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Whisky Rebranding And Brand Evolution Part 2

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 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?

change in a whisky branding between 2015 and 2021


1. Macallan

Over the past two decades, the Edrington Group-owned Speyside distillery has released several whiskies, often called the 'Rolls Royce' of single malts. Established in 1824, the distillery is known for producing some of the world's most expensive and collectable whiskies. This article highlights a few of the significant recent releases.

After Edrington took over, they launched various replicas, series, and fancy decanters in collaboration with Lalique. The Fine Oak range introduced in 2004 featured the bottle design commonly associated with Macallan whisky today. Although Macallan had previously released some decanters, such as the 50-year-old Millennium, the eye-catching Lalique crystals came into play around 2007 with the release of a 55-year-old decanter, later becoming one of six in their Lalique collection.

In 2012, Macallan revamped its core range by introducing Macallan Gold as part of the 1824 collection, followed by Amber, Sienna, and Ruby a year later. In 2016, Macallan launched the first release in its Edition series and reintroduced a core range age statement whisky, the 12-year-old Double Cask.

In 2018, Macallan launched a new packaging design and redefined its core range, eliminating the 1824 collection. However, it can be challenging for consumers to differentiate between the various 12-year-old whiskies that Macallan offers, with three different options available.

Some people feel that Macallan is not consumer-friendly due to the numerous collectable editions released, and this has led to questions about whether the brand is purely profit-driven.

whisky rebranding and brand evolution Macallan single malt whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


2. Highland Park

Here's another distillery owned by The Edrington Group that enjoys releasing various collectable editions. This Orkney-based distillery has been in operation since 1798. Since 1999, when Edrington purchased the distillery, it has adopted a unique Viking theme that is present in all its releases. The Highland Park distillery first introduced their edged bottles with the release of the 20-year-old Rebus and the core range in 2007. In 2010, they released the exquisite Highland Park 50-year-old whisky.

In 2012, the distillery introduced the first of four editions of the Valhalla Collection with the release of 16-year-old Thor. Since then, the distillery has continued to release new Viking-themed editions at a dizzying pace. In 2017, the whisky underwent a massive rebranding, introducing Light and Dark, and 'Viking Honour' as part of the core range revamp.

While we appreciate the design of the latest bottle with its edged surface, the constant stream of new releases can be overwhelming.

whisky rebranding and brand evolution Highland Park single malt whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


3. Arran AKA Lochranza

Lochranza distillery, situated on the Isle of Arran, is a relatively recent entrant in the whisky industry. It was founded in 1993 by Harold Currie and is currently owned by Isle of Arran Distillers. During its short existence, the distillery has undergone a couple of significant rebranding, with the latest one in 2019. Over the years, Lochranza distillery has released a variety of whiskies, including their heavily peated Machrie Moor range, wood finishes, Smuggler's Series, and Lochranza Castle series.

Arran bottles made their way to the shelves of many specialised outlets with the release of their first proper age statement in 2006.

However, the latest revamp of the range saw the discontinuation of Arran 14yo, which was a personal favourite of many. The new bottles feature braille, a cool new addition, but their monotone design is a bit underwhelming. They have also replaced their signature font logo in the process.

whisky rebranding and brand evolution Arran single malt whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


4. Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis Distillery, founded in 1825, is currently owned by Ben Nevis Distillery Ltd under the Japanese whisky company Nikka, which acquired the distillery in 1989. In 1996, Nikka's influence was seen on the packaging when Ben Nevis adopted their signature brown bottle, which they continue to use for their Nikka range to this day.

The major label revamp featuring a rose gold cap was introduced in 2021 with the release of Coire Leis and the new 10-year-old.

whisky rebranding and brand evolution Ben Nevis single malt whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


5. Glen Grant

Glen Grant distillery, established in 1840, has been owned by the Campari Group since 2006. However, the previous owners were not keen on bottling it as a single malt, so the first official bottlings from Glen Grant were Pure Malts. Before the 2000s, most of the single malt bottlings were done by Gordon & McPhail.

In 2006, the distillery underwent a repackaging exercise, which was not surprising as it only entailed a redesign of the previous packaging and the establishment of Glen Grant as a single malt. In 2016, the white label with its two Scotchmen was replaced with a greyish design.

