Lush Life Podcast Transcripts: Fraser Campbell – How To Fall Into Whisky (#172)

Lush Life Podcast Transcripts: Fraser Campbell – How To Fall Into Whisky (#172)
Fraser Campbell, Dewar's Global Brand Ambassador, London

My grandmother was the hippest woman alive – she would have fit in at the coolest cocktail bar in any town. Her drink of choice was the Whisky Highball – which is having its heyday right now. But not any whisky would do – there was only one, and it had to be Dewar’s. As you can imagine, my guest today loved that story. Why? Because he is Global Brand Ambassador.

Needless to say, Fraser Campbell holds my grandmother in high regard, as well as every other Dewar’s Whisky drinker. He’s on a mission to bring people into whisky while they’re having fun. Who doesn’t want to head down to the beach with some whisky piña coladas right now! I know I do! How Fraser is completing his mission can be found on today’s program. 

This episode originally aired on November 10, 2020.

You can listen to this episode here, or any of your favorite podcatchers.

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Fraser Campbell. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!

This transcript is sponsored by:

Susan: I am so excited to have you on the show because my grandmother’s favorite cocktail was a Dewar’s and Soda, literally. That’s all she ordered. I remember that. So to have the Global Brand Ambassador of Dewar’s on my show is, well, I know she’s either watching me from above or below, where I’m sure they’re having a lot more fun down there. She is just so thrilled right now at this moment. So thank you so much for joining me.

Fraser: It’s an absolute pleasure to be with you today. And needless to say, your grandmother had amazing taste in whisky and drinks.

Susan: Yes, she did. Now. we always start at the beginning, so I want to know everything about you.

Fraser: How I fell into whisky, ultimately, I grew up in Speyside in the Northeast of Scotland and I started working in bars when I was 18 years old to try and keep me out of trouble, which I think in the long-term didn’t really work out. Definitely got me into more trouble, in good ways.

But I was working in a pub in my hometown of Forres, which is next to some amazing distilleries places, Benromach, Dallas Dhu Distillery, Craigellachie, which is one of our distilleries at John Dewar’s and Sons. Over the years, when I started studying, I still kept bartending on the side and leaned towards that more than actually going to classes.

I did get a degree in the end in English and Film Studies, but I definitely stuck with bars and hospitality. I ended up doing that for the next 15 years taking me to running some amazing bars in Edinburgh, then moving.

Susan: Wait. You’re going way too quickly. Now, were you always thinking bars? What was on the horizon? Did you grow up drinking whisky? All that stuff.

Fraser: Yeah, look, Growing up in Speyside, being surrounded by to 30-40 different distilleries, it’s inevitable that are very young age, you can have various encounters with one of our finest exports. I went to my first distillery when I was about seven years old. I very distinctly remember the smell of the wash back when I stuck my head in and got my head blown off by the CO emissions. No, not really.

Susan: What was that you were going to a distillery when you were

Fraser: Yeah. you can go right into distillery at any age. Really I’ve taken my nephew around and he’s four years old, to see how the whisky is made throughout fermentation and distillation. So when we get to the fermentation stage of making whisky, that’s where all these flavors and esters start getting created for the first time.

And, when you’ve got barley, mixed with sugar and water and you started getting fermentation, CO2 is a large mission. When you stick your head into the wash backs, where we do the fermentation, you really get a sense of it. So I did that when I was about seven years old and that stuck with me for a very long time.

I can still remember that sensation and that smell today. But, my first proper encounter with whisky many, many, many years later when I, of course, was of legal drinking age. My first experience with whisky probably wasn’t the best one.

I think a lot of people, sadly, when you taste scotch or whisky for the first time, if your experience is not a good one, that experience might stay with you and unfortunately tarnish that notion of coming back to whisky. So it actually took me a long time to fall in love with scotch whisky, believe it or not.

I had to travel to the ends of the earth to basically get homesick enough that having a whisky would take me back to Scotland.

Susan: But why was your first experience with whisky bad, other than falling in it?

Fraser: Okay, I think we’ve all had that experience when we’re younger, whether it’s whisky, tequila, gin, rum, vodka, it doesn’t matter what it is, but if your first experience is basically hugging a toilet for the next hours naturally you’re not going to really fall in love with that spirit. Also at a very young age as well your mouth and your taste buds, your sense of smell is not equipped to deal with something like that.

