It’s an interesting exercise to scan down a brand’s Instagram feed. More often than not, it’s a neat idea of how they consciously – or unconsciously, sometimes – wish to present themselves. Perhaps, like our own clothing, such a digital feed tends to suggest who we are, what we are, our status, or job; these images reflect personality. Sometimes a very noticeable thing occurs: the images change their style completely – a new campaign, a new direction, a new brand agency at the helm. But with the distillery in question today, it isn’t just the imagery that has changed style, but everything in the frame, including the whisky and the bottle its housed in. A total makeover. A new regime has begun at the Glenturret.
There would be more than the whiff of a young Citizen Smith to instantly barge in at this point and declare capitalism has gone mad, the quality of whisky will take a nosedive, it just isn’t the same as it used to be etc etc etc. I’m sure some may lament that whenever a whisky distillery overhauls itself it’s a sign of the end times. We fear change etc.
Without a doubt, a brand’s whisky can get more expensive when a new owner breathes new life into a distillery, but show me a whisky that has gone down in price in recent years. This is also, more often than not, the occasion when armchair experts kindly gift us their opinions on marketing to declare that any price increase is there to cover the costs of the designer… which is not at all how money flies about the whisky business.
A new bespoke glass bottle will probably set you back in the region of £100,000, when you factor in the designs, sure; but the industrial moulds are 50% of that initial cost simply to be able to manufacture a bottle – it doesn’t appear out of thin air. A single day’s run on glass at the factory tends to be for a minimum of 30,000 bottles (that’s what they make in a day, furnaces and molten glass don’t really negotiate on time) and the unit cost is anywhere between £1-1.50, which you would need to pay for an off-the-shelf bottle anyway, just without the additional mould and design work.
Assuming you have distribution in place, you’ll need significant quantities to ease into several dozen markets, enough to provide a steady flow so that gaps don’t appear on the shelf, which means significant quantities – hundreds of thousands of bottles. You’ll probably need to have three or four days to run the glass through the furnace (more if you wanted a different size, like 75cl for USA and South Africa). Plus the label costs, box costs, case costs, cork costs, and… you get the idea. You’re already knocking on the door of half a million quid to be able to get something out there at decent scale.
Suddenly paying a designer a few quid at the start isn’t so spicy in the grand scheme of things. (I don’t know how much Lalique decanters cost to make, however, but they’re not cheap to buy.) What I mean by all of this, is that the whisky business is an expensive one when it comes to setting up shop; the brand work is a minor part of that, and notice I haven’t even mentioned the alcohol distillation costs yet, the staff wages to make the whisky, let alone the vast sums of advertising and promotional money required to get that bottle in front of your eyes.
And the very fact that a bottle is in front of your eyes at all means someone, somewhere, somehow, paid for it to be there. None of this is a crime, of course; it is just life. The cost of making a brand stand out – creating that intriguing proposition to catch people’s eye in a very cluttered marketplace, with new brands rising up with compelling concepts every five minutes – is to avoid the cost of failure, where ultimately good people might lose their jobs. I’m sure you’ll agree, that is not anything to celebrate at any point, let alone during a pandemic.
So to rebrand, like the Glenturret have done, is a serious business.
Which means I’m actually quite impressed when someone goes whole-hog into things, a total makeover, and I was very intrigued to observe the Glenturret step into this new era. From what I can see so far, this includes new whisky assemblages, new bespoke bottle design, new livery, new restaurant driven by Michelin-star ambitions. Restaurants are becoming an ever-more important part of the distillery scene, particularly for those on the tourist trail – Wolfcraig, a new distillery, is planting itself on a prime spot for just this purpose.
Whisky is no longer, for many distilleries, about just making spirit, but rather about a package of offers: membership to a club, fine dining, tourism and cask sales (so, people becoming an investor), all in addition to the whisky. It’s a bit more highbrow than the packet of fudge and a free Glencairn of yesteryear. Sure, in some places, the whisky begins to feel like an afterthought on such a menu, but it will be possible to do all of these things very well.
