Interview with Josh Gelfand, Pernod Ricard’s Master of Scotch
This is the second part of my interview with Josh Gelfand, Pernod Ricard’s Master of Scotch. Josh educates consumers on The Glenlivet portfolio of Pernod Ricard. If you missed the first part, you can read it here. This time we dive into some of the other drinks that Mr. Gelfand likes. We also talk about how some writers hype up certain whiskies and we discussed whiskies with no age statements. We also dip into mescals- something I hope to share a dram or two with you in the future. Until then, let’s chat with Josh…
So, what spirits outside of scotch do you enjoy?
I love bourbons, but I lean towards rye over bourbon. I kind of like the spice over the sweetness. That’s just where my palate goes. I prefer the depth of spice that a lot of ryes have to offer. But there are also some phenomenal bourbons out there. Like I said it’s hard to pin down a good whisky wherever it is on the board. I think there are some wonderful small craft distilleries that are popping around the US that are offering some really interesting things. What I love about the craft distillery movement is the experimentation. I wouldn’t call myself a traditionalist. I don’t feel like they have to stick to one formula. I love that there is a lot of experimentation. Some of it works. Some of it doesn’t. But that’s fine. Throw a lot of things at the wall and see what sticks. I’m all for that.
I’m a big fan of scotch cocktails. I’ve been getting more and more into gin recently. Even before that, probably my number two category behind whisky would have to be agave. I love tequilas and mezcals… Mexican whisky as I call it! The way it’s made, it’s a wonderful spirit that doesn’t come from a spirit, it comes from a plant, but the difference between tequilas and Mezcals and the difference in mainland and highland scotch, the smokieness, there are a lot of wonderful parallels there. I think a really good sipping Mezcal is a wonderful thing to enjoy.
What are your thoughts about writers and raters driving the demand of certain whiskies?
You know, I think overall, while demand can be driven artificially, I think it all ends up balancing itself out in the long run. If it is going to drive attention to the industry, I think overall it’s doing a good thing. Sure, certain brands might have over demand or might be over hyped, but that also leaves on the other side a lot of other products that are under hyped and underappreciated. But if you’re only going to get your information from writers, I think you are closing yourself off to the experiences out there. The best thing as a drinker, an interested drinker, can do is go to a bar, sit down, and ask your bartender. And you’re going to learn so much more there than you will learn in any blog or article… What the writers do is they get people interested, they get people out to the bars trying new things. And you’re going to learn the most when you find a knowledgeable bartender and say, ‘Hey, I heard this is good what do you think? Or what else is there?’ and the bartender is going to find you that whisky that is half the price of the hyped one that might blow your mind!
So… the question that everyone wants to know… how does one get a job like yours?
Well, the God- honest truth is that I was in the right place at the right time. I frankly did not even know this existed until it found me. So I am one of the lucky ones. Ultimately, stay around the industry, be active, show your knowledge. There are lots of job posts and more and more brand ambassadorship roles that become available. Make yourself available. Keep yourself educated. Just be open to when the winds blow you in the right direction. For me… I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. So any advice I can give you is be in the right place at the right time!
Anything else that I haven’t asked that you want to add?
One of the best things that is happening in the industry, one of the things that we really need to educate people more than ever, is the fact that non-age statement whiskies is just as good, if not better, than the ones with a number on the bottle. That’s obviously the biggest change and shift that’s happening in the world of scotch right now Is the movement towards non age statement. And it’s dones so because demad has gone up so much over the last few years that it was kind of difficult 15 years ago to predict what was going to happen in the world. But it also is one of the most liberating things for a whisky producer to not to have to be bound by that number. Because, like it’s said, age does not equal maturity- that’s both with whisky and with people. Just because a barrel is old doesn’t mean its good. It’s all about the quality of the cask. We’ve gotten so hung up on that number on a bottle to tell us everything we need to know aobut the whiky, that we’ve gotten away from what truly makes a good whisky and that’s flavor. It’s the quality of the cask- it’s the most important thing. And nowadays, you’ve got to make sure your readers and drinkers give credence to these non-age statement whiskies to see they are just as good if not more interesting, rather than being bound by having the youngest drop to be a certain age. That’s something I want to make sure that people know is that don’t be afraid of a bottle that doesn’t have a number on it.
People ask me about the Founder’s, ‘Is that the new unaged one?’ I say, ‘No! It’s very well aged! Don’t worry about how old the youngest drop is!’ The way I explain it is if I am a distiller, or if I’m a master blender, and I have this amazing 9 year old barrel, and this other 25 year old barrel that I want to combine to make the greatest scotch you ever had, I would have to call it a 9. So then why would you go spend $150 on this 9 year old when it’s $40 for the 12? So I say, ‘No! It’s not a 9 year old, it’s this incredible new expression of these beautiful barrels that create these unique flavors!’
… Another thing.. The blends… as more and more people become whisky connoisseurs, and learn more and more about this… I do firmly believe that single malts are the king of whiskies, but that doesn’t mean that the blends out there aren’t absolutely phenomenal. I think people are starting to come back to blends right now and realize the orchestra of flavors that a blend can offer. And it’s being more and more recognized. In the last issue of Whisky Advocate, they put out thier top whisky values. These 90 point + whiskies that are $100 and one of ours, the Chivas 18 which I think is an absolutely glorious blended scotch! People need to realize that it is just as good as so many of the single malts, but just unique. It’s a different style of whisky as a blend. They have a lot to offer.
Bourbon, rye, irish, Canadian, blended scotch, single malt scotch, Japanese, Indian, Tasmanian- I mean whisky is made all over the world and everybody makes it different. Keep exploring- that’s my advice!
It was a pleasure!
dMann’s Note: I would like to thank Josh, all the people at Pernod Ricard, and their publicity teams for making this interview happen. I hope that everyone reading this interview will learn to enjoy a good whisky no matter where it’s from or how long it’s been aged… and as I always say, enjoy it responsibly!