It takes years of practicing to appreciate that, to really enjoy it. And so like a lot of people, they treat whisky as a shot or a shooter when they’re younger, when they’re at university, and they bypass the best part of the whisky, which are the aromas and the flavors, and just use it as a mechanism for having an amazing time, or in some cases, not so much the next day.

A large part of what I do now as Global Ambassador for Dewar’s is showing people how to appreciate whisky and enjoy it for the first time in a lot of different ways, whether that’s neat or in a cocktail, or, in the case of your grandmother having a whisky and soda or a Highball as we call it for the first time and helping them fall in love with whisky.

Susan: Yes. we will definitely get to all of that and what you do at Dewar’s. But back to you! When you were bartending, what was really about it that made you go from whatever you were studying to say no, I’m going to pursue this where I can.

Fraser: I think I’ve probably always naturally had an affinity just towards socializing and hanging out with people. And I think bartending was just basically a way of doing that and getting paid for it. On the side of studying, you had the time to go in the evenings and be in the bar and be in that environment and actually making money from it.

So why wouldn’t you do it? Right. And then at that time, when I started bartending, circa 2000, I had no aspirations to do it as a long-term career, because at that time, this industry and the industry as we know it now, it didn’t really exist. Like it was all just bubbling.

It was just starting to get going with ours, like Milk and Honey opening in New York and the cocktail making a comeback. The internet was playing a massive part in all that too. I just bartended because I enjoyed it. I’d never while I was studying thought, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my days, but I think the great thing about bartending is you can take it with you anywhere.

When you move to a new city, which I’ve done quite a lot in the past 20 years, it’s such a good way just to get into the community and meet people, whether it’s other bartenders or the regulars that come in.

Susan: And is that what you thought when you started? Oh, okay. I’m bartending now, but I want to go someplace else and travel and I’m going to work there while I travel.

Fraser: Yeah, I think when I was in Aberdeen, I definitely had a yen to go to Australia at some stage. I think I’d met quite a few Australians when I was working there and we definitely got on. I think their passion for socializing and alcohol was probably pretty similar to the Scots in that sense.

So I struck a chord with some Aussies and ended up going several years later. But in between that, the key thing for me, I think, was moving to Edinburgh. I moved to Edinburgh when I finished university to then start looking for jobs. At that stage, I was still being pressured by my mom, as I imagine many people in the industry have been, saying when are you going to get a real job?

That question, which we all love to hear. Or what is it you actually do? Or what are you studying? I was always big into cinema and film, and I always envisioned that’s where I’d end up, which never transpired. But luckily, nowadays, in the wonderful world we exist in, you can do lots of cool video projects.

So I think in a roundabout way, you can still draw that passion in. I was applying for all manner of jobs when I moved to Edinburgh, sales jobs and just anything with a salary. I was working in a really fun little cocktail bar called Candy Bar in Edinburgh, which was basically a party bar. We were making French Martinis, Raspberry Mojitos, B-52s.

This was very much off the back of the 1990’s bartending scene. It was so much fun and, just meeting everyone, the first time really getting a sense of this bar community, this townful of bartenders where everyone knows each other, cocktail competitions, getting involved in those, and just really vibing off other people.

The passion and the creativity was there. I hadn’t thought this is what I’m going to do. When I then started traveling after a couple of years in Edinburgh, and then when I went to Australia again, it’s very easy to take with you. You land, you get a bar job and again, get into the scene. That’s such a good way to integrate yourself quickly.

Susan: Was it a one-way ticket to Australia?

Fraser: Well, the first one wasn’t, but the second one was! I went out for a wedding. I met some amazing Aussies. when I was working in Edinburgh, I was working with one of them actually, and made friends with them and they’d invite me out to their wedding. so I said, why the hell not. This is the way to do it.

So I booked a year’s working visa, flew down to Sydney and worked there for six months in a couple of different bars. And then I moved down to Melbourne for the remaining six months. I totally fell in love with Melbourne. I don’t know what it was, but it was amazing coffee and restaurants and bars, laneway culture, Melbourne.

I just totally fell in love. After six months, I had to go back home because my visa was up, but I go back to Scotland feeling, there’s unfinished business. I don’t know if maybe it’s the right term, but I had to go back and find out.

So I basically just worked for four months and managed to secure a second visa to go back and I then stayed for another four years.

