Many whisky brands and distilleries are no strangers to collaborations, whether that be with commercial brands, artists, or other luxury brands. Macallan alone, for example, has released collaborations with Peter Blake, Javi Aznarez, Raffles, and Private Eye. And why wouldn’t they? When one luxury brand joins forces with another, the result can be aspirational products that appeal to two very different markets.
One of the most successful examples that springs to mind is Bowmore’s collaboration with Aston Martin.
Bowmore X Aston Martin
Any avid whisky collector will know that Black Bowmore bottlings are very highly sought after and regarded within the industry. The first incarnation of Black Bowmore was released in 1993 at £80 per bottle. Now, 28 years and five more releases later, editions of Black Bowmore sell for upwards of £8,000 at auction, with some bottles reaching even loftier heights – the 50 year old edition has previously sold for £38,000 at auction.
Despite many previous statements from Bowmore insisting that there were to be no more Black Bowmore releases, the distillery released another incarnation in 2020: the Black Bowmore DB5. This bottling was in collaboration with Aston Martin, celebrating the legacy of luxury that exudes from the Aston Martin DB5. The DB5 was released in 1963, and became a firm favourite amongst car fanatics in 1964, when James Bond first drove the DB5 in the movie Goldfinger. The luxury motor is one of the best-loved classic sports cars in history.
1964 is also a very important year in Bowmore’s history: 1964 saw the arrival of a new boiler at Bowmore, signalling the start of a new era of distilling at the distillery. The first spirit distilled in this new, steam-powered boiler, went on to become the spirit that would be in the first ever Black Bowmore release. It only seems fitting that these two luxury brands should collaborate, celebrating two iconic products and one fruitful year in their respective histories.
The marketing surrounding this release was quite superb – the collaboration with Aston Martin allowed Bowmore to stick a £50,000 price tag on, essentially, the same whisky that is in the earlier Black Bowmore releases. The whisky in the Black Bowmore DB5 bottling was distilled in 1964, and is 31 years old, younger than the previous 50 year old Black Bowmore release. And yet, this release carries a much heftier price tag. Why? Because the collaboration between two luxury brands has created an aspirational product for whisky lovers and car fanatics alike.
The Black Bowmore DB5 collaboration is a great example of how two sought-after brands can work together to capitalise on the interests of other aspects of the luxury asset market.
With that being said, there are also a number of examples of whisky collaborations that have not reached the same heights as this one, though not for a lack of trying.
Glenturret X Jaguar X Bremont
Earlier this year, Glenturret, Jaguar, and Bremont watches announced a collaboration in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Jaguar E-type. The bottling, named Coventry to Geneva, celebrates the drive that was undertaken by Norman Dewis, who was given 11 hours to drive the E-type from Coventry to Geneva in 1961 in time for the unveiling at Parc des Eaux Vives.
The whisky is non-vintage, has no age-statement, and is made up of a vatting of four different casks, with the youngest whisky in the bottle being 30 years old. The special edition bottling is priced at £1,500.
Jaguar have created a pair of limited edition E-Type cars with never before seen colour combinations. The first is the E-Type 60 Edition Coupe with Flat Out Grey paintwork and a Smooth Black interior. The second is an E-Type 60 Edition Roadster with Drop Everything Green paintwork and a Suede Green interior. Inside the cars are centre consoles that feature an engraving of the road to Geneva by artist King Nerd, and a 24ct. gold horn on the steering wheel.
To finish off the collaboration, Bremont created 120 limited edition watches bearing the same colours as the limited edition E-types. The watch will set you back £12,995, but will also include Bremont’s first ever rally timer and an invitation to test drive 3 Jaguar E-Types at the Fen End test track on the former RAF Honiley station.
In comparison to 120 limited edition watches at £13,000, and two limited edition E-types, Glenturret’s NAS, non-vintage bottling falls slightly flat. The whisky is, by far, the cheapest of the three assets, and does not exude the same air of luxury. As such, there was considerably less hype in the whisky industry surrounding this collaboration than there was around the Black Bowmore DB5. The Black Bowmore x Aston Martin collaboration only birthed one new product, but the marketing surrounding the release meant that the 1964 31 year old whisky created considerable excitement for whisky lovers. By comparison, this Glenturret bottling is not part of a series, and does not have a vintage (a 1961 vintage would have been perfect for this occasion).
It seems, then, that these kinds of collaborations not only rely on a tangible link between the two products, but also on the status of the products and companies being somewhat comparable.
This is not to say that whisky distilleries should only collaborate with brands on the same plain as them, nor with luxury brands only. Rather, it is to say that what makes these kinds of collaborations successful in the eyes of collectors is the story that goes along with them, and the status of the distillery producing the whisky.
Glenfarclas X Biohazard
In another recent example, Glenfarclas have recently announced their plans to release a limited edition 25 year old whisky in celebration of Resident Evil’s (or Biohazard, as it is known in Japan) 25th birthday.
The game, widely recognised for inspiring the term “survival horror” was released on the PlayStation in 1996, and entertained an entire generation of gamers, whilst also inspiring multiple sequels, comic books, and a film series. The games have sold over 110 million units since its release, and have an estimated gross revenue of $9 billion, adjusted for inflation. The 25th anniversary of the game’s release is a great occasion to celebrate. The limited edition Scotch whisky is a 25 year old cask strength bottling, and is due to be released to selected retailers in Japan on the 21st July 2021.
