A dram with... Ken Grier

A dram with... Ken Grier

Brand expert Ken Grier shares reflections from his career, from marketing some of the biggest names in whisky to setting up his own creative consultancy firm

Interview | 16 Apr 2024 | By Lucy Schofield

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Inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame in 2019, Ken has spent his career building some of the biggest brands in whisky. Over his 20 years at Edrington he has been a leading voice behind Famous Grouse, Highland Park, and the Macallan. In 2018, Ken founded De-Still Creative, which provides specialist advice to spirits brands world-over. 


In this instalment of our Q&A series, Ken shares his reflections from a creative career in whisky, the bottles he’s enjoying at the moment, and his passion for travel photography.


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?

26 years.


Where did the journey of your career start and where has it taken you over the decades? What was your favourite stop along the way?

My spirits career started with Highland Distillers, running the Famous Grouse brand internationally and being lucky enough to make a dozen of the iconic TV adverts. I was marketing director of Highland Distillers, under Edrington ownership, then director of malts (Highland Park and the Macallan) before my stint as the Macallan’s creative director and chairman of the Macallan Distillers.


There have been too many career highlights, but my sojourn on the Macallan was a fabulous time with so many great projects, that took a small but beautiful single malt to global brand leadership by value. From celebrity and luxury collaborations, to setting world records, to seeing my idea for the new Macallan distillery come to pass and having the joy of stewarding our world class launch. What a week that was!


For the last six years I’ve been owner of De-Still Creative, giving specialist advice to world class brands in Scotch, Cognac, Irish whiskey, rum, gin, English whisky, American whiskey, Tequila, and mezcal… and of course working with my passion brand, Leica Cameras.


I have loved working with each and every one of my fantastic clients and their remarkable brands, whether on brand strategy or cool ideas that grow their brands globally.


What is the most exciting change you’ve witnessed in the whisky industry over the course of your career?

The growth of the secondary market for rare and collectible whiskies. It made me very proud that the pioneering work that we did on the Macallan has been followed by excellent offerings from so many great brands. We have come a long way since we set a new world record of US$460,000 for the Macallan Lalique Cire Perdue decanter in 2011.


Name a whisky distillery or brand that you feel is underrated.

There are so many: Bowmore is a stunningly layered and delicious malt that people sometimes don’t know about; Laphroaig through the ages is delightful; Old Pulteney is a shapeshifting stunner.


Glenfiddich continues to delight and some of its aged whiskies are just superb; Balvenie is a hand-crafted beauty; Glenturret under the stewardship of Bob Dalgarno is excellent. Tamdhu and GlenAllachie are fine whiskies, and Cotswolds English whisky is so finely wrought.


Is there a whisky or brand you are particularly enjoying at the moment?

I have open at the moment: Bowmore 15 Years Old, Laphroaig 12 Years Old, Old Pulteney 12 Years Old, Glenfiddich 18 Years Old, and Balvenie 14 Years Old, with a crafty Arran 27 Years Old private bottling uncorked too.


When you’re not drinking whisky, what is your drink of choice?

Amarás mezcal for mezcal Margaritas, Dictador rum or Booker’s bourbon for sipping, Camus Cognac for indulging, and Knob Creek for Old Fashioneds.


Would you rather read a book or watch a film? For whichever option you choose (book or film), tell us one of your favourites.

The answer is both, but my top three films of all time are Apocalypse Now, Pulp Fiction, and Blade Runner.


Describe your perfect Sunday.

Golf early at Blairgowrie, lunch with my wife, walk our two cocker spaniels, read the Sunday papers over a Negroni, and watch a movie.


Describe your dream holiday — where would you go and what would you do there?

Always interesting cities: Ho Chi Minh, New York, Havana, Mexico City. As a passionate travel photographer it would have to be somewhere that stimulated my senses, stalking my prey like Cartier-Bresson!


Name one item you never go travelling without.

A Leica camera.

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