Susan: I think you’re minimizing what you did while you were there, because you came up with this brilliant idea for the Global Bartender Exchange.

Fraser: I think when I landed in Sydney, I probably was trying to figure out where all the cool bars are. You might know someone who can give you a few recommendations to drop off CVs and you’re running around the city. And it’s a great way to get to know the place by going into all the bars.

I think when I was in Melbourne, when I came back the second time I was running a cocktail bar called the Alchemist in Fitzroy, which is this cool hipster neighborhood with some really cool bars, like Black Pearl. I was running this cocktail bar and, I think maybe a year and a half on one weekend, I don’t know what happened, but we had no bartenders.

It was a sudden drought and I reached out to a few people, but there was just a lack of really good bartenders around at that time. Everyone was feeling the same way, so I just basically created a Facebook group called the Melbourne Bartender Exchange and added a couple of hundred of people I’d met in Melbourne, all the bar managers and bartenders and Brand Ambassadors and said, look, Hey guys, I know everyone’s struggling for finding staff to work at weekends.

So, if anyone lands in the city, just put it on the page here and we can use it as a little resource. Then sure enough people start using the page more frequently. It became a source of banter and people putting up bartender memes, people complaining about the price of limes, arguing about how to garnish an Old Fashioned – is it a cherry, is it another cherry?

Susan: Geeking out! Cocktail geeks.

Fraser: Yeah. And that hasn’t changed. Even before Facebook, we were using bartender forums, the proper old school internet, bartender forums, create topic, and threads and all that stuff.

So I think Facebook – using the groups was just a way to get everyone online and create this little hub. It grew really quickly. There were a couple hundred members, then it was a thousand than it was 5000. And the reason the group was getting so big was because people were landing from overseas trying to find work and coming on the group to find jobs.

Susan: And I assume this is global.

Fraser: Well it wasn’t at that stage. We had the Melbourne page, but then I was working with, one of my best friends, Hannah Curl, who worked with me in the Alchemist. And then we had this idea to take this idea and actually turn it into a global network of different bartender exchanges in different cities.

I think one day we just did it. We just set up 200 different Facebook groups in different cities around the world. In some cities, we knew people already who would be really good to help run the groups in that admin capacity. We did that quite quickly and some of the groups grew really fast and really quick, and some of them didn’t, but we connected to London and Edinburgh and Dublin and the US and New Zealand.

It suddenly became this thing where you could basically use the groups to find your next move. Or if you knew you were moving from Melbourne to Auckland, you could use it to line up your next job or a place to live and advance. The groups grew, we ended up having, I think about, 150,000 members in total in all the groups.

Susan: That’s a full-time job.

Fraser: It was actually and we also invested in it as well. We took some money and tried to build an app, which didn’t really work out the way we planned. The first one we launched was terrible and didn’t work properly and the design wasn’t great. So we redesigned it and we relaunched it and it was a very expensive learning lesson.

We were so invested, when you have an idea and you fully believe in it, you say I don’t care. I’m just going to go nuts and go all in. That started 2011, that’s nine years ago. A lot of the groups are still going guns. The Melbourne page has 70,000 members.

Susan: I would imagine it’d be hard to be seen. Like you come in and say, hi, I’m new here. And you it’s hard to get to the top.

Fraser: It was a bit like babysitting online, several thousand bartenders who’ve sometimes knocked off a shift and had a few drinks and decide they want to have a bit of a debate online.

Sometimes actually, the groups would get out of control quite quickly. There’d be a lot of threads and, all sorts of stuff happening, but we tried our best to keep the forums fair and objective and kick out people who were being out of line about anything, any topics.

Susan: I know you’re probably going to be modest about this, but were you getting more and more known as the person who put this together or the two of you and your friend, Hannah. Did people recognize that it was you who started it all?

Fraser: Yeah. We definitely were the face; it was only really the two of us initially. And then we had some amazing people come on board to help us run the groups, because, basically at one stage, Hannah and I both left Australia, so I’d moved to Barcelona, and Hannah had moved to China.

And so we needed someone on the ground to help us run things and have someone who is really well known. So we actually had in Melbourne, we had Alex Ross, who’s the sister of Sam Ross who created the Penicillin. Alex was running the Melbourne group for us for many years and she was great and did an amazing job.

