Ronnie Cox’s Desert Island Dram and why whisky’s in Vogue

Malt Whisky 100 goes behind the scenes to bring you an interview with Ronnie Cox, the Global Brand Ambassador for The Glenrothes (pronounced glen-roth-ez).

The Glenrothes Select Reserve is a soft, silky Speyside single malt whisky. It has a pale golden colour with a nose of American oak, vanilla and coconut. You could also detect a touch of plums. The palate is slightly sweet with more vanilla and some orange zest, and it has a long and slightly spicy finish. It’s very good value at a retail price of around £40 from major retailers including the big supermarkets.

Ronnie Cox is an exuberant chap who oozes energy and charisma. As we chatted, we sipped a little Glenrothes and Ronnie talked about how whisky is evolving in the modern market, his desert island Glenrothes dram and how he first got in to whisky.

Ronnie Cox © Colin Hampden-White

Ronnie Cox © Colin Hampden-White

How did you get in to whisky?

My father asked me when I was young, “what do you want to do?” I said I didn’t know, so he asked me “what do you really like doing?” and I said: chasing women, travelling and drinking!  He said “there is no way, my son, that you will ever find a lucrative job doing that”. And it took about 10 years before he gave me a warm embrace and said, as though to a prodigal son: “welcome back to the fold you lucky fellow, you’ve found your métier in what you really wanted to do”.

Glenrothes Distillery

Glenrothes Distillery

Do you think whisky has moved from being known as an after dinner drink?

Enormously, I mean a revolution has taken place. In the past, it was a derogatory term to be called a whisky drinker in this country – how times have changed.  In the 60’s a whisky drinker was somebody who would drink rather too much; in those days each house would have one blended whisky, there was no real variety. It had become a drink for an older generation.  It has now been recognised as a much more versatile drink, so whereas in the past people would have one bottle of whisky in the house, now they have three or more and it’s drunk in many more situations other than just after dinner.

A cask in the warehouse at Glenrothes Distillery

A cask in the warehouse at Glenrothes Distillery

Do you have a favourite vintage of The Glenrothes and can you tell us a little about it?

There are several vintages I absolutely adore, one of them is the 1991, which is no longer, that’s what I call a ‘desert island dram’. 1991 is about as good as Glenrothes ever gets, not because it is very old, but because it delivers the character of the distillery in a beautiful balanced way…one is the spirit and one is the wood.

The older whiskies tend to carry much more of an emphasis on wood than the younger ones, and the younger ones tend to be much more of a spirit product, so that area in the middle of the pendulum swing, is the most beautiful moment for bottling. The 1991 carries the character of the Glenrothes, the vanilla, the citrus notes, the ripe fruits, spicy notes, they’re in wonderful harmony. It also has a lovely texture which delivers everything it has on the nose, it’s got a great depth to it. That’s the most telling thing – it has a wonderful long, long finish to it.

Glenrothes 1991

Glenrothes 1991

Given how much we know already, how much more do you think there is to understand about the effects of maturation on whisky?

We have an association with the Scotch whisky research institute. They have a collection of scientists studying the effects of wood on spirit and anything else to do with maturation. There is so much more we can still learn. There are so many different variables: the wood, the variances between hot and cold, humidity. For example, every tree will give a different colour once made into a cask

From the point of view of The Glenrothes, is the consumption of single malt increasing in the world?

In the past 15 years I have seen the number of female attendees at master classes rise from 5% to 30%. Whisky’s become a much more acceptable and interesting drink. I think social media has really helped; it’s talked about in social media and magazines. People are educating themselves, it is no longer considered too complex for the layman to understand. Prices are more realistic; when you consider the price of a blended bottle of whisky forty years ago was the equivalent of an average three days’ pay; today it’s three hours’ pay.

Single malt discovery is increasing around the world.  Things like clubs, events and ambassadors, fun really, have drawn people of like minds together. For example, Brazil has the same size market as Poland in terms of single malts but has a 3 million case market for blends.

Looking at a market like Poland, it was number 35 in the world rankings in 2012, moved up the world rankings to number 31 in 2013 and doubled the sales of Scotch whisky from 11,000 cases to 22,000 cases.  That’s incredible growth in one year, and if one has a look at that and projects it forward, that gets quite interesting. There are quite a lot of countries, that show a 30-40% increase over the last three or four years and it’s simply that the younger generation is discovering you can drink it almost anywhere, you don’t have to mix it any more, you can sip and enjoy it.

Inside a whisky cask filled in 1978 at the Glenrothes Distillery

Inside a whisky cask filled in 1978

All pictures © Colin Hampden-White


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