I love Scotch … marketing

One of the reasons I like to arrive at Bangkok’s international airport a good two hours prior to my flight’s departure is the pursuit of my hobby — if you can call it that — which is not only to seek out, purchase and consume unusual or rare bottles of Scotch whisky, but also to read and record the marketing materials on the boxes and labels. I find the marketing materials almost as enjoyable as the actual taste of the golden nectar on my tongue, as it transports me back to the windswept, heather-covered Highlands of my Scottish youth.  

My most recent purchase was from Bowmore (established 1779), aged 15 years, and described on the front of the box as “THE FIRST ISLAY MALT.” The teasing and tantalizing description of the MARINER on the front of the box is as follows: “JOURNEY INTO THE REALMS OF TOFFEE, PEAT, SMOKE AND FRESH GARDEN APPLES, a sales pitch I find particularly interesting, as I had never previously associated apples with Scotland’s most famous export, although toffee is a fairly common taste in many of the least expensive Scottish, Irish and Japanese blends.

When one rotates the beautifully designed box, one can see the heading “OVER THE SEA TO ISLAY,” which sounds like the opening line of a famous Scottish lullaby. Below that rather romantic header is a description of the whisky’s production, which assures potential imbibers, “Bowmore has been lovingly produced the same way today as it always has been, and that it is one of an ever increasing handful of distilleries to produce its own floor malted barley, and the only one with a maturation warehouse below sea level, the legendary No.1 vaults. It is there that Bowmore Mariner spends the next 15 years, maturing in a marriage of Kentucky bourbon barrels and sherry casks shipped from North America and Spain over the past one hundred years to their new home on Islay.

The finest of casks help shape the final character of BOWMORE MARINER, with the Spanish oak contributing a deep copper color and adding to this beautifully balanced whisky’s satisfyingly complex finish. On the eye we see deep copper, then breathe in deep peat smoke, complimented with toffee and fresh green apples, then sip creamy oak smokiness with sweet stewed fruits and just a hint of sea salt, then savor the long complex beautifully subtle finish.”

On the other side of the box one can see the bold claim, “THE FIRST ISLAY MALT,” which is of great interest to single-malt connoisseurs and collectors like me.

The storyline then continues below the all-important header as follows: “How glad those first settlers must have been to see Islay’s coastline emerging from the Atlantic Squall. How privileged too the Lords of the Isles must have felt centuries later. From these crossroads on the ocean’s highways, they ruled their maritime kingdom for over 100 years. Bowmore’s celebrated Single Malt has been distilled on this remarkable island off the west coast of Scotland ever since 1779, making it the first of Islay’s eight distilleries. Now as then, Bowmore is acknowledged to be among the finest and most perfectly balanced whiskies in the world.    

Now that’s what I call brilliant marketing — instantly creating the desire to purchase by conjuring up a dreamy description of a product, which makes the potential purchaser feel as if they are buying into a legend.

In the second part of this post I will ask the question, “How Scottish is Scotch?” I will make particular reference to the countries of the imported barrels and the growing market share enjoyed by the leading Japanese distilleries and the new kids on the block including China, India and even Pakistan. 

But before then, please click here to watch Robert Carlyle strolling through the Highlands of Scotland while starring in one of the best whisky advertisements ever made, and it was done in one single 6-minute live-action take, which makes it all the more remarkable.