The Gatekeeper

28 April, 2016

Dr Nick Morgan is Diageo’s head of whisky outreach. Who is he and what does that mean? Christian Davis meets the good doctor


VIRTUALLY EVERYONE who writes seriously about scotch whisky will know Dr Nick Morgan. Part of his overarching role as head of whisky outreach for the world’s largest producer of scotch whisky is to keep an eye on all of us. Monitor who is friendly and who might be hostile and, in the unlikely event that one of us should make a mistake, we will get a ‘quiet’  phone call pointing out the error.

In many ways Morgan is the gatekeeper not just for Diageo but also for scotch whisky. Arguably second only to the Scotch Whisky Association itself. He is the scotch whisky equivalent of the Idris Elba played character in the Thor films: Heimdall, the all-seeing, all-hearing sentry of the Bifröst Bridge to the hero’s home, Asgard. Without the fancy costume – toga, helmet, sword and large lever, of course.

One senses he performs similar tasks within the Diageo scotch whisky brand groups, tempering possibly over-enthusiastic, over-ambitious marketing and sales executives who might rashly draw up plans to cut costs by switching scotch production to India.

It is a job for which you could easily be feared and hated. But the quietly spoken Morgan commands respect. Being the son of a police officer and an intellectual, Morgan has the authority to challenge anyone within his orbit. On top of that, he is widely liked. In a nutshell, he is a historian/archivist turned global marketer. You could say he is a historian who has made history, in terms of within the company that is now Diageo and scotch whisky.

He studied medieval history at university and went on to gain a PhD, hence the ‘doctor’, with a thesis on Lancashire Quakers and the Establishment, 1660-1730. Studying never-looked-at-before archives in a Quaker meeting house near Lancaster railway station, he perceived a tension between Quakers in their north west homeland and Quakers in London. Morgan sees an analogy between the National Union of Miners’ battle with the Thatcher government in the 1970s – a movement that set out to be and do one thing that ended up doing and being something else.

His thesis was published and he’s “chuffed to bits” that in a review it was described as “pathbreaking”. Sadly it wasn’t a best seller and royalties were such that they didn’t cover the cost of writing and posting a cheque.

He landed a research job with the Economic Social Research Council then got a job at Glasgow university teaching Scottish history along with “the application of computers in teaching and research”. These were early days in IT.


Morgan then got a letter from United Distillers, the forerunner to Diageo, asking whether he would be interested in setting up an archive for the company’s history, going back to the Distillers Company (DCL), Johnnie Walker, Haig, Black & White, White Horse, Bell’s, Vat 69, Buchanan’s, Old Parr, Dewars, et al.

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