Ewald Stromer is our man in Germany. He also covers Austria and Switzerland. Altogether that means he has 100 million people to cater for, and make the introductions to our spirits, over an area nearly twice the size of the UK. An area 779 times bigger than Islay. He well remembers his first trip to us, back in 2005.
“I had the Sunday evening ferry to Islay. When we were nearly there, I realised that I had no idea where I was actually staying. So I nervously started phoning all the numbers I had, but these were all office numbers and nobody was working on a Sunday night. A farmer overheard me swearing and came up to ask if he may help in any way. I told him my problem and he said “Easy boy, you are staying in the Academy. Just walk in the kitchen there is a sheet on the fridge with the names and the fitting room you’re staying in.” He saw I that I didn’t believe a word he was saying – I was living outside Frankfurt at the time and it seemed insane that a house wouldn’t be locked – so he offered to drive me to Jim McEwan’s house and the master distiller would show me everything, which seemed even more unlikely. But Jim opened the door while packing for his holidays, and showed me my room in the Academy. Everything was as the farmer had told me before; I was completely stunned by this unusual really warm welcome. Jim told me then that some of the academy students and distillery workers were in Port Charlotte in the pub so he even drove me to them and introduced me. This was a start you never forget! The next morning, after the best breakfast ever made by Mary and Margaret, I was welcomed by Duncan McGillivray, with the words, ‘You can learn as much as you want, but most important is, that you enjoy yourself with us.’ I literally fell in love with this place.”
Like many of our people around the world, English is Ewald’s second language. He’s trained himself by reading mostly in English, beginning with the Harry Potter series. Ewald works extremely hard beating the drum for Bruichladdich and the intensively principled way we do things. He spent 150 nights in hotels last year. In recent times, he has been putting his energy into digital tastings and trainings. He has already had Allan Logan, Adam Hannett, James Donaldson forager for the Botanist, Lynne McEwan senior brand manager, Simon Coughlin – founder, and Douglas our CEO join him online in his “share a dram” series. You may have noticed, if you have caught any of them, that he has a customised cask in his front room as his new work station, a 40th birthday present, which he has made into a “little whisky shrine” – a phrase for which there must surely be a mega German word…
“Even though this is an acceptable alternative at the moment,” he says, “ I miss performing my normal job. Being responsible for GSA I am travelling a lot and meet people all the time. Working mainly with retailers and bartenders it is tough to see them struggling so hard right now. Happily, the retailers are about to get back opening their shops here but the bars are still on lockdown. I was a bartender myself for 15 years and I love good bars. I miss soaking in the atmosphere of the bars and passion of the bartenders, even of I’m only sipping an espresso! A bar is something special and I cant wait to travel again meeting all these wonderful passionate and creative people. It’s hard to see great people struggling so badly.
“It is tough to help as I don’t know where to start, but there are initiatives to help like www.supportyourlocalbar.com which I am part of. I am lucky to be able to give them a few miniatures of gin or bottles of whisky to support. And in my hometown Munich I make sure to order with them once in a while, in most cities there are takeaway options popping up. There will be better times again. This front room cask I’m presenting from will gather dust, which is a good sign as it’ll mean I am with these people again.”
Ewald doesn’t have an answer for why German speaking countries love their Scotch so much. Except that its variety is so compelling, and very collectible, and his countrymen love the idea of Scotland and Scottish people. His personal all-time favourite whiskies depend on his mood, circumstances and the season, he says, although, “Classic Laddie and Port Charlotte 10 are two drams I do always enjoy and which don’t make me bored at all.” There have been some formative drinking moments, however. “My very first whisky I ever tried 25 years ago at the age of 17 was a Highland Park 12. This dram started something which would change my life many years later. The Bruichladdich 15 years second edition was another one of these as well as a 15 year old Macallan from Murray McDavid. One that gave me a full blast was also the Bruichladdich 1973. I could go on forever as I’ve just scratched the surface of the non peaty ones and I also love peaty whiskies…”
Well, carry on evangelising Ewald. We salute all our resourceful ambassadors and loyal retailers around the world who are facing down these new challenges. Please keep giving your local stockists your custom however you can. Whisky will continue to be something that can bring us together as a community, wherever we are in the world.