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Whisky Rebranding And Brand Evolution Part 4 - Islay Edition

Updated: Mar 6

As a consumer, locating your preferred bottle of whisky on a store's shelves can be difficult, particularly when whisky distilleries and brands cannot seem to agree on their product's image. All distilleries have undergone natural brand growth over the years with changing times and demand, particularly with single malts, which were not popular 40 years ago. Today, many of them are running low on stock to make their age statement releases, creating interesting names to fulfil the increasing demand for single malt whiskies over the past two decades. Every year, hundreds of new types of releases seem to emerge.

In this fourth instalment, we'll explore how Islay whisky brands have changed over the decades, including both well-known single malts and lesser-known distilleries.

whisky range changes from 2015 compared to 2021


1. Ardbeg

Ardbeg, a distillery founded in 1815, has a long history dating back to 1794. However, it was closed for most of the 1980s and was only revived when Moet Hennessy took over and brought it back to life. Despite the takeover, the appearance of Ardbeg has remained the same, which indicates that their approach is successful. Ardbeg is now a fan favourite, thanks to its heavily peated expressions.

Today, Ardbeg's core range includes their 10-year-old whisky, Uigeadail, Corryvreckan, and An Oa. In 2012, the distillery started an annual event called Ardbeg Day and has released a special bottle every year since then to commemorate the occasion. In 2021, Ardbeg announced the addition of the oldest whisky ever to their core range - the 25-year-old, packaged in a stylish and reflective black bottle.

Whisky Rebranding And Brand Evolution Ardbeg single malt

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


2. Ardnahoe

No list of Islay would be complete without mentioning the latest edition of the Islay wagon. Hunter Laing & Co. Ltd. started building the Ardnahoe distillery in 2016, and they distilled their first spirit in 2018. Their whisky will soon be aged, and their first bottlings will hopefully be released shortly. We're eagerly waiting to see what they come up with.

Although we can't predict the exact taste of their whisky, we can get a slight idea of what it may look like by examining the previous bottlings done by Hunter Laing as an independent bottler. If there is any truth to rumours and if you have a couple of extra millions, you can even buy the distillery and decide the future of its whisky yourself.

Hunter Laing bottlings

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


3. Bowmore

The Bowmore distillery, the oldest distillery in the Isle of Islay, was founded in 1779. Beam Suntory has owned this distillery since 1994, but they began their involvement with it in 1989. The distillery is famous for producing some of the most collectable whiskies from Islay, particularly its bottlings of Black Bowmore.

In 2007, Bowmore announced the redesign of its whole range and future bottlings with the release of its 18yo whisky. This design lasted for around 10 years until 2017, when it decided to revamp it.

Over the years, Bowmore has released numerous limited editions. Recently, they released the Timeless series with their 27-year-old and 31-year-old in 2021. This saw them get back to their roots in the early 1990s with their screen-print labels.

Whisky Rebranding And Brand Evolution Bowmore single malt

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


4. Bruichladdich

Bruichladdich is a renowned distillery producing various innovative and distinctive whiskies. They call themselves the 'Progressive Hebridean Distillers' and offer a variety of products that stand out in the market. Their unpeated variant is named after the distillery. They also make Port Charlotte, which is heavily peated, and Octomore, which is famous for its knock-your-socks-off peatiness. In addition, they have a limited edition X4 series.

Established in 1881, Bruichladdich has experienced several changes in ownership and even a closure from 1995 to 2001. It is currently owned by Remy Cointreau, who acquired the premises in 2012. One thing that sets it apart is its commitment to sourcing barley from local farms.

Bruichladdich's journey has been quite remarkable. After resuming production in 2001, they released their first Classic Laddie in 2009, followed by their first 10-year-old whisky in 2011. Their Port Charlotte range includes PC5, the first version, released in 2006, followed by the 10-year-old version in 2012.

In 2004, Bruichladdich released their peat experiment whisky under the '3D Peat Proposal', which paved the way for extremely peated whiskies. The first Octomore was distilled in 2002 to 80ppm and finally released in 2008 with a Futures bottling. The first black Octomore bottles emerged the same year. Bruichladdich has constantly broken its record for the world's peatiest whisky, and currently, the title is held by Octomore 8.3 with 309ppm, which was released in 2017.

