I’ve always been passionate about books. I like to read almost everything, even though I have some preferences. I prefer prose to poetry, and I have a certain tendency for fiction. But I also appreciate a poem or some biography, as long as it is written with care. I’m ok with watching a bad movie every once in a while. They don’t last long. But life is too short for subliterature.
My interest in reading awakened when I was still a child, when I heard fairy tales told by my father. Like any child, I was fascinated by fantastic stories in distant kingdoms, magical and populated by kings, queens, alchemists and magical creatures. Castles and unusual objects complemented the captivating atmosphere.
And even though I would always see myself in the role of some character in the story, I imagined that fairy tales belonged to the world of make-believe. In the atrocity of our reality, they would be no more than a literary genre. But apparently, I was mistaken. As if in an instant of magic, I had one of my most unlikely wishes granted. I mean, at least for a whisky enthusiast such as myself.
I was invited by Pernod-Ricard to travel to South Korea – a country far away – to try, before almost everyone else, two new expressions of the permanent portfolio of a whisky fit for a king. The Royal Salute range. And, moreover, meet the alchemists, I mean, creators of that luxurious and exclusive blended scotch whisky. But not alone. Raphael Vidigal, head of prestige brands of Pernod-Ricard Brasil, would be my guide and partner in the legendary trip.
The initial air journey took twenty-five hours to that distant kingdom, I say, country. And when we got there, even if there were no carriages, we were greeted by a friendly driver in a comfortable Korean sedan. Which, incidentally, exhibited a curious design reminiscent of a kind of chimera between two German sedans. And so, without saying anything – communication was impossible due to language barriers – we were led to the luxurious hotel in the heart of Seoul.
I spent one day acclimating to the twelve o’clock time zone. By tomorrow morning I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I would interview the alchemist behind Royal Salute – master blender Sandy Hyslop. Also, I would have the opportunity to talk to the magician responsible for enticing people with all the charisma of those creations: Mathieu Deslandes, director of marketing for Royal Salute. Except for my nervousness, there was no villain. The two of them were extremely nice and approachable.
Mathieu revealed some details about the creation of blends, their positioning, strategy and the reason why they had decided to diversify the portfolio after so many years. And Sandy was technical and laid-back, and told us details of the elaboration of those incredible creations. These interviews will be timely reproduced here, in the Bottled Dog.
And at night, the big event happened. A gala dinner, fit for of kings and queens, at the Seoul Art Museum, which had once been a palace. The event also featured speeches by Jean Christophe Coutures, CEO of Chivas Brothers and Sandy Hyslop. As fairy tales always abuse the number three – three little pigs, three fairy godmothers – would be presented to three whiskeys. The triad that now made up the Royal Salute permanent line: Signature Blend, Malts Blend and Lost Blend.
I settled comfortably in my chair, in a central position on a huge banquet table and listened to Jean Christophe, who explained the reason for that wonderful evening. “Royal Salute refers to the celebration of British royalty (…). And as the royal world has evolved, Royal Salute must also evolve with it. That’s why we created a new packaging, designed by Kristjana Williams. What we try to do is bring more charm, more creativity and design to the brand, but still maintaining its substance “
“The history of packaging refers to the Tower of London, which had long ago been used as a zoo, where all animals given to kings and queens lived. But the illustration is not serious – it has a certain air of relaxed creativity, because in British culture one must show substance but at the same time a sense of humor. “
At that moment, taken by Jean Christophe’s words, he was beginning to realize the almost excruciating attention to the details of that dinner. Everything in that enchanting atmosphere – lights, flowers, real butterflies (yes, there were real butterflies) dishes, music, and scents – had been millimetrically thought to elevate that experience. Nothing was left to chance. From the marked table seats, through the engraved ice, to the background music.
Following Jean Christophe’s speech, it was Sandy Hyslop’s turn to explain a little bit about the real stars of the night – the Royal Salute scotches. According to the alchemist, Royal Salute was the only blended scotch continuously available at twenty-one years of age since its creation in 1953. And that would be the first time in history that two expressions were added to the brand’s permanent portfolio. That, for him, was as big a responsibility as an honour.
And so began the most important part of that awesome event. The tasting. The first bottle presented by Sandy was, actually, rather familiar. It was our well-known 21-year Royal Salute, which had been renamed Royal Salute Signature Blend – a delicate, floral, soft, deliciously easy-to-drink blended scotch. That was our benchmark, the starting point. And we continued through the line.
The Royal Salute Malts Blend would be the result of the union of twenty-one different malts, all with at least twenty-one years of maturation. Its flavour, sweet and fruity, would be more intense than the traditional Royal Salute, but still extremely smooth and enjoyable, as all ultra-luxury blended whiskey should be. According to Sandy, the core malts were Strathisla and Longmorn, two of the most beloved distilleries in the Pernod Ricard portfolio.
The Royal Salute Lost Blend, in turn, would bring innovation to the Royal Salute line. A blended scotch whiskey with smoky profile, which has in its composition many malts from the well-known silent stills. Like Imperial and the incredible Caperdonich, which produced peated single malts. Despite the smoky and delicately medicinal taste, the Lost Blend still retained the delicate and luxurious personality of the Royal Salute range. And it was the favorite of this canid.
After introducing the new trio, Sandy told a bit about the essence of his job. “Most of my job is to ensure the continuity of the Royal Salute blends, making sure we have the inventory needed to maintain quality, year after year (…). Many people think that a blender only works in their sample room, mixing whiskeys and creating new expressions. That’s true, but it’s only a small part of what I do. Every week I travel to Speyside, to our distilleries, to taste the new make of each one. And twenty-one years later, my work begins again. At this point, my team and I know each of the Royal Salute barrels before they are combined to create such blends. “- he explained.
After the remarkable speeches, the guests were able to sample some cocktails created with the new expressions – some as luxurious as the whiskeys themselves. For example, one that carried Queen Elizabeth II’s famous rose – Centifolia – even more expensive than gold.
I looked at the clock. Almost midnight. If it was past that time, it would not turn into a pumpkin or anything like that. But it was a prudent time to go back to my royal quarters – the hotel – and get some rest. That was for a whisky enthusiast like me, surely a memorable night, crowned by three incredible whiskeys.
But on the way back, a thought would not leave my head. That, in fact, was not a fairy tale. There were no chimeras, no kings or queens. There were no distant alchemists or kingdoms. And lastly – and most of all – there was no spell.
That, in fact, was the result of the hard and tireless work of extraordinary people and passionate about what they do. Dozens of people, each with their specialty, their knowledge, who together have created something incredible. People who have dedicated their lives and made an epic effort for a perfect dinner. And, above all, to create one of the most recognized scotch brands of ultra-luxury whiskey in the world. The Royal Salutes – so that ordinary people, like me, could have moments worthy of fairy tales.