We’re living through the great transition, in slow motion, of the whisky industry. As an entirely new generation of drinkers is brought into the fold, fresher and more diverse faces, not just tastes but cultural expectations change. For the drinker of yesteryear, the above probably sounds disappointing; to the drinker of tomorrow, to not offer several of the above will be a let-down. We must therefore be receptive to changing times.
For the Glenturret, their project has taken a little while; the new regime takes an awfully long time and a lot of effort, and no doubt the pandemic hasn’t helped in logistics. The distillery was purchased by the Lalique Group – well, a 50% stake – back in the spring of 2019, two years ago nearly. Plans were to increase production, create additional new decanters (handy, being part-Lalique), construct a new visitor centre, hire ex-Macallan guru Bob Dalgarno as blender and more – and they’re well on the way.
It wasn’t much of a gambit to ditch the old bottle livery, which possessed a somewhat quotidian feel. It was inoffensive, the sort of thing that appeals to everyone and, in my mind, no one. A hint of rusticness, old-world sensibilities. Ironically that itself was a fairly recent rebrand so what we have today is the rebrand of a rebrand. Questions: was the old one clearly not working in its job to speak out to drinkers? Was this the new ownership firmly putting its new stamp on things? Both, I’d wager, in equal parts.
From the old to the Lalique is quite the leap, but the decanter pictured here is just an alternative spin on the main show, the new bespoke bottle made from commercial-grade glass, which is also shown at the top of this article. At this point, a few of you at the back will no doubt spark into life to boldly declare that you’re immune to design, that only you and perhaps the Dalai Lama are able to fully understand the meaningless of branding. But for the rest of us mortals, whether we are in control of the thought or not, aesthetics do matter, all the time. We make snap judgements on appearance without even knowing it; we are walking talking floppy disks full of files saved over our lifetimes that we load up – consciously or otherwise – to make value judgements on everything.
I confess: I was less inclined to really talk about Glenturret’s whisky recently until the rebrand. The previous aesthetics were a bit of an also-ran, their online content was 50% cats, seriously, which I’m fine with being a cat man, but I was never moved to really sniff out their whiskies. The new designs have caught my attention firmly.
The bottles are striking. At first, the aura of art deco didn’t compute; it felt a bit too retro, a nod to the drinks tray of yesteryear, and there was a dissonance between that and the distillery positioning of being the “oldest”. The agency behind the design was Appartement 103, based in Paris, though the bottle itself – according to the stamp on the base of the bottle, was designed by Lalique. Plenty of nice nuances from whoever actually brought this all together, one can tell a bit of thought has gone into it. The embossed coat of arms seems to be the only nod to the distillery’s history, and the bottle is clearly look at home on a sideboard rather than locked in a cupboard. A large front label (take note, Adelphi) gives a lot of opportunities to communicate different things at different scales, and will no doubt be a good platform for spin-off ranges such as for travel retail and special editions, whilst retaining overall design consistency, and a coherent architecture rather than a mess. I find white a touch bland these days. But the more I stare at it, the more I admire it. The bottle is a grower. It feels nice in the hand. What will the typical whisky drinker thing of it? Well, if she does exist (for I think the community has totally fractured now with radically different palates and preferences – there is no typical drinker, not by a long way), she might think it is at least refreshing. She might think it is a gamble. And in my mind, difference is to be welcomed.
Elsewhere, the Glenturret is keen to make the most of its brand collaboration with Lalique, which I suppose is something of a sister brand anyway, and the first of those rather inaccessible whiskies has recently been released. That crystal-encased whisky costs the better part of £10,000. I sense many old timers holding their nose at that, but I suppose these whiskies are really about attention, association, promotion, as much as something collectable to own.
Do you remember those hyper-expensive The Dalmore whiskies in Harrods years ago? Bottles lasting on the shelf for far, far too long, eventually selling after four whole years to a young Chinese collector? But The Dalmore brand will have benefitted from all of the associations to grow its share of the ultra-premium whisky market in that four-year period. The brand halo positively glowed under its gathering dust, and perhaps the single malt genre itself benefited from this added allure. We’ve seen skyrocketing interest during that period; more money, more options, more customers with more wallet sizes. A few more jobs might even have been created in the process – that’s not a bad thing. I’m no apologist for this sort of pricing, but given this period was the heart of the Syrian conflict I found it hard to get too upset about something that didn’t affect me in the slightest.
