As far as career choices go, one that is interwoven with passion is ideal, and Ervin Trykowski may have just found such an option. While he had assumed the role of first global Scotch whisky ambassador for The Singleton only a few months ago at the time of our meeting, the Scot’s relationship with the spirit had begun well before that.
“My grandad was a huge fan of smoky whiskies and I will always remember the smell of rolling tobacco coupled with peated whisky ... We are quite lucky as Scotlanders; whisky is all around us all the time and it is quite ingrained in our society,” says Trykowski.
Travelling, he adds, made him realise the wide reach of whisky. “Once, I saw two bottles of Scotch in a bar in Taiwan. [I thought to myself] Scotland is a tiny country with 5.5 million people. And to produce that level of whisky which would later travel around the world to 151 countries, that’s really something! There is something pretty special about being reminded of home when you put your nose to the glass,” he smiles.
Prior to this role, Trykowski, as the operations manager for Kained Holdings — one of Scotland’s most successful and cutting-edge bar groups that owns The Finnieston, the Scottish Cocktail Bar of the Year, among others — set up and ran multiple bars.
Today, he travels the world to introduce The Singleton family to both whisky aficionados and aficionados-to-be. “Essentially, my job is to engage with consumers, bartenders and journalists to get the word out about The Singleton. It is a massive focus for Diageo as it is its best-selling single malt whisky and they felt it needed the attention of a dedicated ambassador.”
I meet Trykowski when he is in Kuala Lumpur on one such assignment — the annual launch of The Singleton of Glen Ord’s Forgotten Drop series. The collection features whiskies that have been rediscovered from a few extremely rare casks, promising the signature rich and balanced distillery character but with a unique twist. Limited to 24 bottles in Malaysia (retailing at RM15,193 each), the coveted 41 Year Old is highly exclusive.
There has been a boom in the demand for single malt whiskies in Malaysia in the past 10 years and Trykowski is decidedly positive about it. “Scotch whisky is here to stay. It is the biggest whisky in the world and it is not going anywhere,” he says, referring to the popularity of the drink. “Usually, the brands that enter the market first tend to be the most successful but there are exceptions. For a whisky to break through and be successful, the way The Singleton has in Asia, is not something you see every day,” he explains.
As one whisky lover’s preference may vary from another’s, evolving drinking trends are also worthy of note. Over the years, people seem to have become less concerned about sticking to a specific way of enjoying a dram, taking a more relaxed approach to whisky drinking. Trykowski agrees that this change has possibly worked in favour of increasing its appeal. “I think part of the growth will go beyond just drinking whisky neat and exploring a whole manner of different ways. [For instance, people in the] Caribbean may opt to drinkt it with coconut water whereas in Asia, it could be green tea.”
In fact, he tells us that a significant part of his role entails tapping new markets by focusing on this extremely adaptable characteristic of the spirit. “I recruit a new generation of whisky drinkers and encourage them to drink it however they deem fit instead of dictating how they should do so. You find the whisky that you like to drink and you drink it whichever way you like,” he smiles.
While cautious about picking favourites, he goes on to describe the joy of drinking whisky as “a shared experience” and tells me that his choice of drink is usually dictated by the company he keeps.
There is no denying that his previous experience has given him knowledge of the subject matter as well as invaluable insight into the industry. In addition, the experience allows him to speak with bartenders and managers in their own language — an advantage that an ambassador can certainly benefit from. But as he has done a number of guest shifts in some of the world’s top 50 bars, including the 69 Colebrook Row & Door 74, I am curious as to whether he misses all the action that takes place behind the bar.
“Do I miss it? Yes. Would I do it again? Probably not without a lot of practice,” he laughs. After all, he still gets his dose of mixology through occasional pop-up bars and bar takeovers. A recent pop-up organised in partnership with Diageo and Kained Holdings was a creative showcase of colour-themed cocktails to illustrate how we perceive flavour through hues. Moving away from the traditional notions of a whisky bar, Trykowski brainstorms ideas that are as imaginative as they are commercially successful.
We end the interview with a sampling of the exquisite The Singleton of Glen Ord 41 Year Old, and Trykowski lets me savour the elixir before he begins to tell me all about it with the enthusiasm of someone who, beyond his role of a whisky ambassador, is a true whisky lover at heart.