Glenlivet have been making a bit of noise in the last couple of days with the release of their new expression named “Alpha”. Presented in a matte black bottle it’s totally devoid of any other information, including age statements, production techniques and any tasting notes. The only other information that can be found is that it is a single malt and the abv is at 50% (both of these are legal requirements).
It is being hailed as the first “blind” release, marketed as a “blank canvas” where the consumers are encouraged to develop their own perceptions of this whisky without being influenced by critical factors such as age, colour (presumably why it’s released in a matte black bottle – although as soon as you open it you’ll notice the colour) or any other production details, such as cask maturation type or finishing.
In order to engage with the public, Glenlivet will be mounting a global campaign across social media formats and predominately facebook. They will be setting weekly tasks and “sensory challenges” that break down the whisky into four senses: sight, smell, taste and feel (1) so the public will be able to develop their own tasting notes. They even made a nice film to go along with it too.
However, after all the fun and games master distiller Alan Winchester will reveal all about Glenlivet Alpha via a global broadcast on the Glenlivet website and facebook page. That happens on 3rd June so people have got just over a month to debate and talk about this whisky. Presumably people would have already worked out what the colour and what it tastes like but hey it’s always nice to get it confirmed from an official source as you may have mistaken that tangerine note for a clementine. You won’t be told how old it is though because as it’s not stated on the bottle, to do so after it has been released would apparently make the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) very cross (2).
Glenlivet Alpha will be either 3500 or 3350 bottles (1 and 3) [depending on which source you read] released worldwide. But only 600 bottles will be made available to the U.K. and a retail price tag of varying somewhere between £77 (4) and £99 (5).
This is all well and good but I’ve got some concerns and issues over this release. My first is with such a limited release and such a hefty price tag my question is, is any normal whisky drinker actually going to get a chance to sample this? And my second is this just an example of hype and marketing in whisky which is now perhaps going a little too far?
Nikki Burgess, international brand director for The Glenlivet, states that the new release is more an attempt to communicate the brand’s signature style with consumers, than simply a marketing initiative. (2)
“We want to engage people and strike up a discussion about the product,” she said. “We know that single malt fans are really into The Glenlivet and are dying to know more, so this is a way of us being able to have more of a conversation rather than downloading messages. There are only 3,500 bottles worldwide so the objective isn’t a massive revenue gain either; it’s about building more of a relationship with people around the brand.” (2)
The idea of setting lots of little challenges, interacting with the public and trying to get them guessing about the contents of the bottle is great.
But apart from a load of whisky industry types and a bunch of whisky bloggers who been sent pre-release samples just who else is actually being engaged by this release?
Is the exclusiveness of the release just providing a lot of free copy for Glenlivet whilst at the same time alienating the normal whisky buying public?
And due to the nature of this release will not a good chunk of the bottles be purchased for a speculative re-sale if it turns out to be a rare single cask or whatnot?
With only 600 bottles and a price tag near the ton mark there’s no way that this will find its way onto a back-bar of any whisky bars or pubs, which for the average punter, is the best way of trying new whiskies without committing to shelling out for a full bottle.
I like the idea of engaging the public in this way but it seems to me that the execution of this particular release is solely aimed at marketing (yeah undoubtedly the contents will have to be good as its being assessed by the whisky microcosm) but it detracts from what I believe whisky should all be about – honesty, accessibility and enjoyment shared. What’s so wrong about simply making good whisky and selling good whisky?