For sportspeople, it's the age-old dilemma: with retirement age coming in your mid-thirties, what comes next?

Not that Jenson Button has been twiddling his thumbs: following the winding down of his Formula 1 career behind the wheel, he's since become a fixture of the sport's coverage as an interviewer and co-commentator, living with his wife and children in Los Angeles and spending much of the season following the thousands of crew and entourage from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi, Mexico to Azerbaijan, and plenty more besides.

But in what downtime has remained around the sport he still loves with a passion, he's also found the time to co-found a spirits brand. Specifically, a blended whisky called Coachbuilt that's created – as you'd imagine – with a nod to motor racing in its look and feel, but with liquids from all five scotch whisky regions making up its distinctive, sherried and lightly peated flavour profile.

As Button says, "I don't wanna just put my name to a whisky just to put my name to a whisky – that's been done way too many times and it doesn't work." With celebrity-owned spirits brands now a fixture of the drinks industry, from Ryan Reynolds to Rita Ora, it can be hard to distinguish the good from the so-so; the passion project from the cynical land-grab. But Button's passion for blended whisky goes back to his racing career, and in co-founder and whisky expert George Koutsakis – who has been equally inspired by scotch whisky and the revered blends from Japan – he found a willing co-conspirator with whom to launch Coachbuilt's flagship blend, which has been critically acclaimed since its launch. Here, he talks about the story behind the project, and his plans for the future.

Was food and drink something that was a passion for you during your career? Or is that something that came after?

Well, it was while I was racing interestingly that I think it was more with food because I had to be very specific about what I ate. So I had a physio who was also my nutritionist, and with my diet, it was very specific on what I had to eat – protein and carbohydrates when I trained hard – but I got into really eating healthy food and having a really good, really tasty diet.

I really liked wine while I was racing in Formula 1 – red wine specifically, my old man loved red wine, so we always used to enjoy a glass together – but whisky came about back in 2010. I was working with McLaren at the time and we were sponsored by a whisky company. I won't mention any names, but they do blended whisky and I was at their flagship store in Shanghai, which is pretty cool. And it was over a race weekend, so I wasn't drinking whisky, but I had the opportunity to blend a whisky. So I was with a master blender and I was able to blend this whisky with him, but without tasting it because I was a racing driver and I couldn't be seen drinking whisky. So I blended it through smell, which was really interesting. And they eventually made a special whisky that I have a bottle of at home. So it started then, and that really got me into not just whisky as a whole, but blended whisky because I could really see what goes into it, and the complexity of it.

Jenson Button at Coachbuilt Whisky

Did you keep it in mind as something you could pursue afterwards?

I always wanted to have a spirit brand and I was definitely leaning towards the whisky side of things, because I knew the most about it – not that I'm an expert in whisky, but obviously with spending so much time in the sport with that sponsor, I had a direction and understanding of what went into it. In terms of a business, I had no idea how complicated it was going to be. And also the blending process itself, and how long it takes, and the marrying of different whiskies from around the regions of Scotland, and what went into it after that once they were together and then you put it in a sherry cask to really give it that lovely rounded finish. So I didn't understand what went into it, but I thought it was a great idea. You just don't realise how hard it is to produce something special.

How did the Coachbuilt opportunity come about?

It was through a mutual friend. He knew that I was into whisky, and he said 'There's a guy that I know that is an expert in whisky, a connoisseur, and he would be a great guy to work with to produce something special,' because I don't wanna just put my name to a whisky just to put my name to a whisky – that's been done way too many times and it doesn't work, or you hope to sell the whisky because your name's connected to it, which is definitely not the angle I want to come at. I wanted to have a great product. So he put me in touch with George and George was like, 'Funnily enough, I've been thinking about doing a whisky for a little while. I really liked the idea of a blended whisky.' He said 'I've spent a lot of time in Japan where blended whiskies are fantastic, and normally they're on the cheaper side in Scotland for a blended whisky, so I want to make a fantastic blended whisky.'

