Independent bottler Elixir Distillers and design studio Livingstone have joined forces to create a 42-piece Scotch whisky collection inspired by Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth.
Each whisky is based on a character from the Scottish Play and features an original character illustration from renowned British artist Sir Quentin Blake. The characters are arranged into six series: the Leads (five 'regal' malts), Thanes (12 'noble' malts), Ghosts (from six ghost distilleries), Witches (three single malts and a blend), Murderers (four island malts, and Household (10 'characterful' whiskies). The prominence of the characters informs the age, bottling run, and price points of the whiskies.
The collection will be released in 'acts' over the next three years, with Act I (comprising nine whiskies) launching on 27 February. The centrepiece of the first act is a 56-year-old Glen Grant cast as King Duncan, alongside a 31-year-old Linkwood as Lady Macduff, smoky Islay and island whiskies for the First Witch and First Murderer, a 31-year-old single grain whisky from Cambus for the first of six Ghosts, and a 10-year-old Blair Athol to represent the Bloody Sergeant.
The idea for the collection originated with Livingstone founder Lexie Burgess (also of Burgess Studio), who is known for his design work with Scotch. He approached Dave Broom, whisky author and a world authority on Scotch whisky, to determine suitable styles and profiles for the collection and to write 'character notes' for each bottling, and partnered with Sukhinder Singh, founder of The Whisky Exchange and Elixir Distillers, to bottle and promote the collection.
At a launch event for the Macbeth collection, fittingly held at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, Burgess said: "Reading about the history of Scotch... I realised it felt a lot like Macbeth and that Macbeth might be the perfect structure for a whisky collection."
Oliver Chilton, head blender at Elixir Distillers, added: "It was enjoyable to try and think of whiskies as people and not just flavours, and not just of distilleries as characters but individual casks as characters."
As a prolific whisky collector, Singh was drawn in by Burgess' idea. “Sometimes in our industry a project presents itself that you can’t say no to. This was one of them, a real one-off." At the launch event, he noted that the whisky chosen for the King Duncan bottling was a callback to the first whisky independently bottled by Elixir Distillers in 1999: a 31-year-old Glen Grant.
To develop the whiskies, Broom studied the play in-depth, in text and on screen. A stand-out observation was the interplay between characters' light and dark sides. "Smoke lends itself to creating the impression of wildness and danger, a straying to the dark side; the blood and gore of this tragedy brought to mind rich, sherried whiskies. Light and ‘goodness’ felt best conveyed by refill American oak: golden, honeyed, soft, gentle and sweet," he explained.
Reflecting on the collection, Burgess said: “It’s a testament to the play. We felt an enormous responsibility to live up to it, and I see the evidence of that hard work in the extraordinary whiskies selected by Elixir Distillers, the eloquence and precision of Dave Broom’s character notes, and in the illustrations by Sir Quentin Blake, who somehow makes everything look effortless.”
The Macbeth Act One range will be available from 27 February 2023 in markets including the UK (exclusive to The Whisky Exchange and Livingstone), France, Canada, Taiwan, and Japan.