He is barely through his meal when I walk in for the interview. I am about 15 minutes early but he steps away from his table and plate, and moves to a quieter side in the foyer of the Social House where we are meeting.
He wipes his mouth with a napkin, grabs a bottle of whiskey and beckons me to join him. He dons a black branded Grants Whisky hoodie, spots a gangly beard and has a piercing gaze.
His words come quaint and easy and with just slight a twinge of a Scottish accent.
Danny Dyer was a regular bartender in Scotland when one of his friends notified him of an ongoing competition for a Scottish whisky brand that needed a global brand ambassador. He applied amongst 5,000 other people from all over the world.
He went through all the stages of the competition culminating in a 10- day travel through Taiwan, Russia, Estonia and eventually back to Scotland with a suitcase full of whisky.
During this time, he was meeting and talking to bartenders in these countries, fixing drinks for punters and sometimes even citing Scottish poems for bar audiences.
He won the competition and was confirmed as the Global Brand Ambassador of Grants Whisky, a position he has held for the last five years.
Danny speaks to the BD Life on the most ephemeral aspects of his job, which entails whisky, bars and travel.
Danny didn’t always love whiskey. “I hated it”, he admits, “I wanted money and when I went for a job I had applied for at a distillery, I told my prospective employer that I only wanted the job because of the money and not because I liked whisky.”
“He gave me the job because of my honesty and told me these words that have always stuck with me. “Everyone loves whisky. The problem is usually that most haven’t found the right one for them.”
“The man was called Dennis, and he gave me time and respect. He saw a young, stupid boy, but he also saw potential, which he nurtured.”
“A month later, after giving me the job, Dennis sat me down and took me through a whisky-tasting session from which my interest was sparked that has fueled me to date. He made me understand that everyone has a different palate for a whisky, and that was crucial knowledge.”
Whisky and conversations
On why beers and wines take conversations over whisky. Danny suggests that wines and beers are easy to talk about which happens to scare some people off from whisky itself. This fear he says is usually driven by a lack of knowledge of whisky.
“When I am talking about whisky, I don’t talk just about production,” he explains. “I talk about flavours because everyone has a palate and always finds it easier to talk about what they like as opposed to the technicalities of the distillation process.”
His job entails a lot of travel and talking to bartenders. “This is because the trends in the alcohol industry are usually set by bar tenders. I do a lot of bartender training which adds to their knowledge and is also key to having them influence your brand.”
He notes that ageing enables a whisky’s taste to grow. “The more mature a drink is, the more mellow and richer its flavours become. A younger whisky is fierier, crispier and packs a sudden power to it.”
When talking about the importance of wood in whisky conversations, Danny reminds us that wood is key to the name and the taste of a whisky.
“A triple wood whisky signifies that 3 different woods or barrels were used to mature that whisky and vice versa. The importance of wood to whisky is that whiskey gets 70 percent of its flavour from the wood in which it was matured in and so when 2/3 of the flavour of a whiskey comes from wood, it is only fair for us to talk about wood when we are talking about whisky.”
“This whisky,” he says, gesturing the bottle on the table, “was matured with the American Oak, Bourbon Refill woods, and finished off with a Sherry Cask wood which is more expensive compared to the other two but the end result is a rich and spicy flavour which forms a lacquer for this specific drink.”
Taking whisky the right way
On how one should take their whisky, he has no specific answer.
“Well, it is different with everyone,” he notes. “There is no proper way for one to take a whisky. The right way is different for everyone because our palates and the tastes that we are drawn to vary from person to person. Some will mix it with a bit of sugar and bitters and add an orange peel. Others prefer it neat, whereas others will throw in some ice cubes and still enjoy it. It all differs according to mood and preference. At the end of the day, the right or wrong way to enjoy a whisky will all boil down to personal choice.”
On pairings, he says there is no particular standard way of pairing a whisky as it is an industry which evolves every day with the tastes and trends of the market. “There are no strict rules with whisky, and as long as it is in a bottle, you can do whatever you want with it because it goes well with nearly everything; greasy oily meats, deserts, or even nyama choma.”
How does he like his whisky?
“When I am taking it for the first time, I want to enjoy its spice and vanilla flavours, I will take it neat. My next drink will be slowed down, most likely by a couple of ice cubes, and if I need a third, I will take a Sangrini or an Old Fashioned. It is all experimental.”
He talks about what makes a good bartender, having spent more than a decade working in bars and with bartenders.
“Service is everything. What I mean is that soon as someone walks into your bar, one should be aware of and acknowledge the customer. The second thing is that one should be fully aware of their own bar and their tools. This includes practical knowledge of most of the spirits behind your bar. A good bartender should have a story for each of the drinks in their possession and an endless thirst for knowledge. The third is pretty simple, a good bartender will always be working with a team and hence should be a good team player.”
For bars, a good bar is gauged on how it makes its customers feel. Danny denotes that the best bars are those that make you feel welcome and allow you to make new friends, all while creating a happy environment.
And on the most fundamental aspect of his job which is travelling, he finishes the conversation by saying that he enjoys travel because of the people he meets.
“People make a place, be they bartenders or revellers, the people you meet on the other side are usually the most interesting part about travelling.”