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Unveiling the Timeless Elegance of Campari’s Whiskeys with Robin Coupar

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02/01/2024 Let’s take a journey through the rich history and distinctive flavors of Campari’s whiskies, including Glen Grant and resurrected classics, and talk about the future of whiskey with Robin Coupar.

In the world of spirits, Robin Coupar, Global Whisk(e)y Advocate at Campari Group is a well-known figure who possesses passion, knowledge, and dedication to whisky. With over three decades of experience in the industry, Coupar's journey has taken him from the heart of Scotland to the far reaches of the whiskey world. He is the driving force behind Campari Group's whisky portfolio, which includes iconic brands such as Glen Grant Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Bourbon and Rye Whiskey, Russell's Reserve Bourbon & Rye Whiskey, and Forty Creek Canadian Whisky.

He has worked with Glenmorangie, Glen Murray, Ardbeg, Auchentoshan, Glenrothes, Suntory, and Bowmore.

In this exclusive interview, we dive deep into the history, craftsmanship, and innovation that define Coupar's illustrious career. From the unique character of Glen Grant to the revival of long-forgotten classics like Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard, Coupar shares his insights into the ever-evolving whiskey landscape. Join us as we uncover the secrets behind Glen Grant's pale golden hue, the art of storytelling in the whiskey world, and what lies ahead for Campari Group and the world of whisky.

Robin, with 30 years in the whisky industry and 14 of those with Campari, what has changed in these many years, and what remains the same? 

The spirits industry is very healthy right now, particularly in the whisk(e)y category where we see consumers trading up to limited and rare expressions. But we also see a vastly changing demographic where once upon a time drinking whisky was the preserve of older males, it’s now most legal drinking age including women and younger consumers. We’ve also seen new geographies emerge such as India, China, and other Asian nations.

The laws of making whisk(e)y have not changed much in 30 years. Bourbon and Scotch whisky are two of the most highly regulated categories in spirits thus guaranteeing top quality to the consumer. Of course, we’ve seen an uptick in experimental grains and types of oak for maturation and flavor development.

You've had extensive experience with various whisky brands, including Glen Grant. What sets Glen Grant apart from other Speyside whiskies in your opinion?

For me, The Glen Grant is the jewel of Speyside. Maybe we’re not as well known in the marketplace as other brands but our quality is top drawer. The liquid is gentle, and complex with fruity and malty notes. Our processes haven’t changed much either over the years. We still use wooden fermenters and our barrels age in stone dunnage warehouses. All of our whisky is bottled on-site by local people (while most distilleries truck whisky down to central Scotland where it’s bottled on the highspeed production lines).

Image Source: Robin Coupar with Glen Grant

Glen Grant's history is fascinating, with innovations like the use of electricity and unique pot stills by James "The Major" Grant. How do these historical innovations influence the whisky's character today?

Most importantly we have a very unique distillation process. Our founder, Major James Grant designed the tall slender pot stills and unique water-cooling purifiers that make the signature spirit style which is refined, gentle, and complex.

Glen Grant is considered easy to drink and versatile. Can you share some recommendations for enjoying Glen Grant, whether neat or in cocktails?

I love a 10 or 12yo in a rocks glass, some good ice, and a splash of soda (fizzy water), it’s very refreshing. Otherwise, it makes a great Old Fashioned, Penicillin, or other classic whisky cocktail.

You recently launched the Glen Grant Devotion 70 Years Old, a limited edition release. Could you provide more details about this special whisky and its significance?

Yes, we are very happy with the launch at Sotheby’s as Bottle #1 fetched over US$100,000 and all the proceeds will go to the Royal Scottish Forestry Society which seeks to protect the country’s ancient woodlands. The Queen was a Patron. It’s our oldest and rarest whisky to date with just 7 bottles, each is a one-of-a-kind and bottled at 55.5%abv. This is huge news for us and somewhat vindication that The Glen Grant is one of the top producers in Scotland. Devotion is a tribute to the late Queen who reigned for 7 decades. It’s a trait that was shared by our own Major James Grant who was devoted to making whisky and of course his Garden of Splendour, a 27-acre garden where many plants, flowers, and fruit trees grew. He would entertain his guests and share drams of Glen Grant. The Queen was also devoted to environmental causes and so we felt this was a great inspiration to attribute Devotion to the late Her Majesty. The liquid was distilled in 1953, the year of her coronation. It was a period whereby the barley was malted on site and the stills were coal-fired. On Sept 1, 1953, the spirit was filled into a French coopered oloroso sherry and aged silently in an old stone warehouse for 7 decades. The bottle and sculpture are also considered a piece of contemporary art. The glass was hand-blown by one of Scotland’s top hot glass blowers and displays seven facets, each representing a decade of her reign. Each bottle is adorned with her favorite flowers. Bottle #1 with the Queen Elizabeth red rose which is embellished in gold and silver. The sculpture designed by artist John Galvin represents nature and was sculpted from a wind-fallen elm. It adds massive provenance as it was found in the Garden of Spendour.

Can you talk about the challenges and process of resurrecting historic whiskey brands like Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard for The Whiskey Barons Collection?

This was a fun project I worked on a few years ago. We found that there were a few old trademarks that the Wild Turkey distillery owned. We looked back into the archives to get a sense of the style of the liquid and commissioned a designer to create the look and feel of the labels and bottle shapes. We ensured that we were as true to the original product as possible.

Image: Bond & Lillard and Old Ripy

What inspired you to delve into the history and recreate these long-forgotten whiskey recipes?

We saw that there was a huge appetite for nostalgia and brands from the distant past. We also felt that there was a market to bring some of the old bourbon names back. Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard were the first releases and both were very different in style. It was a fun project to be involved in.

Can you describe the flavor profiles of Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard and how they differ from modern bourbon brands?

Old Ripy was what I’d describe as a big spice bomb while B&L was on the lighter side with a distinctive floral nose and soft fruity taste. I have to give all credit to the distillery team who came up with the liquid profiles.

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The whiskey market has been evolving rapidly in recent years. How do you see the role of heritage brands like Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard in this changing landscape?

I think they have a place in the market like I said but I can’t see them changing the landscape too much. These types of brands are not really scalable and would also likely need significant investment to change the overall category. I think we got it spot on and only produced limited quantities.

In your role as Global Whisky Advocate, what are some trends or innovations you've observed in the whisky industry, and how is Campari Group adapting to them?    

Campari has an excellent portfolio of whiskies. All of them are unique characters and we are very well positioned to grow them and we now have some very strong marketing capabilities in the company behind our brands. The future is very bright

Image Source: twitter - Excellent portfolio of  Campari Group

Whiskey enthusiasts often have a deep appreciation for the craft and history of distillation. How do you see the role of storytelling in promoting whiskey brands?    

Storytelling is central to the whisk(e)y industry. Facts tell but stories sell and it’s our job to win consumers’ hearts and minds – and ultimately their hands and mouths. It also helps to have the industry’s most experienced whisky makers in Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell at Wild Turkey and Scotland’s longest-serving distiller Dennis Malcolm of The Glen Grant.

Finally, what's next for you and Campari Group in the world of whisky, and what can we look forward to in the future?

More top-quality whiskies are hitting the market across all of our whisk(e)y brands. Look for more premiumization and interesting and innovative expressions. We are currently living in the golden era of whisk(e)y and we’re enjoying riding this wave.

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