Neat or with soda? Make every sip count

Dr Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie is at the heart of innovations that's readying this exceptional spirit for Gen X. The brand's new ad campaign — delicious and wonderful — is a sign of things to come

dr bill lumsden

A couple enjoy a whimsical candlelit date on a Ferris wheel, complete with Glenmorangie cocktails, and popcorn in a holder with a giraffe motif. Tickets decorated with giraffes and the anagram “Glamor Engine”, are scattered on the table in front of them, as a balloon floats upwards in the background. If there’s a marketing or ad campaign for a premium whisky that’s broken clichés, Glenmorangie’s new “It’s kind of delicious and wonderful” campaign certainly figures high on that list. 

casks in distillery

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It's not an accident or a one-off idea that came out of a typical client-agency brainstorming session. Meetings with a singular intention of doing something different to break the clutter. It’s a natural progression for a company that has always done things differently. As far back as 1887, Glenmorangie became the first distillery to opt for tall stills. A move that has now led to the giraffe becoming a motif of sorts (to draw comparisons with these now legendary tall stills). The list of doing things differently goes on; from the first distillery to use steam coils for distillation to being one of only two distilleries in Scotland that uses very mineral rich water for their whisky. 

It’s this innovative streak that lured Dr Bill Lumsden to join The Glenmorangie Company in 1995. 26 years later, he’s Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks and oversees the creation of Glenmorangie’s exceptional spirit, which originates in the Highlands of Scotland. Ardbeg whisky, known to its loyal following as the Ultimate Islay Malt, is also under his leadership. He is renowned for his groundbreaking wood management techniques, experiments with exceptional casks at various ages, and use of wood finishing. 

He tells me how the Glenmorangie Company has given him a free hand to experiment. But he’s no mad scientist. He’s a recent inductee to the list of Icons of the Whisky hall of fame and winner of numerous industry awards including Master Blender/Distiller of the Year at the International Spirits Challenge in 2018.

glenmorangie distillery

Dr Bill believes that the industry has evolved more in the 2010s than any other decade ever. Blame it on the same group — the millennials or Gen-X, that all marketers like to attribute any tectonic changes in consumer preferences. “The old fashioned image of a silver haired gentleman with a beard and  kilt sitting on a leather bound armchair in a club has been smashed forever.” Dr Bill seems relieved with the evolution of the whisky consumer. “The younger audience travel more, seek more experiences and are open to new tastes.” Dr Bill has seen these changes in markets across the world including key Asian markets like Japan, China and India. 

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It's forced an entire industry to step out of their comfort zone and introduce more variations leading to more choices for the consumer. “It’s a democratisation of the whisky market and it was inevitable.” It’s this democratisation that was the catalyst for the new campaign. “I could talk for hours about the distilling process or our storage techniques but ultimately all today’s consumer wants is a delicious whisky.” Dr Bill is not too hung up about how a whole new generation of whisky drinkers enjoys his or her whisky. Each market has its own idiosyncrasies. In India, for instance, he believes that the Colonial influences still remain — a preference to drink whiskies neat or with soda. And when he’s in Japan, he sticks with a Highball especially when he’s drinking Ardbeg.   

glenmorangie distillery building

Dr Bill wears both hats — a distiller and a marketer, it’s why he has a word of caution for all premium whisky brands to never lose sight of the drink in the bottle. “While our storytelling has changed considerably, it can never be style over substance. Consumers ultimately pay a premium for the whisky and not the campaign or the packaging.” For a company that plans 20, sometimes 30 years ahead, COVID-19 was a bolt from the blue. Brands like Glenmorangie have coped with online experiences as international travel restrictions have prevented whisky aficionados from across the world to travel for distillery visits to Scotland. While COVID might be a temporary challenge, the industry is bracing itself for a whole new set of tests ahead. 

“We’re already seeing consumers in evolved markets seeking low-alcohol or no-alcohol booze alternatives.”  Brands like Glenmorangie might soon need to create spirits with the same flavour profile but with lower alcohol levels. This will also put it at odds with the classification of such alternatives as Scotch whisky within the current stipulations (a Scotch whisky needs a 40 per cent or higher ABV). Iconic whisky brands will also have to move towards sustainable business practises, energy efficiency and carbon neutrality to appeal to a more evolved and more socially responsible consumer is also. Consumers are maturing faster than whiskies, this can only mean that we are set for more exciting times ahead. Or to borrow the tagline from the new Glenmorangie campaign: “It’s kind of delicious and wonderful”.

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A tale of cake

Dr Bill found himself musing over how some of his most joyful memories came from cake. He enjoyed baking with this grandmother in her kitchen. This bold expression of Glenmorangie that debuted in 2020 didn’t just standout with its unconventional packaging but a unique flavour profile (its luscious, sweet and complex) that Dr Bill likes to call ‘a technicolour taste’.  He devised this whisky to conjure the magic of a cake moment, finishing his favourite Glenmorangie Single Malt in the finest Tokaji dessert wine casks.


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