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Proust Whisky Questionnaire: Ross Blainey

Ross Blainey is Brand Ambassador for The Balvenie in Australia and one of the most recognisable and best-loved in his occupation across all alcohol categories. He has recently been recognised as one of the country’s best BAs in the upcoming Bar Awards.

Describe your job in five words

Rewarding, fast-paced, creative, fun, exciting.

What do you appreciate most in a whisky?

I appreciate the work that goes into actually making a whisky the most. Being able to sit with a dram and think back to all the people that spent years, decades or longer creating what lasts maybe a few minutes in my glass really makes me appreciate what whisky is. Skill, passion, patience and enjoyment.

What do you appreciate least in a whisky?

I really don't appreciate when you have a really nice bottle of whisky and then it’s finished. That does my head in.

What is your most treasured whisky?

For my 30th birthday our Balvenie Malt master David Stewart gave me a 1988 cask sample Balvenie. 30-year-old, first fill American Oak. It doesn’t look fancy or anything but it’s a whisky you only get once!

What is your favourite virtue in a whisky bar?

Tennent’s Lager. No sorry. I just like it with my whisky. I really respect a bar that is knowledgeable and approachable. If it gets in any way elitist about whisky, it’s lost it for me. Whisky is for everyone and can be daunting to learn about. If a bar is welcoming, hospitable, knowledgeable then it’s a good spot. But also please have Tennet’s Lager.

What do you most dislike in a whisky bar?

Wankiness. We might be selling whisky for a lot of money now and it has many different styles, regions, types etcetera, but let’s not forget what it’s there for. Whisky is for enjoying yourself, sharing with people and having a good time. Don’t spoil it by telling someone what they should or shouldn't like or ask for.

If you could have any job in whisky, what would it be?

Can I say my own job? I love my job! I get to talk to great people, share amazing and rare whisky, work collaboratively and creatively with my favourite bars and make new experiences for people around whisky. That will do it for me!

What is your favourite distillery name?

I once heard about a guy who started ageing whiskey in barrels that held fish in them before. Sounds horrible but he called it "Fishkey". Terrible idea but the name is just genius.

Who is your hero in whisky?

King James IV of Scotland who lived 1473 to 1513. I bet you knew I was going to say that. While he was King the first record of whisky was made when he bought it for one of his parties. He loved music, literature, sport and arts and used to throw big parties with people from all of these areas and that’s where whisky came in. I just have this vision of really mental parties with poets and alchemists dancing on the tables, swinging from lights in a castle in Scotland in the late 1400s. Definitely my hero!

What is your idea of whisky happiness?

My whisky happiness is being somewhere with the people I care about chatting about whatever comes to mind and sharing a few drams. it could be in a bar, in a living room, around a campfire or anywhere. I’m happiest in whisky when I’m surrounded by the people I care about more. You know who you are!

What phrase do you most overuse when talking about whisky?

Recently the phrase, “Dennis, Big Willy and the spanner.” You really need to come to an event to hear why.

When do you lie about whisky?

I think I'm pretty transparent when it comes to whisky. I'll tell you whatever you want to know, I don't have anything to hide. Whisky has a great humble and truthful spirit to it. I like to think I’d be the same when talking about it.

Who or what is the love of your whisky life?

I don't think I could pick one but the love of my whisky life is a few small groups of people that make this job so special. Our Balvenie Ambassador team around the world - we're a small team and we support and help each other with everything. Our William Grant & Sons Ambassador team too, we are a little family and couldn't do it without them. And then there are a few people around the whisky industry in Australia whose passion gives me passion and pushes me. Whether they are wielding hammers, creating events through sound, pairing beers or talking about other whisky brands they are all the loves of my whisky life.

What is your happiest whisky memory?

I think there are so many that happen all the time, that is the great thing about working in this industry. But if I had to choose, last year I took 12 bartenders from around Australia to Scotland, Dufftown to visit our distilleries. It was something I had planned and worked on for over a year and the largest bartender trip to Scotland we've seen. From sitting in Balvenie House with David Stewart discussing his role in the creation of cask finishing to pulling out 16 barrels in the warehouse with George and drinking from them there and then, it was all incredibly special. But there was one moment while we had dinner together in the Malt Barn at Glenfiddich. I stood up to thank everyone and raise a glass. Looking at these 12 amazing people from Australia sharing drams with the legends of our whisky is a sight I'll never forget. I got a little choked up at that moment! Got a wee tear of happiness just thinking about it now.

What is your saddest whisky memory?

I have a bottle of whisky that I always have on my shelf which was from the last outing I had with a good friend of mine that we lost very soon after that day. We had an amazing day out at a distillery with another friend and it’s a little reminder of him that I like to have on my shelf.

Who do you most admire?

Right now, I really admire our new apprentice malt master Kelsey McKechnie. At 26 she’s taken the role of learning under two of the most experienced in the industry, David Stewart MBE and Brian Kinsman. I have only heard a few people talk the way she does about whisky with her knowledge, passion and wit. She is in such a unique position with so much knowledge of the past, traditions and how to make whisky. But she is also the future of whisky. Learning from the past, using it and creating the future of whisky. It’s a huge responsibility and she takes it in her stride. I think everyone can admire that kind of dedication, passion and skill. I know I do!

Sherry cask or bourbon cask?

Well that’s easy. Bourbon cask for 12 years then take it out and put it in some European oak ex sherry casks for maybe nine months-ish. Yeah if you can just make it a 12 DoubleWood, cheers

If you could work at one distillery, which one would it be?

Working at The Balvenie is something I do as often as I can and I do love it there. The people and the stories just make it so I would honestly work there. Maybe one day I'll work in my own distillery, would be cool to have one I can work in and live the city life. Who knows!

What is your greatest achievement?

I think managing to herd 12 bartenders 17,000 kilometres around the world to drink lots of whisky and then get them all back another 17,000 kilometres in one piece. I still don’t know how we achieved that!

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