South African Keepers of the Quaich series
Introducing Rynard van der Westhuizen | Master of the Quaich
In our series of conversations with our Keepers of the Quaich, we today have the privilege of chatting to Rynard, he became a Keeper of the Quaich in 2001 Pronounced (K-way -g), an exclusive and international society that recognises those that have shown outstanding commitment to the Scotch whisky industry both National and International. In 2011 he was given the honour of becoming only the second Master of the Quaich in South Africa and then the 147th Master in the world.
Rynard has been in the corporate world for just short of 30 years. Starting his career in London, England, at Courage Breweries. Back in South Africa he worked for companies such as Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, Gilbeys, Guinness, UDV and Brandhouse who is now known as Diageo where he was the Brown spirits portfolio manager working on well-known brands like: Johnnie Walker, Bells, J&B and The Classic Malt range. He then changed industries and became Marketing Director at Cipla pharmaceuticals. Rynard, also worked as an executive management consultant at the Marathon Group and owner of Farmdoor, a D2C business developed for the Wine and agricultural industry. Currently Rynard is Group Head of Marketing and Sales at the Christopher group (Innovative Legal Financial Solutions).
He is passionate about whisky and loves to share his knowledge with people who are interested in learning more about the whisky they drink. When asked how this journey began, he explains; “My dad, asked me when I was a teenager to pour a whisky (Bells) for him and my uncle (his brother) while on a holiday at their home in Kwa Zulu Natal. I did not know how to. How much do I pour, do you mix it, do you add water or soda? Ice or not? I recall being very embarrassed as you do in those teenage years. I then made a promise to myself, I would learn how to pour the perfect dram.”
His journey with Scotch whisky started with Bells Extra Special old scotch whisky. He was the then Marketing Manager on the brand at a company called SFW, now know as Distell. He soon realised that his goal was to build it into the number one selling brand in the country. They had some really good Marketing Managers on brands like Rory Mc Gee before him and a great sales force who were very passionate about the brand. He listened to cassette tapes on How Scotch whisky was made? How to nose? How to taste etc. Rynard, explains that “I would listen to the tapes whilst driving on holiday in my car with my wife Mercia. I then decided to travel to Scotland and see for myself.” He visited the Blair Atholl distillery, the lead whisky in Bells and the spiritual home of the brand, and as they say in the classics……..”the rest is History.” As soon as he saw, touched, nosed and tasted the malts, and felt the energy of the place, his passion for Scotch whisky was born. To this day, Rynard is still ardently involved in Whisky and continues to share his knowledge with clients throughout the country.
We asked him, what’s your most awesome story about a whisky experience and or tasting? Rynard tells us; “I think what I am most proud of was the whisky education programmes I conceptualised and developed with people like the late Don Paul, Mandy Henry to name a few.” They developed a tasting programme titled, Best of Scotland and later Let’s talk whisky. Both these initiatives where very innovative back then and was one of their strategic imperatives in growing their brands.
The launch of Whisky Live with Karen and Sian was a game changer in the industry. Experiential marketing at its best played a huge role in dethroning the Brandy category in the South African market. For Rynard, it was always about the appreciation of the spirit not the effect. He is clear that, it was always about the flavor, the history and provenance. He loves that.
In terms of experiences, he tells us that taking the Bells brand ambassador team, 10 of them, on a trip through Scotland, Blair Atholl and Drummuir Castle has to be one of his Top experiences. While on this trip they lived and experienced the brand, sharing many very funny stories and making great memories. We left a Springbuck head at the distillery and at Drummuir Castle as gifts from the Bell’s team. This apparently was a common gesture, several years back, which was done by the Springbok rugby touring sides while touring overseas. They would give a Springbuck head to the first club side they lost to. The “Bells Team” Springbuck heads are still mounted on the walls of the distillery and in the snooker room of the castle .
We also asked Rynard to share with us, who is the most famous person he has had a whisky with?
“President FW de Klerk, after a round of golf with just the two of us and his security detail of two, at Paarl Golf club. Had a few Johnnie Walker Blacks with him.”
Rynard tells us that the most exclusive whisky he had the privilege of tasting was The Diamond Jubilee bottled 6th February 2012. This bottle was produced to celebrate the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth II, on the throne. The distillery only sold 60 bottles Worldwide, Priced at $ 200 000. Yes, you have read that correctly – not a typo – to our knowledge this is the most expensive bottle of whisky to date.
Over the years, Rynard has also shared a dram with some whisky legends, namely; Charles McClain, Dr Nic Morgan, Dave Broom, Pierre Meintjes and Richard Patterson.
What an impressive whisky journey, we are so honoured to have had the opportunity to chat to Rynard and hear his remarkable stories and experiences. Here’s to many more…….Slainte