The newest development was introduced in 2023 when Bruichladdich repackaged its Classic Laddie in a new, lighter bottle made from 60% recycled glass.

Whisky Rebranding And Brand Evolution Bruichladdich single malt

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


5. Bunnahabhain

Bunnahabhain is another Islay distillery that was established in 1881. Currently owned by Burn Stewart under Distell International Ltd, which Heineken and CVH Spirits acquired in 2023, this distillery primarily produces unpeated whisky. Since the new owners took over in 2003, we have seen significant changes in their product line and branding.

One of the most significant changes was the redesign of their label to a more straightforward, round-about style just before Distell's involvement. Another major change was the bottle's redesign before 2010, which brought back their earlier label design. In 2011, they switched the green bottle to a brown one. In 2018, they made more changes, including the sailor design and assigning colours to different years.

Whisky Rebranding And Brand Evolution Bunnahabhain single malt

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


6. Caol Ila

Caol Ila, established in 1846, is the biggest distillery on the island of Islay and is considered Diageo's 'workhorse' there. It is mainly used as a smoky component in blends like Johnnie Walker. However, it wasn't until 2002 that Diageo gave this distillery a chance as a stand-alone brand, with the first official bottling bearing the name Caol Ila 15yo being part of the Flora & Fauna series. This series introduced lesser-known distilleries to the market.

Diageo is not investing much in the Caol Ila brand itself. They haven't rebranded it since its launch in 2002, and marketing for the brand is almost non-existent. Although they have released different editions and variants, Caol Ila is not part of their limited series. They don't have to because offering a single malt from the distillery is just a side hustle for them.

Whisky Rebranding And Brand Evolution Caol Ila single malt

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


7. Lagavulin

Lagavulin distillery was founded in 1816 and is currently owned by Diageo. The distillery's signature feature is its smoky yet gentle character, and it has an interesting history with its next-door rival, Laphroaig. In 1988, Diageo selected Lagavulin as one of the Classic Malts to showcase Scotland's various regions and whisky styles. The Lagavulin 16yo design has remained unchanged since the 90s. However, it's worth noting that in 2000, the Royal Warrant on the label was removed after White Horse Distillers Ltd, which held it, ceased to exist. Additionally, the Lagavulin Distillers Edition used to be an 18-year-old expression before being changed to 16. The distillery continually adds new editions to its portfolio, and some of the latest releases include The Game of Thrones, 12yo Rare by Nature, and Prima & Ultima.

Whisky Rebranding And Brand Evolution Lagavulin single malt

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


8. Laphroaig

Laphroaig, founded in 1815, is located next door to Lagavulin and is currently owned by Beam Suntory since its purchase in 2014. It is the world's best-selling peated whisky and holds the 7th place for the most popular single malt. This whisky is known for its medicinal smoky character and is either loved or hated by those who try it. In 2020, the brand launched an advertising campaign with the slogan 'You'll always remember your first Laphroaig' - whether it was a good or bad experience. The brand's core range consists of a 10-year-old, Triple Wood, Select, and Quarter Cask. Interestingly, some Islay whiskies stick to their initial branding and simply revamp it, perhaps believing that if something is not broken, there is no need to fix it. The labels may not be the most attractive, but they seem to work for Laphroaig.

Whisky Rebranding And Brand Evolution Laphroaig single malt

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


9. Kilchoman

Established in 2005, Kilchoman is a relatively young distillery that has quickly gained popularity among whisky enthusiasts. Owned by the Wills family, they have managed to make non-age statement whiskies trendy with their peated malt. Kilchoman's first whisky was a 2-year-old New Spirit. In 2009, they released their first 3-year-old whisky, followed by the 100% Islay in 2011. In 2012, they introduced their first core range whisky, Machir Bay, which was joined by Sanaig in 2016. Throughout the years, they have released several limited editions that have included different cask finishes.

Whisky Rebranding And Brand Evolution Kilchoman single malt

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


We will continue the brand discovery in our fifth edition with Talisker, Balvenie, and GlenDronach.

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