“The superfluous is an extremely necessary thing,” Voltaire once wrote. I, the author of a blog about one of the world’s most superfluous articles – whisky – have to modestly agree with Voltaire’s apparent paradox. Whisky is an unnecessary need- like sports cars, designer clothes, and that fancy kitchen tap, which has a coiled spring. My God, how I want a tap like that!
There is an irremediable desire in the superfluous. After all, it is in our nature to crave what we have not yet achieved. Or rather, aim for a variation that we consider better than what we already have. A normal tap is not an object of desire. One of those sophisticated though, is, even if both serve the same purpose. From Voltaire, I turn to Chanel, who said that “luxury is the necessity that arises when the necessary has already been satisfied”.
In the world of whisky, this is absolutely clear. The vast majority of brands seek to convey some value linked to luxury. Sophistication. Elegance. Exclusivity. But few do it with such mastery as Royal Salute. Starting with the age statement of their entry level expression. As they call themselves, by referring to the minimum age of twenty-one, “Royal Salute begins where the rest end.”
Currently, the man responsible for enchanting people with all the magic of Royal Salute is Mathieu Deslandes, marketing director for Royal Salute. And I had the incredible opportunity to interview him during his trip to South Korea – where two new expressions of the brand’s permanent portfolio were launched.
The lasting impression is that Mathieu Deslandes is not just a brand director. But Royal Salute in flesh and bone. Sophisticated but at the same time humorous and kind, the director explained about the motivation behind portfolio diversification as well as the specifics of the luxury market:
Tell me a little about the new portfolio. Why diversify the range?
In fact, we are appealing to the whisky lover, on Royal Salute. When you go to this level of quality, it is not by accident, but because you love whisky, and want to experience something more.
And, during the last twenty years, there has been much more choices of whiskies, especially led by single malts, with very diverse propositions. So, it seems to me that, if we want to stand for luxury whisky, we cannot be only one. We have to offer our consumers the opportunity to try something different, to discover.
And I think what is fascinating with the work we did, with Sandy Hyslop, the master blender, is how much we can differenciate the taste of it just by the choice of casks, the choice of liquid you use. You’ll see tonight how much diversity we can get, still being a 21-year old whisky.
The reason we chose 21 years old is that it is part of the DNA. When the brand was created, it was created as 21. And 21 is a reference to the Twenty One Gun Salute. So, it is not an age by accident. It is an age with a strong meaning. And that is why celebrating such age is so important to our storytelling.
And why a blended malt? And what’s special about Lost Blend?
Everything is a blend for us. In Royal Salute we belive in blends. It is not that blends are better than single malts, or single malts are better than blends.
There’s a reference we often use. Malts are solo players in music. And blend is like an orchestra. You can have a good solo player or a bad solo player. You can have a good or a bad orchestra.
But us, as a brand, we have been created as a blend, so we remain true to this. ( It is true that the malt profile of taste is something that has been developing a lot. It is something that is stronger in terms of personality, less smooth. So it was interesting to play in that field with something that is more diverse to the consumer.
For the Lost Blend, there is a lot of whisky coming from Caperdonich, a distillery that has been closed, which has a peated profile of taste, so you will find this profile of taste more strong in this one.
Royal Salute had one of the most gorgeous packages in the whole whisky world. Why change? And why is the packaging so important? Does it affect consumer experience, in your opinion?
I think that the package affects the consumer experience. It is the first thing you see before you drink it. You see a bottle, you see a box. So, it is a way to communicate what you want to express about the brand. But it has to be consistent. It has to have consistency of what you drink and what you see.
And the second aspect, is important because at that price point, there are many people making gifts of Royal Salute. And, as we know, when you make a gift, the packaging is important as well. So, what we find interesting about this evolution was to use the packaging more as a storytelling.
We chose to work with Kristjana Williams, the artist behind the illustrations, to express the story of a royal menagerie. Which was happening in the tower of London – a place where all the animals the kings and queens received as a present were kept. It is a true story, with lions, elephants. It is what we wanted to portray on the illustration, of our storytelling. In a creative and artistic way, because the luxury consumer today expects this audacity and creativity
That is why we found a good combination between the outside of the box, which is more conservative, more serious. But because we different, using the inside of a box to use the storytelling.
From all the possible places, why South Korea?
Asia, globally, when it comes to prestige whiskies, is an important market. Also, because Korea specifically, if you combine what we sell in the domestic market with what we sell in duty free – because a lot of korean customers buy in duty-free – make Korea the number 1 nationality of people buying Royal Salute.
To be honest, we made a small scale event, one in New York and another in London, because when it comes to luxury, there are no boundaries. Luxury is global. So, we needed to make sure we were making a reference in the US, and another in Europe.
Is there any difference between the luxury market and the standard market? And what do you think about luxury whisky market in South America and Brazil?
What is different about luxury is that there is no compromise. There is no compromise in quality, and no compromise in anything you do, because there is an expectation of something being exceptional when you buy luxury.
So, in the mindset, I try to compare to other luxury brands which are not spirits, than comparing to other brands which are whisky that are not luxury. What is important to us is to have a mindset of luxury. And the mindset of luxury is to be exceptional in everything we do – the whisky, the packagin, the experience, the communication. Everyhing has to be exceptional.
Talking about Brazil – in all markets of the world, there is a space for people who are looking for luxury. Brazil is a big market for whisky. People know about whisky. What is important is that we develop a culture about luxury whisky. Maybe it is already there for champagne. Probably less for whisky.
But it is our responsibility to connect to the right influencer, the bartender, restaurant, consumer, press, magazine, whatever, to talk about royal salute, because probably the issue about Royal Salute is not its quality, but the fact that it is not known. So our first mission in many countries in the world is making sure Royal Salute is known. But in a very different way you would do with a more affordable whisky. What does matter is not the number of people you reach, but the quality of the way you reach them and the experience.
We are nto taling about doing something for the short term. But something game changing, and long term. And that requires time.