Behind the Whisky Sensorium with #teambrandhouse

Presenting whisky is a lot of fun. It’s the kind of job that isn’t really a job.  There are times that are more challenging than others, particularly towards the end of a shift when the “quadruple S” arrives – staggering, spluttering, swaying and sozzled – with people behind him standing 5 deep waiting for a dram and he wants to chat at length about his late aunt Betty who used to clean her false teeth with Sherry, back in the good old days.

This year for Whisky Live, brandhouse, part owned by Diageo, asked me (an independant whisky dude)  to come along and present at their new Whisky Sensorium.  6 presenters and 24 other team members got to do something quite new, working with 16 different whiskies at one stand, guiding consumers through the flavours of whiskies in the brandhouse portfolio.

I was concerned when I first saw the plan – putting the sub-props, selling for under R 100, alongside the premium single malts, costing R 600 plus, for example White Horse next to Lagavulin 16. Sure, Lagavulin is a component of White Horse but they are aimed at different markets. Or so I thought.

Turns out I need to read the text as well, not just look at the pretty pictures (short attention span, you see) I realised the Whisky Sensorium is a very clever way to show consumers – beginners to experts – the world of flavours available in the brandhouse range. Not as complex as David Wishart’s classification, it separates the whiskies into flavour worlds: Bold, Rich, Fresh & Vibrant.

For example, if the consumer enjoys rich flavours, the choice ranges from Bell’s Special Reserve at R 195, to Johnnie Walker Blue Label, at R 2200. If the consumer likes something vibrant, the choice ranges from VAT 69 at R 80 a bottle, to Coal Ila 12 at around R 550.  It shows that there is a whisky to suit one’s pocket.

I was at the “rich” area, presenting the Bells Special Reserve and Johnnie Blue, together with Singleton of Dufftown 12 and Johnnie Gold Label Reserve. That was great fun as I could showcase the Blue Label perfect serve and share the flavours of the Bells. Blue has a huge following so often I had people coming up asking for Blue, without wanting to try out some of the other whiskies. It is an aspirational drink and quite a few people came along, wanting to try Blue Label for the first time. Singleton is a great dram, very popular and a good way to get consumers into the wonderful world of single malts. Gold special reserve – there’s a story about dark chocolate and romance that I’ll share another time;)

This being the age of social media, Thursday morning at Cape Town international heralded the hashtag #teambrandhouse, so search Twitter to see more about what went on in Soweto. We’ll carry it through to Sandton, of course.

The team. It’s such a pleasure working with passionate professionals.  I don’t quite know who fits in where because there are so many agencies involved. Creatives, activations, research, set-up and breakdown, but I must single out Ophelia and Howard of Hammer Live for looking after us. My fellow presenters…the wind-down after the show gets better and better each year!

So, Sandton awaits and with it the normal scene, I’m sure. Regular whisky lovers are there every day, of course, but Wednesday sees a lot of the press, anoraks and the crowd avoiders; Thursday yarmulkas are everywhere; Friday – well, anything goes. It’s a pattern that I know and love.

See you in a week.

And always, always, please drink responsibly.


Bernard Gutman

29 October 2013