Jenson Button, Coachbuilt Whisky
Coachbuilt co-founder, whisky expert George Koutsakis

So that's how it started, and that was a couple of years ago. And that was all on Zoom. We spent days discussing everything from the whisky itself to the bottle, the packaging and the marketing. And I would do whisky tastings at 6 in the morning in LA. My missus would wake up at 6:45am and be like, 'Oh, I guess I'm looking after the kids,' as I'm a few drams in. It was a really exciting journey, and I didn't actually meet George until the launch. He is a good guy who really understands his whisky. He's so passionate. He calls me a lot to say, 'OK, how do we get it out there even more? I wanna get it seen, I wanna get more people to taste it.' But it takes time. We don't have hundreds of millions to do marketing with the whisky. The whisky has to sell itself, if you like, in terms of word of mouth.

I'm not a big enough name to sell millions of bottles. First and foremost, it needs to be a good whisky

How important is your name in terms of the marketing?

First and foremost, it needs to be a good whisky. I'm also not a big enough name to sell millions of bottles. For me, it was more about having a fantastic product that I could associate myself with. So it's the other way around. Sometimes it can be a negative having someone that's in the public eye associated with a with a spirit, but I don't think it's been a negative effect, which is good because people taste it and say, 'Oh shit, OK, it is good.' They got me blending our whisky, and then I tasted it and obviously it's cask-strength still at that point, and it blew my head off. It tasted nice, but then the finished product after it's been in sherry casks, oh my god, what a difference it is – how it finishes it off is just staggering. It was really nice to be part of the process. And I know that it's taken them a couple of years to really fine-tune Coachbuilt, but I'm really happy with the finished product.

Is distilling your own whisky something that's planned for Coachbuilt, or will it always be a blend?

George gets very excited and I love that about him, and his whole thing is his aged whisky – it's single malts. He's very excited about the future, and he's got lots of great ideas at the moment – we've talked about an aged whisky and that's something he's he's already working on, but we don't wanna take away from the Coachbuilt that we have at the moment, our flagship whisky. This is for us to just get this out there for people to really know what we're about. I think that's the most important thing. We don't wanna rush anything and you can't rush aged whisky anyway. So nothing's gonna be coming for a little while, but let's just say that George is already working on it, which is quite exciting.

How have you found your entrance into the whisky industry as a former outsider to it?

I'm used to being in competitive environments, so walking in as a newbie, you're always a little worried. But I've been amazed at how welcoming everyone's been. It's been fantastic. We had a massive dinner for the launch with a lot of whisky experts, journalists, people that love whisky. And I was like, 'Guys, this is really nice, you're very welcoming, and I feel part of this family already.' And they were like, 'Why wouldn't we be? We're all passionate about whisky, we like your whisky and it works. Why wouldn't we welcome you in with open arms?' It's been a very short journey so far, but it's been a great one. I've really enjoyed the process and I'm looking forward to having a long future in this industry.

Coachbuilt Whisky

What's your go-to cocktail?

It's funny actually, because we were drinking at the launch, and George will have either an ice cube in his whisky or have it as a highball, which is a mark of his time in Japan, and obviously you keep the flavour still. George isn't a massive fan of drinking cocktails himself because he loves his whisky and he doesn't want to lose the flavour of Coachbuilt, which I get. For me I would either have it straight, which I do most of the time, but if I'm gonna have a cocktail, one is an old fashioned, but I have to hold the sugar a little bit, because I don't like it too sweet; and the other one, interestingly, was from our launch party – a paloma, which normally you would think of with tequila, but a Coachbuilt Paloma is bloody amazing. And you still get the flavours of Coachbuilt in there. So this summer I've been making Coachbuilt Palomas, with fresh grapefruit juice. I think most people that I know think of whisky as an evening drink, especially if you're gonna have a cocktail like an old fashioned, which is kind of like an after-dinner drink, but a paloma brings it into the summer and a daytime drink, which is great.

Have you got any go-to bars and restaurants when you're in London?

Chiltern Firehouse, always, for a cocktail. For me, they make some of the best cocktails in the world, and the selection of spirits is just mad.

Do you think we'll ever see the Coachbuilt logo on the side of an F1 car?

I know how much it costs to sponsor a Formula 1 team, so I would say probably not. But I'm pushing it in many different ways in the sport, to get it in. I think it's a really cool brand and I hope that it gets picked up. For me, it's more the classic races, like Goodwood – it would be great to get into Goodwood to get it here in Montreux – it's that style of whisky. It's that style of packaging, too – the bottle itself is built around an old race car, it's got a knockoff wheel nut as part of the logo. There's certain things that hark back to the mechanical days of motor racing and the coach-building days of motor racing.