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Time to talk about flavour

Simon Jones co-founder and managing partner at Hart + Jones branding & design agency in Bath UK explains how new thinking in liqueurs can guide design in whisky

Simon Jones Hart + Jones

If a visitor from Mars was to visit a local wine and spirits emporium, our space explorer would emerge with one clear conclusion from studying the whisky fixture: that Scotland is a tough old place.

Harsh climate, stormy seas and tough terrain is the imagery that underpins much of the category. Pack design is avowedly masculine, strong, authentic and unfussy. Despite premium prices and some tasting note style copy on (some) backs of pack, design generally gives no clue as to the flavour subtleties of the liquid. When you sit back and think about it – isn’t this a bit, well, odd?

Even odder is the look of the whisky liqueurs category. Although these are much more approachable, sweeter liquids with exciting ingredients, liqueurs come across as pretend whiskies – with all the ‘tough old place’ coding - rather than interesting and delicious drinks in their own right. This is particularly true of the big brands’ liqueurs, where a shamefaced ‘liqueur’ descriptor has been added to generally dated branding of the parent.

We were able to convince the team at Sacred Distillery that liqueurs represented a major opportunity when they asked us to design a new range that would also include a peated and unpeated whisky. Indeed, we agreed that the liqueur would lead the range and help to establish a new approach with regard to flavour and design.

At Hart & Jones, we get under the skin of how shifting culture changes the way consumers respond to categories and design. The loss of faith in rampant individualism since the 2008 crash, is reflected in the lack of excitement around the singular of malts, estates and vineyards. The rise of blend – in everything from smoothies to coffee but particularly in gin and cocktails – shows that now is the time for a new approach in liqueurs. And we recognized that for the true spirits ambassador, the modern bartender, a whisky liqueur of complex character and superb quality provides limitless inspiration for new creations or improvisation on old classics.

Sacred use vacuum distillation to capture fresh and clean flavours. Their aromatic gins are prominent in top end bars in the UK and USA. Competitors cook their distillates at 100°C – like a domestic soup. But the very low pressure of vacuum distillation means Sacred’s liquid ‘boils’ at only 30°C: orange flavours are fresh and citrus, not marmalade, spices are aromatic and intense, not dulled. Their whisky liqueur is a truly remarkable drink.

To capture the important role flavour and aroma play in this range of whiskies, we employed our semiotics led approach to encode a new design language – THE ART OF FLAVOUR. Retelling the story of the master blender’s watchful eye, the light and delicate flavours, colourful aromatic notes and floral bouquet, with hints of the distinctive, artistic heritage of the brand in London’s Highgate.

This language provides a visual link across the forthcoming peated and unpeated whiskies. It’s carved a new path away from windswept moors and raging seas. And it shows there is a way to break free in every category.

7 July 2017