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Whisky Rebranding And Brand Evolution Part 1

Updated: Mar 6

As a consumer, it can be difficult to locate your preferred bottle of whisky on a store's shelves, particularly when whisky distilleries and brands cannot seem to agree on their product's image. All distilleries undergo 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, leading to the creation of funny 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.

Newer brands may have more resources to compete and stand out, while those that have been in the industry for decades sometimes seem to be getting desperate to distinguish themselves. During the lockdown, we also noticed many brands tweaking their branding, and we hope they did not do it out of boredom.

Lately, there has been a trend in whisky branding that favours a monotonous, almost copy-paste kind of minimalistic approach. We are uncertain whether this is a positive development because we believe that this may lead to a loss of individuality. What do you think about this trend?

whisky shelf 2015 compared to 2021


1. Benromach

The Benromach distillery is located in Speyside, Scotland and was established in 1898. It is currently owned by Gordon & MacPhail, an independent bottling company, who acquired the distillery in 1993. Since then, the company has rebranded its product line three times. The latest update and rebranding occurred in 2020, which resulted in a new white and red label that represents the brand today.

Brand evolution Benromach single malt whisky distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


2. Benriach

Benriach is a Speyside distillery that embarked on a new adventure in 2020 with its rebranding. The distillery has been around since 1897 and was acquired by Brown Forman in 2016, along with Glenglassaugh and Glendronach distilleries. While it's understandable to rebrand after 16 years, the new approach seems to be a bit bland, with every bottle looking the same. The previous line of products may have been too colourful, but there could have been a better balance between the two.

Brand evolution Benriach single malt whisky distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


3. Glenturret

In the past, Glenturret has tried to find its footing as a standalone brand. Previously stamped as the oldest licensed whisky distillery in Scotland, Glenturret is now the oldest still-operational distillery. Its history dates back to 1775, and it was purchased by the Lalique Group and Hansjorg Wyss in 2019. Previously, Glenturret whisky was mainly recognised as part of the Famous Grouse blend under The Edrington Group's ownership.

Under Edrington's management, Glenturret attempted to establish itself as a brand but has struggled with an identity crisis, perplexing even the most enthusiastic whisky enthusiasts. The distillery underwent a complete rebranding in 2020, with a new bottle shape influenced by Lalique's glass-making expertise.

Brand evolution Glenturret single malt whisky distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


4. Fettercairn

Fettercairn distillery has a colourful history with Whyte & Mackay, who have been involved with the distillery since the 1970s. The distillery was founded in 1824 and produces a fruity malt but has had difficulty gaining traction with consumers. This is partly due to the fact that the owners, Whyte & Mackay, have been heavily investing in their other brand, Dalmore.

In an effort to become more memorable, the distillery adopted the national animal of Scotland, the unicorn, on their bottles in 2010. They also introduced a long, thin bottle shape, but these changes did not lead to widespread success. However, in 2018, they revealed a new bottle design that seems to have given Fettercairn single malt the boost it needed to stand out among the competition.

Brand evolution and rebranding Fettercairn single malt whisky distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


5. Jura

The Jura distillery on the Isle of Jura is also owned by Whyte & Mackay. Established in the 1810s, Whyte & Mackay has only been involved with the distillery since 1993. Jura has been recognised for its signature bottle shape for decades, but its recent rebranding in 2018 has landed it on this list.

In the past, Jura has released many different whiskies that were somewhat confusing. The brand changed its core range recipe in 2018 along with a major rebranding, moving from the easily understandable 'heavily smoky' and 'light and fruity' descriptions to one main type of whisky: lightly oily, malty and salty.

Brand evolution and rebranding Jura single malt whisky distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


6. Glen Scotia

Glen Scotia distillery was founded in 1832 in Campbeltown. Over the years, it has changed ownership multiple times and faced mothballing and closures. Currently, Loch Lomond Group under Hillhouse Capital Management operates the distillery. In 2012, the brand introduced a bottle design with a reflecting surface printed on it, which some considered tasteless. The bottles and tubes had different colours for different years. However, in 2015, the brand underwent a much-needed redesign, along with the release of non-age statement bottles, which turned out to be a successful revamp for them. Recently, in 2022, they introduced yet another new look.

Brand evolution and rebranding Glen Scotia single malt whisky distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


7. Springbank

Springbank Distillery was established in 1828 in Campbeltown, and it is one of the few 19th-century distilleries that are still owned by an independent company. They have managed to maintain their logo design over the years, which is a testament to the continuous ownership by one owner. In the early 2000s, they introduced their now iconic bottle shape, which is instantly recognisable. Their redesign formula is based on 'tweaking the old.'

This whisky is highly sought-after, and due to its high demand, it is only available half of the year. As a small producer, Springbank makes a lot of experimental releases, which can make it difficult to keep up with all the different Springbank releases, not to mention their other brands: Longrow, Hazelburn, and Kilkerran.

Brand evolution and rebranding Springbank single malt whisky distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


8. Mortlach

Located in Dufftown in Speyside, Mortlach distillery has been around since 1823. The distillery has been owned by Diageo since 1923, under its predecessors. In 1991, the Mortlach 16-year-old whisky was added to Diageo's Flora & Fauna range and was widely celebrated for its rich, sherried, and gamey character. However, in 2014, Diageo decided to rebrand Mortlach as a standalone malt. This move disappointed many Mortlach fans as the new blend was toned down and came in smaller bottles. The brand needed an update to regain its status, which came in 2018 with the introduction of 12-year-old Wee Witchie, 16-year-old Distiller's Dram, and 20-year-old Cowie's Blue Seal. In 2019, Diageo launched a celebratory Game of Thrones range, including the 15-year-old Mortlach Six Kingdoms.

Brand evolution and rebranding Mortlach single malt whisky distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


9. Cardhu

Cardhu is one of the corner whiskies in the Johnnie Walker blends due to its sweet and malty character. The distillery was founded in 1824 and is currently owned by Diageo. In the years 2002-2004, Cardhu was bottled as Pure Malt, which caused outrage in the industry and ultimately led to its failure. Cardhu is known for its distinctive square bottle, but in 2019, Diageo introduced a 14-year-old Cardhu as part of its Special Releases under the Rare by Nature range, housed in the company's stock bottle. The same year, Cardhu Gold Reserve was released under the Game of Thrones range. In 2021, Diageo launched a new range called Four Corners of Scotland, and Cardhu became a part of it. Even though Cardhu is one of Diageo's best-selling single malts, the distillery has had a troubled past. These recent changes suggest that Diageo might be trying to attach it to as many releases as possible to ensure future success for the single malt brand.

Brand evolution and rebranding Cardhu single malt whisky distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


10. Balblair

Located in the Scottish Highlands, Balblair is a distillery with a rich history dating back to 1790. After changing hands multiple times, Inver House acquired the distillery in 1998. Before the year 2000, Balblair's single malt was predominantly bottled by independent bottlers such as Gordon & MacPhail. However, after the acquisition, Balblair began releasing its official distillery bottlings. In 2007, Balblair decided to revamp its entire image by introducing a new bottle shape and vintage statements that replaced the old age statements. This move caused some confusion among consumers, as they were used to identifying the age of the whisky by the number displayed on the bottle (e.g. '97', '05', etc.). In 2019, Balblair underwent another rebranding, this time returning to universally recognised age statements.

Brand evolution and rebranding Balblair single malt whisky distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


To be continued in Part 2 when we look into the brand development for Macallan, Highland Park, and Arran/Lochranza to name a few.

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