I had the opportunity to attend a thoroughly delicious event hosted by Chivas Brothers at Brown's Hotel in London recently. I use the term "delicious" deliberately for the event was both literally delicious (a three-course meal concocted by London chef Mark Hix further enhanced by a tasting of 12 and 21 year old Scotch whiskies) and figuratively delicious (the meal was followed by an insightful discussion with historian Bettany Hughes and the FT's cultural commentator Peter Aspden about the role of age in the achievement of great things). Nourishment for both body and soul.
Above and beyond the sheer enjoyment involved, I value the opportunity to attend events like these for their educational value. Until recently, whisky like cognac, was a libation I more readily associated with men of my grandparents' and parents' generations than my own. I am however immensely curious about the changing patterns of consumption of whisky and other luxury goods. Like cognac, whisky is growing in appeal amongst both women in the United States (Move over Don Draper!) and the twenty-something consumers in emerging markets like China who view it as a sign of sophistication and status.
Despite the status appeal of a fine Scotch and an intuitive understanding of the role of age in the prestige of the product, there is still quite a bit of confusion about what the age of a whisky actually means. According to Chivas Brothers' market research, while the vast majority of consumers believe the age statement serves as an indicator of quality and actively look for an age statement prior to making a purchase, nearly half of whisky drinkers mistakenly believe that the age stated on the bottle refers to the average age of the whiskies present (it refers in fact to the age of the youngest whisky present).
You may be asking yourself why it matters whether a consumer understands the finer points of the maturation process so long as he (or increasingly she) enjoys the end product. I would argue that it matters for the same reason it matters to Hermes customers whether the emblematic "Birkin" or "Kelly" bags are indeed crafted by French artisans with decades of training and whose expertise enables them to live and work in dignity. That knowledge can be felt in the bag's design and features. It enhances the experience of owning one. Similarly, age matters in the production of fine Scotch whisky because the maturation process and the expertise required to manage it have the greatest influence on the quality of the end product. The older the whisky, the smoother the finish, the more precious the product. Understanding the intricacies of the product is likely to enhance the experience of drinking it for the consumer.
I would argue that it's also about transparency and ultimately the relationship of trust between a brand and their customers. We live in tumultuous times and even the most prestigeous brands are not immune from the current forces reshaping the luxury landscape. No brand can afford to sit back and take anything for granted. To their credit, Chivas understands this hence the launch of "Great Things Take Time", an elaborate education campaign. It has taken Chivas Brothers' hundreds of years of sweat and toil to build their brand to what it is today. They're taking nothing for granted. Good for them.
The Luxe Chronicles
N.B. Event attendees received a complementary bottle of Chivas' "Royal Salute 21", first created in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation on 2nd June 1953. No further gift, disbursement, remuneration or fee was solicited or received.