In our sixth instalment of our memoirs of a whisky salesman we join Roger Mallindine in the early eighties. In the photo he can be seen with the founder of the Masters of Whisky Evan Cattenach and Gordon Macintosh who was PR manager for Distillers Company Home Trade. You may recognise Ian St John, a football legend who was a guest speaker at a DCL conference.
That day Roger Mallindine was promoted to the West End after being presented with a pair of gold engraved cufflinks. He was Salesman of the year in the UK for selling Haig.
An Invitation To Play With The Big Whisky Boys
Patrick Millet, Global Director, who was in charge of Global Brand Ambassadors, phoned me and asked if I would be interested in attending an advanced Whisky course with his team. These men were at the peak of their profession and came from distilling backgrounds and really knew their stuff.
The base was Royal Lochnagar Distillery, Deeside near Balmoral. It was one of the best times for me in the whisky business, being able to work with real professionals. The refresher course put us all through our paces and was hosted on a high level by Dr Nick Morgan, Jim Beveridge and Charlie McLean.
At Royal Lochnagar, I asked Mike Nicholson, distillery manager at the time, if I could get underneath one of the stills and take a look at the mechanics. Mike agreed but Charlie McLean was refused permission because he was not a United Distillers employee and therefore not insured. The first time I met Charlie was through a haze of cigar smoke rather late at night at Lochnagar. Charlie’s first words were, ‘So you’re Roger Mallindine’. I was surprised as to why he remembered my name and we soon became whisky friends.
On reflection, it was always my ambition to be an International Brand Ambassador but by this time I was a little old in the tooth to be recruited. And of course, I was an Englishman. The original Brand Ambassadors were mainly based in Scotland and had to be near Edinburgh, like doctors on call.
The Masters Of Whisky
The Masters of Whisky was the brainchild of Michael Stoner, who worked on the Classic Malts and Johnnie Walker in the United States. Evan Cattanach, former Distillery Manager at Cardhu Distillery, had relocated to the USA and was a mentor to these first ‘Masters’. His son, Gregor, eventually joined the Global Brand Ambassador team based in Scotland.
Patrick, who I always called ‘Guv’, was keen to form an international order of Masters of Whisky and asked if I could be released to join a week’s course to determine the real players who would qualify.
We were locked up in Drummuir Castle, which was leased by Diageo from the Gordon Duff family. Various faces appeared from the distilling world who really pushed us to our limits. One exercise entailed a guest speaker saying that he wanted us to identify a malt whisky, identify the location, the age and whether it was matured in a first or a second fill cask. Quite daunting when there were several samples in front of you and not wanting to make a fool of yourself and get it completely wrong. Another exercise was to identify Johnnie Walker Red Label in various colas. I’m sure the idea was to stretch us to extremes we hadn’t experienced before.
After I returned to Blighty, I was informed that I was now a Master of Whisky for Diageo.