She was well known and loved in the scene. So we had that strategy with the different groups, because it was so much work. We had to find people who could help us to run the different pages in the different cities. So, of course, we had a central Facebook group which we used for the central discussions.

And when we kicked it off, we purposefully invited some big hitters in the industry to help get the conversations going and things that. So, yes. Look, I think that doing it, it didn’t really work out the way I planned it. It definitely blew up much larger than I think we thought it was going to get, but, investing in that website and everything else, it may have not made or paid off at the time and it might not have worked the way we wanted, but it created a stepping stone to the next thing we were going to do.

Susan: And I heard you say Barcelona.

Fraser: Yeah.

Susan: Do you think it was time to leave Australia when you…

Fraser: Well, I didn’t really decide. The department of immigration decided it was my time to leave. Four and a half years, or five years was a pretty good sign and I’ll always have very fond memories of being in Melbourne and Australia, but it was definitely my time to leave, despite my trying to stay as much as possible.

So not wanting to go straight back to the UK, took a little stop off in Spain for about two and a half years to Barcelona.

Susan: And what was it there after being in Melbourne?

Fraser: It was great. It was so different, but, I think for me personally, I don’t know if I was born in the wrong country, but I loved the warm weather. So that was definitely a bonus. Barcelona is amazing. It’s such a beautiful city. It’s got all the culture, the Gaudi art, the architecture. It’s also insanely cheap to live there as well. My rent was 150 euros a month, which is basically nothing. You could work a lot less, two or three nights a week, and subsidize your living quite well. And just have a real good quality of life.

I had loads of time to go down to the beach and I was doing graphic design and a few other little bits and pieces as well. Having time to play guitar, and all that stuff. Barcelona having a step back and was almost a bit of a break.

Because I had been running cocktail bars, when I got to Barcelona, I just went back to bartending just to enjoy, not running a bar. Because I think having the responsibility of doing all that stuff online, I just wanted to have a job where I didn’t have as much responsibility. just to have a bit of a break.

Susan: Was it a little bit more mellow? Like your punters? Did they drink different kinds of things? Were you exploring different ingredients while you were there? Did you see a difference?

Fraser: I think Spanish people and Catalan people as well, there’s two cultures there in Barcelona. The drinking culture was much simpler. I think Melbourne was way more advanced in terms of the cocktail scene. And I think Barcelona was very much still about mojitos and caipirinhas, there’s the beach there as well?

Certain drinks I came across, which I fell in love with, which I might not have seen elsewhere. Like the Michelada, for example, I’d never really encountered the Michelada, out in Melbourne or anyone else. When I got to Barcelona on a Sunday, that’s all people drank. Like I used to work in this really cool cocktail bar called Betty Fords, which, did burgers and cocktails.

And on a Sunday, people come down for a burger and a Michelada and, I was just, this drink is great. You know, it’s literally just a Bloody Mary with beer, but it’s so good, and that’s something I hadn’t really seen popularized elsewhere. The Gin and Tonic was massive at the time as well.

The whole crazy 17 garnishes in your gin and tonic was really taking off. The thing in Barcelona is, people there loved to drink, and they love to party, but everyone’s so chilled. I think you get a lot in Europe versus places the UK or Australia, people tend to drink, but they can hold their drink.

You don’t see them passing out in the streets. You know what? They just have a very good relationship with alcohol.

Susan: Old world drinking as opposed to new world drinking.

Fraser: I know it could be to do with the fact that they don’t have dinner till 10 o’clock at night. So they probably go out to eat later.

So their stomach is still full, so when they’re drinking, they can hold their drink. Whereas I think what happens in the UK is people knock off from work at five and go straight to the pub, skip dinner and they’re drunk by 10 o’clock.

Susan: So, you’re in Spain. When did Dewar’s come calling?

Fraser: About two and a half years into Barcelona, I got a message one day from Jacob Briars, who is our head of global advocacy at Bacardi who I had known for probably about 10 years before that, he dropped me a message one day saying, look, we’re on the lookout for a new global ambassador for Dewar’s and you happen to be Scottish. You like the whisky. I’d repaired my relationship with whisky by this.

Susan: Oh, yes. We’re going to ask you about that. Repairing your relationship.

Fraser: Yeah. Yeah, that happened in Australia. I’m used to go to amazing whisky bars after work, Whisky and Alement and Chez Regine and have a beer and a whisky after work.