In 2021, there was yet another major redesign that included coloured labels. This relatively quick rebranding raises some questions about whether the distillery is trying to distance itself from a certain whisky writer who has been shunned by the industry. This writer endorsed Glen Grant during their last rebranding attempt, and the new redesign may be an attempt to shake off any negative associations.

whisky rebranding and brand evolution The Glen Grant single malt whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


6. Deanston

When we first delved into the history of this relatively new Highland distillery, which was founded in 1965, we initially thought that we wouldn't find much of interest. However, we were surprised to discover that, despite its relatively short existence, there have been numerous attempts to market its single malt.

The distillery began bottling its first whisky under the name Old Bannockburn, followed by Deanston Mill in the 1970s and Deanston Malt in the 1980s. It wasn't until Burn Stewart Distillers acquired the distillery in 1990 that Deanston became their bottles' sole name. Distell International Ltd purchased Burn Stewart in 2013, acquired by Heineken's subsidiary CVH Spirits in 2023.

While Deanston has never been considered a particularly exceptional whisky, we have noticed a significant improvement in quality in the past five years or so. Their latest redesign, launched in 2016, has proven to be a success.

whisky rebranding and brand evolution Deanston single malt whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


7. Tobermory & Ledaig

The Tobermory distillery, located on the Isle of Mull, has a rich history dating back to 1798. Despite facing closures, mothballing and changes in ownership, Tobermory has persevered. It was acquired by Distell during their takeover of Deanston in 2013 from Burn Stewart.

Tobermory currently produces two types of whisky: unpeated Tobermory and heavily peated Ledaig. Independent bottlers such as Douglas Murdoch used to bottle Ledaig before its official launch as Ledaig 10yo in 2007. The distillery also sold 'pre-Ledaig' whisky under the name Iona Atoll.

Since 2010, Tobermory and Ledaig have experienced a resurgence with the introduction of special releases and wood finishes. Ledaig, in particular, has become a favourite among whisky enthusiasts seeking heavily peated whiskies outside of Islay. In 2019, the distillery updated its labels to improve its design.

whisky rebranding and brand evolution Tobermory Ledaig single malt whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


8. Tomatin

Founded in 1897, Tomatin distillery has been owned by Japanese Takara Shuzo since the mid-80s. Despite facing many challenges in the past, the brand has managed to gain popularity amongst single malt drinkers. In 2013, the introduction of their peated malt Cu Bocan and complete rebranding in 2016 proved to be a turning point for Tomatin. Since then, sales have skyrocketed, making them a great example of a whisky brand that successfully rebranded its products, transitioning from a dull-looking bottle to a memorable one.

whisky rebranding and brand evolution Tomatin Cu Bocan single malt whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


9. Aberlour

Aberlour is a Speyside distillery that was founded in 1879. Initially known as Aberlour-Glenlivet, it has been owned by Pernod Ricard since 1974. In the 90s, Aberlour and other distilleries that had followed the same practice dropped the suffix from its name. The suffix implied that Aberlour was a Glenlivet-style whisky from Speyside, but the company wanted to establish its own identity without any legal complications.

Since the late 80s to early 90s, Aberlour has been one of the top 10 single malts in the world. The brand was tweaked in 2020, and it is hoped that this will lead to even more success in the future.

whisky rebranding and brand evolution Aberlour single malt whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


10. Royal Brackla

This Highland distillery was founded in 1812 and is currently owned by John Dewar & Sons, which was acquired by Bacardi in 1998 from Diageo. In 1993, Diageo added the 10-year-old Royal Brackla to its Flora & Fauna series, and some discontinued bottles of this whisky may still be available.

Since Bacardi's acquisition, they have made efforts to build up the brand, starting with the release of the 10-year-old whisky in 2004, followed by a complete rebranding in 2015. In 2021, the company announced another new packaging that follows the minimalist white-label design other brands have also adopted. We wonder if, in a few years, the shelves will be filled with a wall of white bottles that all look similar.

whisky rebranding and brand evolution Royal Brackla single malt whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


The discovery will continue with Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glenfarclas in Part 3.

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