Just like there are one or two more troubling things in the world right now, I’m not going to find negativity for a £10,000 Lalique thingy – it’s there for a purpose, to make a targeted statement, create brand awareness with a new audience (which is possibly a world away from these fair pages) and elevate the brand as a whole. It’s not to my tastes, sure. But I’m betting half of you wouldn’t turn your nose up at it if you were gifted one.
By hiring an ex-Macallan whisky maker, an ex-Macallan marketing director in Ken Grier, and by putting out a whisky in a Lalique decanter – itself right out of the Macallan playbook – the strategy is perhaps a bit too obvious. It wouldn’t work for every distillery, though many will try. Only time will tell if it can work; I’m almost certain that in time it will.
Anyway, back to Glenturret’s more accessible range, which has also recently begun to appear on shelves for us mere mortals. My notes, then JJ jumps in… the Triple Wood will set you back £51.49 via Master of Malt, or £47.45 from The Whisky Exchange, who also stock the Peat Smoked for £52.45 and the 12 year old for £64.95.
Glenturret 12 Year Old – 2020 Maiden Release – Mark’s Review
Colour: deep copper.
On the nose: very alluring. And, dare I say it, very Macallan… Classic warming dried fruits, at the lighter end with sultanas and raisins, a few redcurrants tucked underneath. Toffee apple, bread and butter pudding. Camphor, sandalwood, old school-room desks. Cranberry sauce.
In the mouth: lovely texture, with warming wood spices (you wouldn’t want much more) and lashings of those dried fruits. A little coffee bitterness, salted caramel. Things fade a little on the back end, the finish just leaves warming cloves and pepper, hints of blackcurrants, with some herbal notes, thyme. Perhaps a little sour or bitter on the finish, with bitter dark chocolate. Nicely autumnal. It feels very polished. It has class.
Go out (well, stay in, Covid etc) and buy this. It’s excellent. A lovely, warming everyday dram, great for 12 years of age. If you thought Macallan was losing its edge, step this way (though I suspect fans of the Edition series will like this a lot.) GlenDronach folk would be very interested too.
Glenturret Triple Wood – 2020 Maiden Release – Mark’s Review
On the nose: a hint of funk, light, fresh, yeasty, but it’s quite harmonious with the rest. Simple, vanilla led (the American oak feels more dominant in that sense). Pears, quite honeyed and mead-like, with some dried apricots and old roses.
In the mouth: plenty going on for the ABV (I do tend to think 43% is quite stingy these days), though it does lack presence somewhat. Some gentle warmth, though it’s not spicy – Assam tea, no more, along with stem ginger in syrup, lime juice. Honey and vanilla again, with Malted Milk biscuits and a slither of lemon meringue pie. Quite a short finish.
Pleasing, but rather a gentle affair. A lot more could be gained by increasing the strength, without losing much on margins. I’d say plump for the 12 year old, without a doubt.
Glenturret Peat Smoked – 2020 Maiden Release – Mark’s Review
Colour: pale gold.
On the nose: A little lavender note, perhaps laundry detergent, which is lost to the smoke and becomes very citrusy, woody and vanilla. I’d say hints of tea, something mossy and vegetative rather than sweeter smoke and a pleasing meatiness of bacon fat.
In the mouth: a breakfast of Rose’s Lemon & Lime marmalade smeared over wholemeal toast, followed by a cigar. Silky texture still – one of the consistencies among all three is the pleasing oily texture. Bitter dark chocolate with coffee; fried mushrooms; lot of spiciness, cloves and coriander warmth on that tobacco finish.
Not quite as harmonious, a little too savoury for peat, but that’s totally a personal preference for me. It’s certainly good fun and worth a punt at £50 a bottle, especially for the usual blind tasting lols it would bring.
Glenturret 12 Year Old – 2020 Maiden Release – Jason’s Review
Colour: worn copper.
