How do you go about creating a new whisky brand?
So many whisky brands have decades of heritage and legacy, so how do you go about starting afresh?
Scotch whisky was 526 years old this week. Well, the earliest written record of distilling in Scotland occurred in 1494 in the Exchequer Rolls – the tax record of the time. The entry says, “Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae.” That amount of barley would have produced around 400 bottles of spirit in today’s numbers. Friar John Cor was not messing around. While it’s likely distilling was taking place before that time, that’s the earliest official record we’ve got to go on.
The first taxes on Scotch whisky were also introduced a long time ago, in 1644. Naturally the Scottish Parliament wanted to profit on the new industry. As ever with these things, that then led to an increase in illicit whisky distilling across the country, which continued for well over 100 years. There are suggestions even clergymen got involved in the action, hiding Scotch under the pulpit, or even transporting whisky by coffin, all to avoid paying tax.
You might not know that famous Scottish poet Robert Burns was a tax collector. Before writing some of Scotland’s most well-known poetry, he trained as an exciseman. He even wrote an ode to whisky, ‘Scotch Drink’ in 1785. It starts:
“Let other poets raise a fracas
"Bout vines, an' wines, an' drucken Bacchus,
An' crabbit names an'stories wrack us,
An' grate our lug:
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.”
All this is a rather roundabout way of saying that Scotch whisky has been around for a very long time. And people have cared about it for a long time. Today, there are more than 120 active Scotch whisky distilleries across Scotland. It’s not known exactly which distillery owns the title of ‘oldest’, but there are a few contenders, including the Glenturret Distillery, which was apparently illegally operating at the start of the 18th century and was eventually granted a licence in 1775, the Bowmore distillery, which was established in 1779, and the Littlemill distillery, which was established in 1772.
Chapter 7 whisky
With this, quite a lot of importance is placed on the heritage and history of a Scotch whisky brand. But if you’re approaching things in a different way, perhaps as an independent bottler, how can you stand out from the crowd?
We chatted to Selim Evin, founder of Chapter 7 whisky about his brand, and how you innovate in a world that isn’t necessarily known for being unconventional or pioneering. Chapter 7 is an independent whisky bottler, which you can find more about in the below feature.
When it came to the look and feel of Chapter 7, a brand which came about in 2014, Evin worked with a Dutch designer. “My brief to him was that we don’t have heritage and we’re starting new. I like minimalism, so can we stick to that? The fonts he’s used are inspired by distillery wall writings and cask prints. Each is unique for that distillery and represents something unique. There’s more and more modern stuff coming out these days, and there’s lots of revamping happening in the whisky packaging world. But most people have to stick to the heritage and the classic image of Scotch whisky. I like modern. If I had 100 years of heritage, it could have made things very difficult,” he said.
Yes they might say, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, or a bottle of whisky by its label, but it always helps to look good too. Connoisseurs of whisky will definitely care more about what’s in the bottle, but if you can nail both the aesthetics and the taste, it’s a win-win.
'All the world's a stage': Monologue, Anecdote and Chronicle
Chapter 7 Anecdote 2020 bottling
The whiskies in the Chapter 7 collection are in one of three categories: Monologue, Anecdote and Chronicle. “I wanted to refer to some literary terms… and being called Chapter 7, I’d like to have seven expressions,” Evin said. The name was inspired by Shakespeare’s play ‘As You Like It’, which begins with the famous ‘all the world’s a stage’ monologue. In that monologue, the seven ages of man are recounted. Evin paralleled the seven ages of man with how whisky changes its personality through the influence of the barrel it’s ageing in over the years.
Monologue is a single cask of whisky which takes centre stage and tells its unique story. Monologue whiskies are usually bottled at cask strength (where the whisky is not diluted after maturing in barrels), unless a younger malt whisky’s character comes out more at an ‘ideal strength’. Malt whisky is made only from malted barley, in two or three copper pot stills. A single malt whisky is only made at one distillery.
Anecdote whiskies are a rare small batch, either one that is a once in a lifetime whisky, or one that’s created by marrying together some atypical whiskies i.e. blending whiskies from different regions in Scotland with very different characters. Anecdote whiskies are curated from a few precious casks. Chapter 7 only bottles an Anecdote if it’s convinced it’s unconventional.
Chronicle whiskies are a small batch repeated over time. These whiskies are from three to five hand-picked casks from ageing reserves. Each Chronicle is part of an evolving sequence, with nuances resulting from ageing as well as ingenious wood fusions. It will be both single and blended malts.
For 2020, Chapter 7 has released seven new expressions: five Monologue, one Anecdote and one Chronicle. Find out more about the range.