Dan Rutstein is the Regional Director of Department for International Trade for West and Central USA and a passionate advocate for #whiskydiplomacy.
“Never underestimate the power of whisky.”
“When you are a student, you do plenty of things you regret.
Even for my student generation – for which, fortunately, camera phones and social media networks didn’t exist – future endeavours could still be put at risk by the follies of youth. Little did I realise that a big night on cheap, blended whisky could so nearly have cost me success in my chosen career.
Not through damaging bad behavior but through almost turning me off a British export that now forms an integral part of my work. It really was a big night and it really was cheap whisky, so it was ten years before I could go near a whisky again without feeling unwell – just the smell was enough to cause flashbacks to that fateful morning after.
So when I was posted to Germany, to serve as the British Government’s Deputy Consul General in Düsseldorf, I knew I had a problem – I was serving under a Consul General who hailed from Scotland itself. I knew whisky would have to be part of my life. A friend of my wife’s – a whisky connoisseur from Bermuda – helpfully offered me a training regime, taking me through some lighter, diluted starter whiskys and getting me back on track. And it worked. I lost my fear and gained an appreciation. Well, Mr. Brown, not only do I owe you a debt, the British Government does.
Through eight years of overseas service –first Germany, now Los Angeles – I have hosted more than 50 whisky tastings and perfected the art of what we call whisky diplomacy – or more precisely, because digital diplomacy is now a thing, #whiskydiplomacy.
Never underestimate the power of whisky. I’m privileged to be in a job where ‘helping others drink our whisky’ is actually part of my role. Working for The Department for International Trade, the commercial side of the British Government, promoting exports is a key part of the job – and the US is the largest overseas market for Scotch. Every 28 seconds some of this precious liquid is bottled in Scotland for sale here in the US, and, so much is drunk, that if you took the annual American consumption of Scotch and laid the bottles out head to toe, they’d reach from Edinburgh to New York.
“…a billion of the 1.6bn gin & tonics drunk around the world each year are made using British Gin.”
So whisky diplomacy works in two ways:
Part of our role is showcasing the exports of whisky itself – tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland are dependent on the consumption of their wares abroad. We host tastings – and I’ve done them on warships in Hamburg, on hotel terraces in Los Angeles and in private clubs in Utah (yes, Utah) – helping to bring whisky to the masses. We’ve showcased Balvenie 30 and 40 to a high-end, intimate gathering; Cardhu and Talisker Storm at guided tastings; and poured Ardbeg, Jura and Highland Park at receptions and dinners. We’re not going to take all the credit, but exports are up and Americans can’t get enough of it: whether to drink at home, out in bars, or even to collect. And the same goes for our gins too. I’ve been known to do some #gindiplomacy on the side – a billion of the 1.6bn gin & tonics drunk around the world each year are made using British Gin.
But #whiskydiplomacy isn’t just about selling whisky, it’s about creating conversations, reminding people of Britain’s values and traditions and taking time out of today’s busy world to enjoy something simple and pure.
Interesting and successful individuals, who we want to engage with as a nation and who won’t come to our normal receptions – even our luxury car launches – will suddenly appear on guest lists for whisky tastings.
CEOs of multinational companies will sit down and talk to us over a dram in a way that I hadn’t expected.
I’ve made friends both professionally and personally through the power of whisky – my (expensive) habit of taking whisky rather than wine to dinner parties has proven an absolute winner. (Fortunately for my bank balance, I don’t get invited to that many people’s houses).
Whisky has been an important part of my work as a diplomat – plus I’m not averse to enjoying a dram when off duty, of course – and it has helped me serve Britain well.
And to think I risked it all as a student…”
Five Quick Questions:
What is your go-to dram?
What is the best dram you’ve ever tasted?
“Balvenie 50, I’ve had the pleasure only three times but each was unforgettable.”
What is your dream dram?
“I’d like the Balvenie 50 again but with David Stewart, the master distiller, and in the distillery itself.”
Where’s the best place you’ve sipped a dram?
“At the Magic Castle, a private member’s magic club in Los Angeles. With its paneled walls, and nooks and crannies, it’s an entirely appropriate and special venue for a glass of Scotch.”
What’s the best occasion you’ve been a part of which involved Scotch?
“I hosted a tasting on HMS Sutherland while it was in Hamburg, only ship in the Royal Navy christened with a bottle of whisky rather than champagne. Captain was in his kilt, very special evening.”
How to find Dan: