The Phoenicia Malta caught up with the charming and debonair flying Swede Mikael Lundén, Diageo’s Senior Brand Ambassador for the Nordics, to talk about his favourite subject at The Malta Whisky Fair sponsored by The Phoenicia.
Mikael Lundén is an enigmatic whisky personality who got Sweden tasting and understanding whisky and inspiring others to explore the mysteries of the dram. Mikael does not take himself too seriously and cracks jokes along the way, although undoubtedly he has made a deep impression on Sweden’s whisky culture, and nowadays as a Brand Ambassador for Diageo, the world’s biggest whisky producer, Mikael can take his expertise and share it with a wider world as he travels the world for his company.
Mikael works with the 800-pound gorilla in the whisky industry that Mikael says with pride has 12 prestigious malt distilleries open to the public at Blair Athol, Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie, Royal Lochnagar, Cragganmore, Cardhu, Glen Ord, Clynelish, Talisker, Oban, Caol Ila and Lagavulin. Other distilleries not open to the public include names that roll off the tongue and slide down the throat such as Linkwood, Knockando, Auchroisk, Benrinnes, Cameron Bridge, Dailuaine, Dufftown, Cascade Hollow, Glen Elgin, Strathmill, Teaninich, Mannochmore, Mortlach and Glenlossie.
Diageo also has a very large distillery at Roseisle in Speyside. To some, anything originating from Speyside represents the jewel in whisky’s crown. Mikael explains in his smooth and jocular manner with just a little sparkle in his eye that over 50 distilleries call Speyside their home, the greatest concentration of malt whisky producers in Scotland and the natural cradle for some best selling and revered brands in the world.
Mikael highlights that Diageo have curated a Brand Portfolio that covers some ground and includes some of the biggest brands in the world: Johnnie Walker, Buchanan’s, Cardhu, Justerini & Brooks (J&B), Bell’s, Black & White, White Horse, Logan, Caol Ila, Vat 69, Oban, Talisker, Lagavulin, Black Dog, Glen Ord, Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore, Clynelish, Singleton, Haig, Royal Lochnagar, Glen Elgin, Knockando, The Dimple Pinch, King George IV, Dailuaine.
He says that Lagavulin from the Southern end of the tiny island of Islay on the water’s edge at Lagavulin Bay is produced in unusual pear shaped stills, creating a peated malt with a complex, rich, peaty character. Lagavulin is “a connossieur’s choice”. Islay, known as the Queen of the Hebrides, is probably best known for its peaty, smokey whiskies and has 8 distilleries packed onto a sponge of peat floating in the Atlantic. Some experts and commentators say they are the world’s best. Mikael considers them to have a special place in his portfolio.
Mikael says he spent a week in Scotland in the 1980’s after a long period working in the catering industry and felt a special connection to the people and their fascinating whisky culture. Mikael was working for Highland Distillers in Sweden and started training restaurant staff about whisky, the link between education and brand share becoming apparent as Famous Grouse emerged as the top selling whisky in Sweden at the time.
Having then worked with Beam Brands, followed by Whyte & Mackay, he joined Diageo as he joined Diageo as Senior Brand Ambassador for the Nordics with 29 Scottish distilleries to represent, a task that he embraces. We taste a Talisker Storm together and he tells me that Swede’s are a very discerning and knowledgeable whisky nation, putting quality way above quantity, appreciating and relishing their whiskies. As we hold out Talisker Storm, Mikael reminisces about his visits to Skye where he has been captivated by its rugged natural beauty, sublime, rugged, lush, green and stormy. Our dark Storm whirls in the glass, a premium product of this iconic Scottish island, oily, spicy, smokey and gently warming. It’s the perfect note on which to end our conversation, a note like Mendelssohn’s ‘Fingals Cave’, music in our mouths.
To find out more about Diageo’s finer whiskies such as Lagavulin, try them with Pierre Walton, the Chief Barman at The Phoenicia.