The question remains, though, what is the link between Glenfarclas and Biohazard? And what story does this tell? Well, the only obvious link is between the age statement of the whisky and the birthday that the game is celebrating. The marketing surrounding this release is fairly sparse, meaning that neither company has come forward to explain the logic surrounding the collaboration. This, then, leaves consumers wondering, why? Surely, both companies would benefit from spreading the word about this release? Marketing is, after all, a huge driver of value.
Johnnie Walker X Game of Thrones
Another popular culture whisky collaboration is the Johnnie Walker X Game of Thrones collaboration which, in the words of Whisky Auctioneer “may be tenuous, but we love it all the same”.
The collaboration came about in 2018 between Diaego, the owners of Johnnie Walker, and Game of Thrones. The hit TV show began in 2011 and ended in 2019. The high-fantasy series was based on a series of books by George RR Martin, and was an extremely successful venture for HBO; Game of Thrones had an average gross audience of 18.6 million viewers, surpassing The Sopranos for the viewership record.
The Johnnie Walker X Game of Thrones collaboration sees Johnnie Walker’s Classic Malts range revamped and linked to the various houses in the Game of Thrones universe. Dalwhinnie takes on the persona of House Stark, Lagavulin is House Lannister, and Cardhu are House Targaryen, to name a few.
This collaboration is, in the words of Whisky Auctioneer, “tenuous, but we love it all the same”. There does not seem to be any tangible link between Johnnie Walker and Game of Thrones, save the popularity of the two brands; Johnnie Walker is one of the best selling blended whiskies in the world.
The bottles from the series do not hold a lot of value; they usually sell for around £30-£60 at auction, but they do hold a place in the imagination of whisky lovers and Game of Thrones fans alike.
As such, it is not unreasonable to expect the Glenfarclas X Biohazard to behave similarly at auction. Popular culture whisky collaborations may not be the most lucrative investment, but they definitely capture the imagination of the fans.
Johnnie Walker X Blade Runner
In another pop culture venture from Johnnie Walker, the brand released a special edition bottling named Johnnie Walker Black Label The Director’s Cut / Blade Runner 2049, to celebrate the 2017 release of the movie 2049.
However, this bottling had more of a tangible connection with the movie than the Game of Thrones releases; a bottle of Johnnie Walker appeared in the original Blade Runner (1982) directed by Ridley Scott, so the design of this new bottle for the 2017 release was a great link back to the original movie.
This release performs better at auction than the Game of Thrones releases, averaging £200-£400, not really rising in value since its release in 2017.
This bottle was another release that captured the imagination of Blade Runner fans. Creating a link between the 1982 film and the 2017 film gave Blade Runner fans across different generations a chance to celebrate the visionary movie, and own a commemorative bottle.
As previously discussed, it is not unreasonable to expect the Biohazard bottling to behave in a similar way to other popular culture bottlings. The non-vintage, no age-statement pop culture bottlings are a great way to capture the imagination of multiple audiences, but it is the collaborations between two luxury companies that really make an impact on the secondary market.
What About Macallan Private Eye?
Now, you may well be wondering how the above can be true when bottles such as The Macallan Private Eye exist.
The Macallan Private Eye was released in 1996 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the political satire magazine, Private Eye. Seemingly, the two companies had no obvious relationship or link at the time of the collaboration. And yet, Macallan Private Eye’s now sell at auction for upwards of £4,000, a staggering rise from the original retail price of £36.
The release was non-vintage, did not have an age-statement, and there was no obvious link between Macallan and Private Eye magazine. So, why was it so successful? The answer lies in Macallan’s rebranding.
In 2018 The Macallan Estate was overhauled, and a brand new multi-million pound distillery was built. Macallan began to market themselves as a luxury brand, through a number of strategic releases of aged stock (think the Red Collection), and the opening of a brand new visitors centre. Edrington, the owner of Macallan, invested millions and millions of pounds into Macallan’s image. Today, Macallan is widely accepted as the world’s most luxurious single malt Scotch whisky.
The Macallan Private Eye was limited to 5,000 bottles, and very quickly became highly sought-after by collectors. In April 2021, prices hit a new high at auction when a Private Eye gold cap sold for £8,700.
The difference, then, between the Macallan Private Eye and the Glenfarclas Biohazard release is that Macallan is much more highly-regarded than Glenfarlcas in terms of its luxury status.
This is not to say that Glenfarclas cannot rebrand to a luxury status, nor that the Biohazard bottling will not sell (game fanatics will see these fly off the shelves), just that it is unlikely that this bottling will reach the same heights as the Macallan Private Eye or the Black Bowmore DB5. Glenfarclas market themselves as a family-run, tradition-oriented distillery, not as a luxury asset. Glenfarclas’ consistent branding means that their single malt is extremely popular, but among the many, and not necessarily the few.
Macallan and Bowmore are two of the most expensive, most luxurious single malt whisky brands, and the kind of repositioning that would need to happen for most other distilleries to reach these heights does not happen overnight.
Commercial and luxury whisky collaborations are a great way for two brands to acquire recognition both within their own industry, and outside. When two luxury brands collaborate they pique the interest of the super-rich. The links may sometimes be tenuous, but as long as consumers can believe in the united front that is put forward by two luxury brands, well then, the sky’s the limit.