Scotch whisky is the most versatile spirit in the entire world, says Singleton’s global brand ambassador Ervin Trykowski, but the drinking ritual it’s long been associated with sipped neat, with a drop or two of water at best is a barrier for newcomers. It’s high time we stripped away the pompous rules, clichés and tired tropes that keep the category trapped in ‘tradition’ and let the liquid speak for itself…

Dufftown, Glendullan, and Glen Ord: The trio of distilleries you’ll find branded across the various bottles of The Singleton. Look through the history books and you’ll find each has produced single malt for more than 100 years, but rather than dwell on heritage, the folks behind The Singleton are unconventional in their focus on the here and now. 

‘We are proud of our roots,’ they write, ‘but we’re not bound by them. If you take The Singleton with a side of ice cream, then great. Or straight with a bacon brioche, then that’s your call my friend. Do, drink, and eat what you love. The Singleton is simply a whisky to be Unapologetically Enjoyed.’

It’s a refreshing approach to what can be, at times, a remarkably conservative industry. Here, the man at the helm – Ervin Trykowski, The Singleton’s global brand ambassador – urges whisky purists to throw out the rulebook…

the singleton ervin

Introducing The Singleton’s Ervin Trykowski

Master of Malt: Let’s get to grips with the liquid first. What is it about The Singleton that makes it Diageo’s best-selling single malt?

Ervin Trykowski: Primarily the style. The Singleton is a family of three different distilleries and all of them are known for producing an incredibly approachable and easy to enjoy single malt. The distillate at all three very much fits a profile, with green, cut-grass notes, and it matures into this delicious, sweet, fruity, vibrant whisky. In a word, it’s approachability: it’s a super accessible style of spirit that seems to resonate around the world.

MoM: Your marketing is a refreshing departure from the stuffiness of Scotch. What’s the industry’s biggest hurdle with regards to recruiting new whisky fans? 

ET: The clichéd old rules attached to Scotch. It’s always very closed language: You shouldn’t add ice, don’t add water, don’t put it in a cocktail. It’s all ‘don’t, don’t, don’t’. Our biggest hurdle as an industry is that four to 20 years previously we spent a lot of time talking about that classic Scotch ritual, and if you’re new to Scotch whisky, it’s daunting. Walk in a whisky bar anywhere in the world and the first thing they tell you is how many they’ve got – ‘we’ve got 500 whiskies’ – and straight away you’re like, ‘how on earth am I supposed to navigate this category?’. And then the person over the other side of the bar tells you what not to do. It’s not very helpful. Other spirits have been talking about mixing first, getting people on board before maybe explaining the nuances between different gins, for example, but in Scotch whisky we go: ‘go on, drink that’ at 43%. Scotch whisky is the most versatile spirit in the world and we pigeonhole it as one moment, when in reality we should be making it apply to more occasions. Nobody wants to drink a cask strength Scotch on their summer holidays in Marbella at 11 o’ clock in the morning. You want a highball or a cocktail, but in the industry, it’s done as an afterthought. They take you through the vertical tastings – usually the non age statement all the way up to the 18 or 25 year old – and then they say, ‘oh, by the way, this also makes a really good Old Fashioned’. We flip it on its head and start the journey with that, and then introduce them to [the whisky] on the rocks or neat once they understand the flavour in a more approachable way. 

MoM: A cocktail-first approach makes way more sense. Tell us a bit about you, then – what’s your background in booze?

ET: I’m one of the new style of Scotch whisky ambassadors that has come from the on-trade. I started working for Diageo five years ago as a Scotch whisky ambassador in Scotland and for the last three years, I’ve been travelling the world as global Scotch whisky ambassador – working across the portfolio, with my primary focus being The Singleton. I come at Scotch from a very different angle: getting it in front of people who aren’t necessarily traditional Scotch whisky drinkers. With a brand like Singleton, that’s our raison d’etre; that’s what we’re here to do. Plus, getting to travel the world and talk about your national spirit is a bit of a treat for anyone from Scotland. 

MoM: Could you share some of the interesting ways you’ve seen people enjoying Scotch whisky on your travels?

ET: My first trip as a global Scotch whisky ambassador was to Mexico for [annual Diageo cocktail competition] World Class. As part of my role I look after the Scotch whisky for the programme and engaging with the world’s best bartenders is an incredible way to see how different cultures engage with Scotch. On the plane I was looking through the menu and the guy who was serving me recommended Johnnie Walker Black Label and coconut water. It’s not just what you’re drinking with it, though, it’s how you’re drinking it and the occasion you’re drinking it in. A lot of cultures don’t take the mixing thing half as seriously as we do. In Malaysia I led a masterclass in a karaoke restaurant – which was really good fun but also shows that Scotch whisky really fits in different circumstances the world over; it doesn’t just have to be in front of the fire clad in tweed. It’s interesting doing a whisky masterclass in between people murdering Madonna. 

The Singleton Ervin

Trykowski defying tradition and pouring something delicious

MoM: Being free to ‘unapologetically enjoy’ whisky is at the heart of The Singleton’s ethos. Do you think the industry has an attitude problem? And if so, how can it shake it off?

ET: I don’t think there’s an attitude problem, it’s a problem with education and we need to change it as ambassadors. For me, coming from a bar background, it’s really important to engage with the on-trade and educate them on how they are recommending Scotch whisky. A massive amount of people who are starting to get into single malt will try it in a bar, people are eating and drinking out more than ever before, so it’s important to educate bartenders because that’s the first barrier, if you like. People panic, maybe they don’t know about every single malt on their back bar, so all of a sudden they’re regurgitating the same thing they’ve heard from a family member, rather than understanding that people need to be encouraged to try things in new ways. Often the oldest Scotch whisky markets are the worst for it. I go to Manila in the Philippines quite often, and out there the attitude towards single malt is incredible because they started with a blank canvas – they’re very open to it in cocktails and highballs and there’s no preciousness or preconceptions about what they should or shouldn’t do.

MoM: Ditch the rulebook. Got it. With that in mind, what’s an easy-to-make Singleton cocktail serve?

ET: I’ve got just the thing: You get a highball glass, fill it with ice right up to the top and add around 40ml of Singleton. Get yourself a good artisanal, free-range, bespoke, sparkling apple juice – I’d recommend Appletiser – and add about 100ml of that followed by around 50ml of soda water. It’s absolutely dynamite. It’s not big, it’s not clever, and it’s definitely not rocket science, but it plays on the flavours that you’ll already find in The Singleton, those classic Speyside apples and pears.

MoM: Tell us where and when you enjoyed your most memorable dram…

ET: There’s something magical about drinking a whisky at the distillery. One of my favourite places in the world to drink whisky is the Port Ellen lighthouse on Islay, it’s well worth experiencing and made even better if the weather’s crap. When it’s really windy and the waves come crashing over the top it’s amazing. I was lucky enough to be out there with Colin Dunn, one of our whisky ambassadors, who’s a legend – if you could print that it would be great – drinking Port Ellen on the lighthouse looking over the old distillery. That’s pretty magic. Yesterday I was up at Dufftown Distillery and if you walk around the back there’s a wonderful little hill that leads up to some warehousing. It looks over both Dufftown and Mortlach so I had a wee dram with some guests up there yesterday. The short answer is: a Scottish distillery.