So that’s where the repairing of that relationship happened. By the time we got to Spain, that was fine. Jacob messaged me saying, “You know, we’re looking for a new Global Ambassador, travel the world talking about Dewar’s.” It’s quite funny because I’d been approached about a few ambassador roles before and I’d thought I don’t know if I am really keen to do it.

I think when the Dewar’s role came up –  I didn’t know a lot about Dewar’s despite growing up in Scotland because historically Dewar’s was more present in export countries like Latin America and the US, but I had actually worked with it in Australia. When I was running the Alchemist, it was actually in our speed rial.

It was our house-pour whisky. I’d worked with a lot and made a lot of drinks with it. So I knew the flavor, I just hadn’t looked at the backstory. And when I started researching and reading into the history of Dewar’s, I was totally blown away by all these stories of Tommy Dewar and how the brand came to be a globally iconic scotch whisky brand.

So naturally it took me less than a few minutes to make my mind up about taking the role.

Susan: Since you brought him up, everything I read about you says that you’re a 21st century Tommy Dewar. And so what is a little bit of the history and why did you fall in love with that?

Fraser: If you look at all the major scotch whisky brands, everyone started off in very similar circumstances, which is that there was probably a shop where the original founder had set up, and was selling whiskies and wines and spirits, tea and other stuff as well. It’s either going to be a wine and spirit merchant or grocer.

I think the John Dewar story, well, he very much was a family man. He was passionate about scotch and really pushed it. He made a really good name for himself in Scotland, but I think Tommy Dewar is the really interesting character in the story, because he was the youngest of 10 children who came on board and took Dewar’s around the world.

He was the first global ambassador as well. He traveled the world for two years, non-stop going to 26 different countries, popularizing Dewar’s everywhere he went. He had an amazing relationship with the media. So whenever something came up, for example, we actually pioneered the highball, the actual drink, Tommy Dewar pioneered that term.

Susan: No. I had no idea.

Fraser: Yeah. So when Tommy Dewar was on his travels, he stopped in New York. He was out in New York one night with some friends, they went into a bar and he ordered some balls. Some balls of whisky because balls was an Irish term for glass of whisky. A ball of malt.

He said, “Can we get some balls of whisky?” And then when the bartender turned up and he looked at the glasses, he actually went well, let’s put some soda and ice in there and put it on a tall glass and we’ll have a highball. Because at that time, the whisky and soda was really taking off because, in the early 1800’s, people were drinking cognac or brandy and soda, but when phylloxera happened, that pretty much took cognac and grape spirits off the map.

Scotch, which was massively taking off from the 1860’s onwards, really stepped in. So Tommy decided to pioneer this drink, this term highball, as a means of enjoying whisky and soda, together. That’s been a story which had a lot of fun with over the past few years, bringing that to life.

Using my bartender background, a large part of what I do is developing different highballs for each of our whiskies that we have and doing different events to showcase the highball as a really great way for people to start off on their whisky journey or enjoy the whisky in different ways with different flavors.

Susan: So I have to thank Tommy, I guess, because my grandmother would probably not be drinking it had he not come over.

Fraser: Correct.

Susan: She didn’t even know she was drinking a highball, but she was, and thus whisky and soda, Dewar’s and soda. There we go. So you brought up what you’re doing as a global brand ambassador, going around the world.

Have you had any surprises where people have been drinking Dewar’s in a way that you had no idea that they would drink it or different cocktails that you thought, Oh my God, why? You know, I wish I had thought of that.

Fraser: I think one of my standout memories, I wasn’t surprised about this. In fact, I actually asked for the drink. One of my favorite memories was, I was traveling around Latin America because places Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic are really popular markets for Dewar’s. When I was there, one of my first trips, I’d been down at the beach, we’d been touring around, I’d been jumping into different bars to  make whisky pina coladas and things like that.

And people are, what? and then one of the bars, we stopped towards the end. I said, look, I just want to have a Dewar’s and coconut water. So the bartender, she basically went, no problem. So she went and got a whole coconut. And then pulled out a machete. At which point I was, I feel I’m back in Glasgow or something like this.

And she held the coconut spinning it in the palm of her hand while chopping the lid. And, very, very cleanly just pulled the lid off. She poured out some of the coconut water. Put in loads of ice and a massive pouring of Dewar’s 12 and just handed me the coconut. And honestly, in that point in time, I was like this is perfection because it was super hot.

