Opinion: Building a culture of creativity

Opinion: Building a culture of creativity

When distillers choose partnerships with broad appeal, they can benefit whisky fans, too
Today, whether in dive bars or private members’ clubs, I’m used to seeing whisky on the lips of patrons from all walks of life, nearly everywhere I go. And yet, a recent trip to the 23rd Festival Del Habano brought home quite how niche whisky, especially single malt, remains today. In Cuba I met trade, press, aficionados and collectors from across the globe, all united by a shared love of cigars and the finer things in life. Though I did meet one loyal Whisky Magazine subscriber on the flight to the Caribbean and a few more throughout the week, I was surprised by how few whisky drinkers were to be found among the collected connoisseurs.

Almost all I spoke to showed enthusiasm upon learning I hailed from the Scotch sphere, but most were definitely in the early stages of their whisky journeys. Serving as a reminder of the power of Scotch whisky’s leading luxury marque, it was The Macallan’s recent James Bond 60th Anniversary Collection that I was asked about most often. Hitherto, I’d paid little attention to the collection, being somewhat put off by the lack of age statements and information about the liquid – though I had to admit the interactive Bond experience at Harrods looked like fun.
Regardless, this valuable time spent outside my regular whisky circles really drove home how irrelevant my gripes with the collection are to even discerning buyers – including those fully clued up on concepts such as terroir, blending, ageing, and provenance by dint of their passion for cigars – and the importance of high-visibility partnerships to the relevance and status of Scotch whisky.

In a world where 1,000 distractions per minute are competing for our attention, this kind of creative endeavour with broad appeal is perhaps more critical than ever in order to cut through the noise and give newcomers a touchpoint that can help orient them in what can admittedly be an overwhelming sea of distilleries, blenders and bottlings. Though traditionalists often roll their eyes at such partnerships, I believe that, when done well, these creative collaborations can have benefits for purists, too.

For example, The Dalmore’s Luminary No.1, which saw architect Kengo Kuma and his protégé work with master blenders Richard Paterson and Gregg Glass, not only produced a beautiful, high-end fusion of design and distilling that attracted collectors of both art and whisky, but it also helped support parent company Whyte & Mackay’s nascent Scottish Oak Programme, as both the Collectible and Rare expressions incorporated casks built from wind-felled local timber. By creating a high-value proposition to support what is a costly and time-consuming cask-supply project, Luminary No.1 will help the programme to continue bearing fruit in more enthusiast-focused products such as the Whisky Works series and the new 18-year-old from Fettercairn.

Similarly, early distillery partners of Web3 technology companies BlockBar and Amber Island have not only brought whisky to an as-yet untapped tech crowd but also helped those start-ups lay the foundations of innovative marketplaces and create new online communities for whisky lovers to engage with.

I’ll admit I remain highly sceptical of NFT projects based on the proposition that the digital art itself has intrinsic value (thankfully, this isn’t either company’s focus), but as a means of buying, remotely storing, and easily trading bottles across borders I can see huge potential – especially as both BlockBar and Amber Island are backed by trusted travel-retail businesses Duty Free Americas and Gebr. Heinemann, respectively. It’s early days, but I’m optimistic and can’t wait to see how these projects will develop as they add more exclusive bottles to their platforms, iron out the creases and expand their real-world delivery and experiential capabilities.

At a time when the Scotch whisky category is facing substantial regulatory and economic threats at home and abroad, I believe that this kind of blue-sky thinking will be as imperative as production expertise and environmental sustainability when it comes to keeping the spirit we love appealing for generations to come.
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