Packaging. The ultimate marketing tool. Seasoned whisky shoppers usually have a pretty good idea what they are looking for. Usually. Casual whisky drinkers, on the other hand, can be swept up by great marketing. Shelves filled with cool boxes and bottles. So how do we get past the lure of the packaging? In my case, I don’t. I’m a sucker for a great bottle design or a cool box. It’s part of the whisky lore.
Let’s take Highland Park, for example. Great product. No arguing there. I have lots in my collection. One of the best is the 18 year old. So when they release a new 18 yr packed in a box that looks like an old guitar amp, I’m sold. I get a solid whisky and a cool package to show off to my friends.
Perhaps Highland Park’s greatest marketing feat to date, however, is the Valhalla Collection – four superb single malts honoring the Scandinavian heritage of the Orkney Islands.
Packaged in wooden frames to reflect the Viking ships, it is a marketing masterpiece. And a great way to get people to buy four bottles of whisky.
Another of my favorite bottle designs is from Old Pulteney. Every bottle is a miniature replica of their stills. Simple but effective. Others include Blanton’s Bourbon with a little racing thoroughbred horse mounted on every cork. Or Balbair Scotch with its Scottish tartan wrapped bottles.
Traditionally, whisky bottles come in three shapes – square, oval and round, with outer boxes of the same shape. There a few exceptions, most notably the iconic three sided Glenfiddich bottle, with each side supposedly representing the ingredients – barley, water and yeast. But there are some bottle shapes that push the limits of tradition packaging. For example, Suntory has released a Rolling Stones 50th Anniversary Commemorative whisky. Very cool.
Other examples include a Bourbon bottle in the shape of a machine gun, a Johnny Walker whisky in a leather shoe bottle, and an Old St. Andrews Blended Scotch bottled in a big glass golf ball. But it’s the premium whisky brands that take packaging to a whole new level. Crystal glass, elaborate boxes of wood and metal. Completely unique designs.
Like this MaCallan 55 year. At $53,000, a good package is important, because, if you actually shell out the money to buy it, you’ll probably never drink it. Same for the $50,000 Mortach 70. A photo is as close as I’m getting.
So, where does all this fit into your world? Most of it probably doesn’t. But there is a point here – there is more to whisky than just the taste. It’s the whole experience. You don’t want to buy sub-standard whisky. But given the many choices among good products, it never hurts to up the cool factor with some neat and original packaging. Like this bottle of Mortlach Rare Old from my collection.
My wife says it looks like a big bottle of perfume. It isn’t. Not by a long shot.
Until next time, uncork something unique. Enjoy!