Ken Grier has been working around the clock lately, having just unveiled The Macallan’s Masters of Photography III to a packed crowd at the Island Shangri-La the night before. Now, the Director of Malts at The Edrington Group is enjoying a contemplative moment before our interview, comfortably at home in a dapper suit and largely oblivious to the hustle and bustle around him. The only prop missing from the scene perhaps, is a dram of The Macallan 18 on the rocks, “without question” Grier’s favorite drink of all time.
With MOP IV due for a 2013 release date, we catch up with the charismatic Scot at the sultry Chin Chin Bar in Tsimshatsui, as he talks about the collaboration with Annie Leibovitz, the Asian palate and his definition of luxury.
The Macallan has collaborated with the likes of Ralph Steadman and Peter Blake long before the Masters of Photography was born so what prompted you to choose photography as the focus of this series?
Photography transcends culture; people can enjoy it regardless of what language they speak. Second, the value of photography as collectible art is slowly being recognized. Photography is also becoming culturally very relevant – something we observed during our event last night, when people were clamouring to take a photo with Annie or Kevin (Mckidd) to share on social media platforms. As such, photography is very much a part of the social transactions that people make around the world.
How did the collaboration with Annie and Kevin come about?
With Annie, it was pretty much a mutual encounter. She was great, unsurprisingly down to earth and chatty. After getting the green light from her, we got together everything within a couple of weeks and started shooting last September. With Kevin, we found that his rugged look really brought out the depth of The Macallan; he’s very suave and charming, Annie even described him as a “young Robert Mitchum”!
What do you hope to achieve with the Masters of Photography?
To capture the emotional story of The Macallan as much as possible.
Why was MOP III set in New York instead of the more obvious Speyside?
Simply because Annie knows upper New York very well and we wanted to give her the freedom to shoot in an environment she feels comfortable with. The locations we picked were chockfull of history, in particular Frederic Edwin Church’s house and Rokeby, so it matched Annie’s style of photography, which was based on narratives. The experience was quite refreshing.
Considering their historical value, how did you gain access to the locations?
It was very hard to gain access to Frederic Edwin Church’s house. Seeing as the whole house is an art piece in itself, they had to make sure that the floors and walls were left untouched - we had a museum curator with us the whole time! As I’m sure you know, Annie is a very private person, so she was a bit frustrated to have so many people on set.
As for Rokeby, Annie had a friend who managed to persuade the owner to let us in so that was slightly easier.
Will there be a MOP IV?
Oh yes, since we’ve already finished shooting it! It won’t be out till 2013 though; meanwhile, we’re planning to launch a few other small-scale cultural projects. There’s also the possibility of collaborating with an Asian photographer in the near future.
You mentioned both the emotional and technical side of marketing The Macallan. Which side is harder to appeal to the general public?
The emotional side. Emotions are such a complex thing since different people have vastly different ways of connecting with different things. As Director of Malts at The Macallan, one of my greatest challenges is to find an emotional platform – if you will – that appeal to audiences from around the world.
Do different nationalities appreciate The Macallan differently?
We’ve observed subtle differences in the way that people consume The Macallan. For example, while Northern Europeans prefer to drink their whisky straight, Southern Europeans tend to drink on the rocks or with water. In this case, the difference in paletes is influenced by the difference in latitudes.
How would you define the Asian palate?
Very sophisticated and demanding. At the same time, I’d say Asians are more open to trying out new things.
What is luxury?
Luxury is about the things that make life special, be it spending time with family or hanging out with friends at a local bar, with The Macallan 15 in hand. At The Macallan, luxury is ultimately about authenticity, heritage, and the balance between skills and innovation.