Royal Salute: beginning where others end3 min read . Updated: 31 Oct 2014, 09:25 AM IST
With a perfect blend of super-aged whisky and stunning packaging, Royal Salute is one of the world's best whiskies today
In the world of drinks, consumers are often led by the brand that adorns a bottle’s label or packaging. Be this in the world of dark spirits where Walker in whisky and Remy in Cognac are the regular bar calls, or white spirits with vodka’s Smirnoff and gin’s Gordon the go-to tipple, or wine where the grape varieties from French châteaux lead the trends.
What’s common between all these producers is their history and heritage. From Johnnie Walker (founded in 1865), Remy Martin (founded in 1724), Gordon’s (founded in 1769) and Smirnoff (founded in 1864) to the almost timeless French wine houses with their even older grape varieties, the very idea of launching a new product into the drinks industry sounds like a mad one; especially so in the dark spirits category that is dominated by brands founded in the 18th and the 19th century.
However, midway through the 20th century, a groundbreaking new Scotch brand was launched. With no heritage or immediate history to draw on, there was only one way that Royal Salute, launched in 1952 (the same year as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London), was going to take any foothold in the market and that was through extreme ageing of incredible-quality liquid. This, coupled with unique, high-end packaging has enabled Royal Salute to become a jewel in the crown of Scotch whisky.
Recently, I made a comment on a social media website about a major Swiss watch maker. I said that this particular manufacturer (who shall remain nameless) produces nearly a million watches a year and is still considered very much aspirational for most people.
It kick-started a long discussion with friends about what makes a brand great: good marketing or a quality product. Of course, marketing plays a big role in bringing any brand to the masses; how otherwise would we know of the existence of most of the brands we consume. But what billboards and double-page spreads with photographs of pretty footballers can’t hide is the opinion of experts, the word of mouth of the consumer, reflecting the quality of the product.
So if you are going to enter an age-old industry and trying to play alongside brands that have been there on the pitch for more than a century before you even arrived, there is only one way to compete (or even win) and that is to ensure the quality of your new product is not just great, but utterly fantastic. And when the Royal Salute Scotch debuted in 1952, that’s exactly what it did, by setting the bar high. Very high.
For Royal Salute Scotch starts at 21 years of age; a bold age statement given that this requires the youngest whisky in the bottle to be at least 21 years old. This also means that if you buy a bottle of Royal Salute today, the liquid inside must have been resting in oak barrels in Scotland since at least 1993, a lot of it for many years before that. Quite an extraordinary statement and a real quality marker to ensure that 100% of the content of each bottle is super-aged, before being expertly blended together by Royal Salute’s master blender Colin Scott.
But it doesn’t just stop with the masterfully crafted liquid only. The packaging that houses this blended Scotch is as stunning as the whisky itself.
The 21-year-old expression is housed in a flagon made at leading British ceramics firm Wade. Their extra-special 62 Gun Salute edition rests in a hand-blown crystal glass decanter, made by the craftsmen at Dartington and carved by hand with a diamond-tipped tool. More than forty hours of work goes into each bottle; the attention to detail in bringing this single product to the market is staggering. Add to this the sheer quality of the liquid inside and the result is a package that comes as close to perfection as anything else ever can. It is quite simply one of the world’s best whiskies.
For any brand these days, history and heritage are important, but quality and consistency are the key factors. Here we see a rare example, a case study if you will, of a brand joining a long established party and fitting in straight, never feeling any way out of place. No gaudy new money here. This is sheer class, a whisky that has earned its place at the top of the established order and, if it keeps producing the liquid and packaging of the highest quality, will stay there for a very long time to come.
Joel Harrison is a drinks writer and consultant and co-founder of the website Caskstrength.net.