you’ve got to be joking, sell six single malts in one hit?!’
Hoteliers had never heard of malts from any other region of Scotland other than Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glenmorangie. But the idea of a mixed case of six malts would prove to be a huge success, allowing bars to become malt whisky experts overnight.
The Classic Malts Of Scotland
I was one of seven men who launched The Classic Malts in the UK in 1988. It was an exciting time when single malts were not widely known. We received many accolades, even from competitors, congratulating us for opening the gates to malt whisky. The picture here was taken in December 1986. I am with my old friend Robin Easton, general manager of the then famous Saddle and Sirloin in the City, presenting the Ascot Malt Cellar brands.
Flora and Fauna Malts
After the tremendous success of The Classic Malts of Scotland, things really started to kick off. At the suggestion of Sandy McDonald, a management consultant, I submitted a business plan to form a prestige sales force who were specially trained to sell in luxury and premium whiskies. Men were recruited from various sales regions who were well suited to the job role. We were known as the magnificent seven and enjoyed privileges to the envy of our field sales colleagues.
What made the United Distillers Classic Malts so successful was a unique six bottle pack from each of the regions of Scotland. It made entry into the malt whisky category easy for the trade, and simple to understand for consumers.
As the malts business progressed I had befriended global colleagues who were based at Henrietta Place in the West End. There was a mutual passion for our single malts, comprising the Classic Malts, Classic Malts Distillers Editions, the Flora and Fauna distillery malts, the Rare Malts and eventually Special Releases. These gems of Scotland were being driven by Dr Nick Morgan and Jonathan Driver, together with a team of global brand ambassadors. I had always made presentations about blended and single malt whiskies but this time I was in my element hosting whisky events on behalf of global at Henrietta Place, in addition to the other UK venues.
The great and good of the Scotch whisky world hosted Malt Advocates courses at Royal Lochnagar Distillery. These were mainly hosted by Dr Nick Morgan, Charlie MacLean and Jim Beveridge (both of whom recently received honours from the Queen for their work on Scotch Whisky). These three were and still are to me, the whisky Knights of the Realm.
I once found myself in the office of Simon Waller, Duty Free Sales Manager at United Distillers, for a morning coffee. I don’t think I even tasted the coffee before Simon sprang from his desk and gestured for me to sit down. ‘Roger, you are just the man for the job.’
‘Whatever you want, Waller, the answer is no!’
Simon beamed and threw a stack of holiday brochures on the coffee table and told me to pick a cruise to anywhere in Europe, it included accompaniment by my wife. I asked him what the catch was, and he explained that it would cost him an enormous amount of money to send an international brand ambassador to give whisky presentations on a cruise… Well, it was rude to say no wasn’t it? Cruise ships were great fun but you certainly piled on the calories in the restaurants.
The Flora and Fauna Malts were originally introduced at a malt whisky dinner at the London Hilton and Morton’s in Berkeley Square. They were in a unique market niche and filled a space above the Classic Malts.
At the London Hilton most of the Scotch whisky world was in attendance and I presented our Flora and Fauna Malts to 72 guests. It was a black-tie event and made its mark with the likes of Michael Jackson, other writers and journalists, and customers who were associated with our cause. With tremendous press coverage it was a great feeling knowing that we had made a difference to the business.
I remember once coming out of the lift on the 23rd floor at The Hilton wearing my white tuxedo and was told by a Hilton employee whom I didn’t know that band members should use the rear entrance!
There was a similar event was at Morton’s working with my colleague, Sherry Warner, who to me, appeared to be a younger version of Shirley MacLaine. She lit up a room whenever she entered any prestige outlet in the West End.
The House Of Lords
There were numerous other Whisky Dinners and several events at The House of Lords. I organised seven major black-tie banquets seating over a hundred guests and had a direct line to Lord McFarlane of Bearsden, Chairman of United Distillers and later Life President of Diageo. He often sponsored our events there. I was always seated in his direct line of vision should he need me for anything specific.
There was one occasion when I was accompanied by Steve Webb, Sales Director. We were in my car when my phone rang. it was Lord McFarlane.
‘Good morning, Roger, Norman here.’
‘Good morning, Sir.’
‘Oh, you have someone with you have you? Who is it?’
Steve answered ’Webb, Sir, Steve Webb.’
‘Roger, can you pop down to the Lords and see Miss Lorna McWilliam, banqueting manager, and ask her to reserve a table in the Chumley Room for about 70 people. I seem to be having trouble contacting her,’ and he began to give me a date with details –
‘But sir, you are a Lord, and you can use your influence anywhere in the House.’
‘Yes, that may be so, but you have more contacts than I do in the catering business. Anyhow, the House of Lords is full of Lords and, according to Miss McWilliam, we are two a penny.’
Steve could not believe his ears and was shocked at what he was hearing. After all, I was only a trooper; so how come I had a direct line to the old man?