From the Editors

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  • A jolly good(wood) drive

    20 August 2015

    I could probably spend hours concocting a tedious link to explain why spending a full day driving Morgans around Goodwood race track has anything to do with whisky, but let’s be honest – it was what we journos like to call a jolly.

    In my defence I was invited along with some of the UK’s most renowned bartenders and bar owners by Balvenie, who have developed a strong partnership with the Morgan Motor Company over the last few years. According to the Speyside single malt brand the two companies share the same values of craftsmanship, heritage and family-ownership, and have cemented their relationship through the commission of four Balvenie Morgan 4-seater Roadsters, which can be spotted roaming around the US and UK.

    The UK's only Balvenie Morgan.

    Unfortunately only a handful of William Grant & Sons staff are insured to drive the cars, but that didn’t stop us road-testing a sample of Morgan’s core fleet at Goodwood in West Sussex.

    The Malvern-based car manufacturer, through its dealer Bell and Colvill, kindly – and very trustingly – lent several of its vehicles to us liquor lovers with which to tear up Goodwood’s famous corners, though of course, very sensibly, the whisky was absent.

    For those who are unfamiliar with Morgan's cars, here are a few facts:

    • The Morgan Motor Company was established in 1909.
    • Every car is handmade from an aluminium chassis with a wooden (ash) body.
    • The top speed of the Plus 8 model is 155mph.
    • Each car is open-topped.
    • Don't even think about crashing one.

    Four cars were made available for us to drive ourselves – with an instructor present – around the track: a 4/4, V6 Roadster, 3-wheeler and a Plus 8. Now I’m an ace behind the wheel when safely playing Need for Speed at home, but in reality I’m a coward when it comes to wooden cars, speed and corners. Thankfully I had the highly experienced racing pro – and former Coronation Street and Hollyoaks actor, Tony Hirst, to show me around the track, albeit in his own ARV6 Roadster which has a top speed of 150mph.

    Another thing to note about a Morgan – the seats are low, which means if you’re a short-arse like me you won’t see far over the dashboard, particularly if you’re cowering at the speed at which Hirst nonchalantly takes his corners. But of course this calm and experienced attitude is why he won the Morgan Challenge Race at Silverstone the previous weekend.

    Speed demon: Tony Hirst and I get a dressing down for making too much noise.

    Thankfully by the time it came to my turn round the track the heavens had opened, which meant I ended up in the slowest and safest car in the fleet – the 4/4, and had some useful advice from Hirst to consider:

    • Look ahead through the corners and not at the front of the car.
    • Don’t trust your instincts – your brain will tell you to steer one way but you must resist.
    • Brake gently.
    • Accelerate gently.
    • Only accelerate and brake on the straights, and never on a corner.
    • Have fun.

    Accelerating gently? I’m not ashamed to admit I only hit a top speed of 65mph – some way off Hirst’s best I’m sure, but at least the car was delivered safely back in one piece despite the downpour. That’s a win in my book.

    Admittedly, reaching for a dram once arriving home just to settle my frazzled nerves is really the only part whisky plays in this little excursion, but experiencing the thrill of driving a handmade car does lend a healthy insight into the high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail that’s needed to keep its driver and passengers comfortable and safe. It’s understandable that Balvenie sympathises with these values, it being one of the few remaining Scottish distilleries with its own floor maltings and cooperage. But all that’s better explained by them in this video, which was produced by the group earlier this year, although the extent to which Balvenie is really the ‘last handcrafted whisky in the world’ is debateable. 

    Now, don’t suppose any other whisky brand fancies partnering with a luxury Bahamas tour operator?

    All in a day's work: Tony Hirst makes driving a Morgan at up to 150mph seem easy.

  • The benefits of whisky-scented moustache wax

    08 July 2015

    What better way for a whisky brand to grab the attention of a hipster than to talk about the one thing that matters to them the most?

    The moustache, that universal symbol of hispterdom, now has a new friend in the Johnnie Walker wax collection – a range of three scented moustache waxes each designed to enhance the flavour of the brand’s signature Johnnie and Ginger serve.

    Exclusively available at Huckle the Barber in East London, the pocket-sized collection – available in Piperine Pepper, Citrus Essence or Ginger Root flavours – is designed to increase brand awareness among millennials, or more specifically, hairy male hipsters.

    Wax your 'tache in three delicious flavours.

    This is the third example of Johnnie Walker’s attempt to capture this demographic’s attention through diversifying its range with whisky-related wearables. First came the Heriot Watt-developed Harris tweed infused with the aroma of Johnnie Walker, then the pair of Oliver Sweeney brogues with a secret compartment just the right size for a miniature of Johnnie Walker in the heel.

    At first glance each of these creations may seem like a novelty, but could branching its range out into non-consumables that appeal to a growing millennial audience be a clever approach to stemming declining sales in Western markets?

    Volumes of Johnnie Walker declined by 3% in North America and Western Europe in 2014, a trend that analysts claim ‘highlights the urgent need for a fresh positioning’.

    Quirky innovations like the Johnnie Walker moustache wax may gain column inches in the consumer press – as well as this website – and perhaps result in a handful of sales of the three waxy scents, but a deeper and more substantial appeal to millennials is key if brands like Johnnie Walker are to turn the tide in western markets.

    As Spiros Malandrakis, senior alcoholics drink analyst at Euromonitor, says: ‘Overoptimistically succumbing to the now defunct emerging market mantra, [Johnnie Walker] was being quietly left behind its Irish and American siblings as well as the myriad micro offerings in its core western markets.’

    He adds that expanding the brand’s appeal to encompass several drinking occasions, cocktail serves – that are easy to recreate at home – and even extended product lines will ‘make or break key mainstream brands going forward’. The warning has far more urgency for blended Scotch than other whisky categories, which is suffering from a tired image in the shadow of aspirational single malts and Bourbons.

    However he warns that brand diversification needs to offer more substance than simple novelty if it’s to have any real effect on falling volumes.

    ‘Attempting to re-establish relevance to an alienated younger demographic is and will remain important but appearances can only go that far,’ he says. ‘It’s time for radical changes in substance.’

    Hairy hipsters: the focus of Johnnie Walker innovations

    If it’s really the millennial audience JW is reaching for, surely with increasing numbers of female whisky drinkers, who incidentally are driving cocktail sales in western markets, expanding the brand focus from purely hairy hipsters to include a younger female audience is one path declining whisky brands could benefit from?

    Although it’s unlikely whisky-infused jewellery will drastically alter the brand’s sales for the better, it sure would be nice for female whisky drinkers to be recognised as a key demographic alongside hairy hipsters. After all, we may be more difficult to spot without the obvious facial cues, but there are no doubt just as many of us.

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