On the nose: a lovely blend of sherry influence, fudge notes and apples – each in poised tandem. A Red Velvet Cake, soft red grapes, honeycomb and malted loaf. A gentle waft of molten chocolate, the richness of gravy and marzipan. Also, some warmed hazelnuts and tobacco.
In the mouth: more fudge and a touch of smoke, chocolate once again and leathery sherry-dynamic. Some earthiness mixed up with nutmeg, sultanas and Muscovado Sugar. Very drinkable, effortlessly enjoyable and a touch luxurious in places.
Glenturret Triple Wood – 2020 Maiden Release – Jason’s Review
Colour: rubbed brass.
On the nose: thankfully not sherry heavy and nicely balanced with some style even at 43%. Yeah, red fruits and the sherry poking through occasionally, but its more apples, honey and figs with vanilla. Nicely orchestrated. Butterscotch, orange, marzipan and a touch of rubber just to ground it all. Strawberry jam as well. A splash of water releases tobacco and more jam.
In the mouth: now it does suffer a touch at 43% here, but it dampens down any enthusiastic casks. There’s some woodiness, tangerine and lemon. Grated ginger, kumquat and cranberry with raspberry tea. More jamminess and a touch of leather on the finish. Adding water brings out more smokiness.
Glenturret Peat Smoked – 2020 Maiden Release – Jason’s Review
Colour: a golden sunset.
On the nose: yeah there’s peat, of an earthy variety. At first, it is ferocious, but time allows it to dissipate, giving rise of caramel, damp wood and black pepper. Sugar Puffs, honey roast ham, bruised apples and a metallic burnt note. Toffee apples, creamy and zesty with some burnt ginger and praline. Returning later, some kindling, maple syrup and plums.
In the mouth: all that peaty tar and embers you’ll enjoy with moss and sooty flavours. Chip fat, apple puree and raw pastry dough. This has more to say than several of the big-name Islay’s I’ve had recently. Cracked black peppercorns, beef stock, Yorkshire pudding – I’m thinking of that crispy initial bite and cloves on the finish.
It goes without saying that some of the recent new brands or relaunches we’ve seen have been somewhat underwhelming, slight meh and more often than not, more expensive. You’ll know the ones. But I’m surprised by these new Glenturret’s, mainly because they show that someone actually cares. After years of being treated like a second class citizen by Edrington, the distillery is showcasing its qualities in admirable fashion.
The 12 is a classy thing, more Macallan in places than Glenturret, which depending on your point of view is a good thing, or maybe not? I’ve not had an official bottling as good since the 1980s release. Edition-like at times, mesmerising and thought-provoking for the remainder. Maybe this is the version before the quality slips in later batches? For now, you do have to check this out.
The branding isn’t for me entirely, but the bottles do have a robust and tactile aspect to them. The packaging is a little golfing tourist and takes me back to the distillery shops of the 90s. But what really stands out and delivers isn’t the glassware or the royal blue. No, it’s what that truly matters at the end of the day – the blending and quality of the liquid for a reasonable price. These showcase what can be achieved with care, attention, and possibly, a little love as well.
Mark’s Overall Conclusions
Though I don’t score now (a numbers to emotion thing for me; doesn’t compute; back to the old days) Jason seems to be there or thereabouts with my sentiment, so we’re in agreement that the new regime at Glenturret is off to a good start indeed. These are good whiskies, simple as that, and I for one will be looking to explore the range further.
Of course, one can’t help wonder if it was the brief or of it’s just the signature ex-Macallan blender style, to create something that (peat aside) feels very, well… Macallan. There, I’ve said it. I should probably have rooted out some older Glenturret styles for side-by-side comparison – perhaps a later article. Bringing the old team back together makes me wonder just what a brand is in the first place; is it some mobile thing that is defined by the people who created it? Or the design, the image, the distillate, the associations? As marketers will tell you, a brand goes well beyond a logo; but a brand must stand for something unique in order to reach out to drinkers across the world, to have beliefs, not to not be afraid to do something bold.
Otherwise who’s going to pay for the glass?
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