Story #6: From Manchester to Malibu, rugby to whisky…Q&A with Chris Cusiter ahead of the Autumn Tests
Q: You retired from rugby in 2016, where has the road taken you since?
The road has taken us to Los Angeles to embark on a new adventure we had been planning for a couple of years. We purchased a whisky shop out here, jumped through some hoops for some visas and then jumped right in at the deep end of the ‘real world’ and set about trying to make a life out here. Our life has been flipped upside down and inside out. I went from being a full time professional rugby player living in the UK to working in the whisky business on the other side of the world. The adventure has been a rollercoaster so far and we’re excited to see what the next few years bring.
Q: Why Los Angeles?
We always enjoyed LA on holiday. It is in equal parts exciting, incredible, beautiful to frustrating and gritty. LA itself has an economy the same size as Saudi Arabia and California is the 5th biggest economy in the world. The scale of everything is huge and that presents business opportunity but also opportunity to explore.
Q: Picked up any Americanisms?
My wife and I use the word ‘super’ a lot as a replacement for ‘very’. It’s super annoying. We resisted for a while but we’ve started using words like ‘trash’, ‘diaper’, ‘sidewalk’ etc as we got fed up not being understood. It’s embarrassing, I hope we remember to switch back when we next go back home.
Q: What’s keeping you busy 9-5?
I run two whisky-centric retail businesses – Wine and Liquor Depot and e-commerce site Love Scotch. I love Scotch whisky and that’s really why I bought this business. It’s been the steepest of learning curves but my initial impressions of the Scotch industry have rung true. The people who work in the industry are by and large the salt of the earth. They are honest, hard-working and creative. I’m very much involved in the day to day running of the business and all that entails. My team has grown from 3 people to around 12.
Q: What is a typical day?
I get up at 5.15am and go to the gym. I’ll either head straight to work if it’s looking like a busy day or head home and help get my daughters up and dressed and make them breakfast. Once I’m at work I make myself a massive strong coffee and get to work. The first part of the day we are all quite focussed on getting our online orders out of the door. I spend a lot of time looking at pricing and deals that are available on the whisky we want to sell and working on our main partnerships. I try to get home to see the girls before bed time and usually do a bit of work in the evening on the laptop. It’s busy but I love it.
Q: How have you found the switch from rugby to business? Are there similarities?
There are similarities but I think they are more in terms of the qualities you need to succeed in both fields: hard work, resilience and perseverance. The hours are much longer with a small business and there are more days that are not as exciting as you’d hope. However, I like the fact that I’m completely responsible for the success (or failure) of the business and I appreciate the opportunities that present themselves.
Q: Whisky in the U.S vs whisky in Scotland? Is it perceived/enjoyed differently?
Scotch in California is a huge deal – it’s a huge export. I would say that it’s perceived as an older, wealthier gentleman’s drink though. I know the Scotch industry is keen to change that and there are some great initiatives out there which are trying to get a younger, more diverse crowd involved. There’s also a lot of competition with American whiskeys – the bourbon market is on fire right now.
Q: Which whiskies do Americans go crazy for?
In terms of Scotch, the Macallan, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich are still the best known but we recently held a Bruichladdich tasting and the Americans were going crazy for the Octomores – they couldn’t get enough of the peat! In terms of American whisky – Pappy Van Winkle is the most sought after on the market. Supply is tiny and demand is huge which leads to a crazy second hand market in terms of pricing.
Q: What is your greatest American discovery that we need to import/bring over here?
Some of the tequilas available in California are out of this world. I was ignorant to this incredible spirit for so long – like most people I’d had bad experiences with cheap tequila ‘slammers’ and associated tequila with a bad hangover. Some of the aged tequilas are akin to a great Scotch – something to sip and savour. I know tequila exists back home but there are some absolute gems here which would do well for sure. Aerate Gran Clase Extra Anejo is a favourite at the minute.
Q: The Autumn Tests are coming up, where do you place Scotland?
I think Scotland will win 3 out of 4. Fiji and Argentina I think will be victories and we’ll win 1 out of Wales or South Africa. If you’d asked me 6 months ago I would have said South Africa will be a victory for us for sure but they’ve made big improvements recently and are looking back to their best.
Thanks Chris, best of luck with @wldla and come on Scotland!!
Mac & Wild x