It was 40 degrees. And I was down at the beach and I just had this coconut filled with whisky and coconut water and ice. And I thought this is beautiful. So when we launched our Dewar’s rum cask, Caribbean Smooth, which is our eight-year-old blend finished in Caribbean rum casks last year, I thought, this is the drink I want to bring to life with whisky.

I played around with it and, just thought, well, this is very simple. Do the double measure Caribbean Smooth with some coconut water and ice. Done. But for some reason, when I gave it to some people, I find that people were very split on coconut water as a way to enjoy whisky.

And in Latin America, it’s huge. People love it. And maybe it’s endemic to that particular country and your personal preferences. Getting this feedback. I was, okay, well I need to keep the coconut flavor, but maybe stick to what Tommy Dewar originally did, which is having that fizz and that effervescence, which actually makes it a highball – highballs being effectively spirit with a fizzy mixer.

I thought, right, I’ll take the soda and then to get the coconut flavor, I’ll just use some concentrated coconut syrup. So I’ll use the Monin syrup and then some lemon juice to balance out the sweet and sour. And that was it, just a very simple recipe, but then that landed and people loved it.

Again, you can have an idea. But you just need to maybe tweak it slightly to your audience. And I think one of the biggest challenges is creating highballs and drinks that need to be replicated and made in all these different countries that we sell Dewar’s in, which is quite challenging.

Susan: I think of just Dewar’s as Dewar’s and Soda because of my grandmother. Have you been making new products all these years? What expressions, since you’ve been there, have they created?

Fraser: I think the big year for us was definitely 2019. I joined around 2016 and we were talking about innovation all the time and we had all these different ideas. And then, finally, we focused on creating something a little bit new and a little bit different, and we want to really get something that was super premium, because we didn’t have anything, in the really high-end aged statements.

We wanted to create a range of older whiskies that had gone through a very specific process using the Dewar’s heritage. To the backstory – what Dewar’s is known for as a whisky is double aging, which is this process of taking all these different whiskies from around Scotland.

For most of our blends, we use up to 40 different single malts, the heart malt, which is Aberfeldy, a beautiful rich and honey single-malt. So, historically our first master blender, A.J. Cameron had done this marrying process where he was vatting whiskies from different regions. He would take all the really peated whiskies from Islay, married them together to create a bit more unity, in cohesion between all the different whiskies. It’s much cooking, right.

Sometimes you make an amazing dish, but it sometimes tastes better after three days, sitting in the fridge. The flavors have had a chance to get to know each other. Stephanie McLeod, who’s our amazing master blender, she took this idea of A.J. Cameron’s marrying and created a four-stage aging process.

The first of which is maturing your single malt and grain whiskies to the right age statement. Then the second stage is marrying the single malts and marrying the grain whisky separately. The third stage is bringing those together and marrying all those whiskies and the fourth stage is then putting that into different sherry casks.

That’s the four stages of bringing the whisky to life. The sherry giving a very unique finish and flavor profile as well. So that’s the Dewar’s Double Double series, which we launched.  Honestly I think the reaction to the liquid in the whisky and even things like the packaging, we’ve got these beautiful square bottles and the packaging is white.

It looks more an iPhone case than a whisky box. It was a real a big step forward for Dewar’s. I think it really reframed what people thought about blended scotch, because, in the past 60 years since single malts have become really popular, blended scotches tend to be perceived in somewhat of a lesser way.

Whether it’s a price comparison or the fact that it’s not coming from one distillery, but it’s blended together in central Scotland. Blends are really important to the world of whisky. It’s 90% of the export of the scotch whisky industry. The way that people think about whisky, I think is that the rarer and more unique it is, it’s more valuable when you can go to the distillery and see how it’s made.

Double Double helped us bring focus back to blending. Actually blended scotches can be really unique and complex and interesting and have all these different layers going on. This year was pretty amazing because our Double Double 32, which is our oldest of the three finished in Pedro Jimenez casks won the award for the world’s best whisky at the international whisky competition. So that was pretty amazing.

Susan: I agree with you about the snob value of single malts, but you can’t get better than winning that award. Must have been like, look guys, you single-malt guys, we can do it too. We can do it too.

Fraser: Stephanie, as well as being our Master Distiller for Dewar’s, is also our malt master for our five single malts as well. She has such an amazing experience and she takes that experience from doing both and can interchange experiments with different casks using her knowledge to create some really amazing whiskies.

