What is your dream job? Actor? DJ? Zookeeper? They all rank quite high on the list, when folks are asked. But if you’re a fan of sensational single malt, you’d happily take Ewan Morgan’s gig over starring in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. As the “Head of Whisky Outreach” for Diageo, he presides over the most expansive collection of rare scotch casks on earth.
His job isn’t even to sell it, per se. The three-tiered system of alcohol distribution in the United States precludes that. And make no mistake: liquid like this sells itself, anyway. No, his role is much more to make sure that people—especially people with deep pockets—remain as excited about rare scotch tomorrow as they are today.
He must be doing something right, considering that super premium scotch has never enjoyed a more enduring bull market than in the modern era. According to data from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the sale of single malt imported from Scotland has exploded by some 191% over the past 20 years.
Morgan has held a front row seat in the industry that entire time. In fact, the Scottish expat has spent nearly three decades in spirits. He’s occupied every facet of the trade during that time; from maltman to chemical analyst to award-winning brand ambassador. In 2013 he was anointed a Keeper of the Quaich—the highest honor conferred to scotch professionals.
All this is to say, if Morgan’s career qualifies as your personal dream job, it’s not something you’re going to secure overnight. You’ll need passion, know-how and about thirty years worth of experience. While you’re working on all that, we sat down with the industry icon to find out more about his day-to-day, as well as what he enjoys drinking most—both on and off the job.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Describe a normal day in the life of a ‘Head of Whisky Outreach’?
Ewan Morgan: “There is no normal day in the life. Every day is different, which makes the role such a diverse and interesting job. On any given day it could range from traveling—I travel over 80% of the year—talking to the media, tasting caviar for an event pairing and working with celebrities to the more mundane duties like completing my expense reports. It’s truly such a fun and social job and the people I’m lucky enough to work and meet with are typically extremely nice and fascinating human beings.”
People probably accuse you of having the perfect job. Are they right?
EM: “They say ‘nothing is perfect,’ but if you like traveling to some of the most beautiful parts of the world and eating and drinking in the best restaurants whilst getting to taste some of the rarest and most delicious whiskies on the planet, then I’d say it’s pretty close to it. All jokes aside, I truly love my job, I’m extremely lucky to have it and I never take that for granted.”
What is the most difficult part about the job, that’s actually work?
EM: “It’s all work at the end of the day, but it’s such a unique position. I’m the only person at Diageo with my role in the United States. I’d say keeping on top of my emails whilst on the move is somewhat of a challenge.”
What is the craziest single story you have, which you’re legally allowed to share, from your time as Head of Whisky Outreach.
EM: “Well…I have to tread delicately here. There are a lot of stories but I’d say one of my favorites was when my friend Gerry—who I later married off as I’m an ordained minister—and I executed a whisky tasting for Navy Seals in Virginia Beach. That was a ‘lively’ evening as we went drinking with the Navy Seals afterward in a local bar, and while out with the group, Gerry and I were ‘interrogated’ by undercover police because they didn’t believe ‘Whiskey Ambassador’ was a real job. There’s a lot more to that story, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy surrounding the rest.”
What is the most beautiful setting in which you’ve enjoyed a dram?
EM: “It was this year whilst I was on Islay co-hosting a dinner with my colleagues at The Machrie Hotel which overlooks Loch Indaal. The water was uncharacteristically millpond calm that evening. As we approached the end of the most incredible meal of local produce, the sun started to dip below the horizon, the sky was ignited by the most incredible sunset and the whole room just stopped and stared as we sipped on the legendary Lagavulin 25 Year Old 200th Anniversary bottling. It was a surreal, ethereal view of Islay, which I’ve visited many times, but never ceases to amaze me.”
What is your absolute favorite single pour of whisky that you’ve ever enjoyed, and why?
EM: “This is such a hard question as I’m extremely lucky to have tasted some very delicious and very rare whiskies. I’ll answer this by picking the most recent ones that have blown me away and are currently at the top of my list: Talisker 44 Year Old or Lagavulin 1978 32 Year Old Single Cask. Both of these special liquids offer a classic ‘old style’ minerality and character, and both also embody the ‘Tropical Tiki’ flavor explosion you only see from old ex-bourbon casks.”
What release from this year have you been most excited about and why?
EM: “I’m very excited about the fourth release of the Prima & Ultima bottlings, in particular the Talisker 1976, the distillery’s oldest ever offering at 46 years old. In 1976, Scotland basked in a very rare heatwave which made the stills run hot, increasing copper contact and creating a cleaner, brighter spirit, resulting in this highly unusual Talisker. This whisky was matured in an American Oak ex-bourbon cask before being rested in a single European Oak puncheon, adding further complexity to this unique, extremely rare whisky.”
What is a less than obvious scotch cocktail that you’re particularly fond of?
EM: “I was in a bar in Montreal years ago, and it was raining outside and I was hiding from the weather. I wanted something rich and warming and also wanted to add Lagavulin to it. I asked for a Zacapa Rum Old Fashioned with 1 oz. Zacapa 23 Year Old Rum, .5 oz Lagavulin 16 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky, .25 oz. Fino Sherry, 2 dashes orange bitters and 2 dashes ANGOSTURA bitters. I’ve been drinking this ever since; I’ve never given it a name but it is very delicious!”
What do you drink when you’re not drinking scotch?
EM: “I love agave spirits; anything with a lot of character like mezcal and bacanora offer the same huge spectrum of flavors and mouthfeels that we see in scotch. Similarly, these spirits are also made by passionate producers. I also love cocktails. The creativity and craft seem to me boundless, and the kinetic marriage of the spirit with modifiers and ice has such a wonderful sense of theater to ultimately create something new, exciting and delicious.”