Following Double Double, we launched our eight-year-old cask series. It was because we had almost a gap between Dewar’s White Label which is our biggest selling blend. We’ve had that since 1899 and we had our 12-year-old Dewar’s. In between there, we wanted to create an expression, which is really appealing to a different audience and recruiting a lot of new whisky drinkers for the first time with different cask finishes.

We’ve done the rum cask with Caribbean Smooth. The next one, which is really massive for us, was that we actually partnered with Ilegal Mezcal who are based out in the US and they gave us some of their reposado Mezcal casks. So we did the world’s first scotch finished in mezcal casks.

Susan: Does that come out of smokey? Peaty?

Fraser: No, it’s not like a peated scotch. So with mezcal, I think what you get from it, which is really interesting and you don’t see a lot in scotch are these earthy vegetal notes. It’s got notes of green peppers that have been charred. If you can imagine a barbecue green pepper. There is a subtle smoke that comes through at the end, that for me is what made it really interesting.

We’ve been having a lot of chats with the Ilegal Mezcal team. They are trying to really work to help this perception of mezcal, not just as a smokey tequila, but as a really interesting Agave Spirit and the way it’s made the way it’s produced and its uniqueness.

The great thing about doing that experiment was getting these mezcal casks and just seeing for the first time how the scotch and the mezcal played off each other and it’s super, super interesting. It’s also amazing for making drinks and for making different highballs and cocktails.

Susan: I actually like whisky in a bloody Mary, so that sounds it could go really well.

Fraser: Going back to Michelada. Exactly. Even just having it with a beer on the side during the summer. I remember when it was really hot, I poured a little dram of the Ilegal Smooth and had a little Modelo Mexican beer on the side.

That was perfect. Just for that day, how we say in Scotland when we have a beer and a whisky, we call it a half and half. I think, in the US traditionally known as a boilermaker. Beer and whisky pairings are also an amazing way to explore whisky’s flavors and find some great pairings. With the highball, we’re looking a lot of food pairings at the moment, too. It’s a fun time to be working in whisky. There’s a lot going on.

Susan: Yeah, it sounds like it. Are you allowed to reveal anything that you’re doing for the future?

Fraser: We got more of our eight-year-old cask series who is coming out very soon. We’ve got a new one coming out in January in the US,  so you have to keep your eyes peeled about that. That’s going to be a big focus. We’ve got some amazing innovations coming up, really excited to showcase them when they land, but what I do think is that innovation has really been key for us in helping reframe the opinion of not just Dewar’s as a brand, but of scotch whisky as well.

Susan: Well, I can’t wait to come back in January and find out what you’re doing. So maybe you will come back and tell us?

Fraser: Absolutely. I will not be going anywhere, especially in the current climate.

Susan: No, we’re going to forget about that. We’re going to change next year and it’s going to be the roaring twenties.

Fraser: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Let’s just hope Prohibition doesn’t come with that.

Susan: No, definitely no, it’s not going to happen. We’ll see you then. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Fraser: Absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Susan: Anytime.

Susan: Can you tell me your top tips for the home bartender!

Fraser: I think that a lot of people might be inclined just to go out and buy every spirit and every liqueur and loads of bitters. If you have four or five drinks which you love, just start off with the ingredients for those. Even in my kitchen, I’ve got 20-25 bottles in the kitchen of different liqueurs and stuff, which sometimes I don’t even use, I just have them just in case, because I’ll say I do a lot of drinks research and development in the home for work. If you know you love Negronis and you like martinis and you love margaritas, then just so pick a few gins and pick a few tequilas. If love highballs, hopefully you’ll have some Dewar’s in there as well.

Pick a few vermouths and sherries and, some other choice liqueurs as well, like St. Germain, elderflower liqueur that goes into absolutely everything and Martini Vermouth, definitely pick some really nice base spirits. You’re going to use some modifiers or liqueurs and some bitters, but, don’t go crazy. You can always build on top of that collection as you go.

Susan: That sounds great. And if you could be drinking anywhere right now, where would that be?

Fraser: Oh, yes, I think right at this point in time, especially as the cold weather is kicking in here in London, I would definitely be back at Puerto Rico on the beach drinking my, Dewar’s and Coconut out of the coconut shell.

Susan: Oh, that sounds good. I could be there too.

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