Meet the Perpetual Collection, Glenfiddich’s latest global travel retail offering of four bespoke whiskies
By Phoebe Calver
We’ve all witnessed the cautious return to travel recently after the past two years of almost entirely remaining on land, and with that return comes an exciting new launch.
The Perpetual Collection, launched in August 2022, is Glenfiddich’s latest creation to be unveiled in the global travel retail market and designed with globetrotters in mind. Each of the four bottles in the collection have distinctly varied flavour profiles, created using the solera vatting process. In order to find out more, we sat down with Glenfiddich’s global brand ambassador, Struan Grant Ralph.
Phoebe Calver (PC): How did the concept of this collection come to fruition?
Struan Grant Ralph (SGR): It’s nice actually because I was involved in this project right from the start, from conception, and we were working with this, I suppose, tradition that Glenfiddich have of solera vatting.
It’s something that we first started putting in place in the mid-90s. David Stewart and some of the guys sort of took inspiration from Spanish sherry bodegas, and at that time we were looking to introduce a new 15-year-old to Glenfiddich. We had a 12 that was recognisable all around the world and gave people a taste of the distillery, but quite light and probably not with the depth and complexity that we knew we had in stock. So that first solera was a way to combine sherry, bourbon and new oak in a way that stayed really true to the distillery’s DNA but offered our consumer something richer, more complex, with a good story. Although in the 90s I don’t think they really thought about the marketability – I think they just thought hey, it tastes nice and [so] let’s go with it.
So yeah, step into 2022, or really 2021, and that kind of anticipation of the return to travel, because travel retail has always been massively important for Glenfiddich, [it was] one of the first brands to kind of play in the travel retail space… And I think this collection, taking inspiration from solera, gives travellers four different flavour profiles, price points and stories and all based around these soleras. We have them in Warehouse 8 and they genuinely don’t get emptied. It’s probably one of the busiest warehouses in Scotch whisky – I’m there most days.
Each of them has a lovely subtle difference in terms of flavour profile, but working with that kind of perpetual [style of vatting], as in solera, means it’s constantly being added to but never fully drained. And these maturations we work with are a great way to make whisky as they slowly progress, but you get consistency – kind of all the things you want as a big brand, playing in a big marketplace.
PC: Could you talk us through the four expressions?
SGR: Starting with vat number 1, it’s really dominated by vatting bourbon casks and red wine casks, so you’re getting Glenfiddich in its classic apple orchard, green grass, the bourbon flavours… and red wine giving really nice flavours and textures to the whiskey, at GB£47 for a litre.
[Vat 2 is double matured in oak and Spanish sherry]… I suppose you’re giving consumers just like all the sort of tannin and rich fruit that you would expect from… a European oak-led vatting. It’s essentially a 15-year-old but in a higher-strength, non-chill-filtered incarnation.
I suppose one thing about travel retail is it’s always a challenge to differentiate from your domestic offering… the travel retail audience have huge buying power, very international but typically aware of what’s available domestically. So it’s an opportunity for us with vat three and vat four to introduce whiskies that are basically the same structure and creative process as our domestic 15 and 18, but higher strength, non-chill filtered.
So that’s exciting for me – I typically play more in the domestic arena, but [I get to] say to people, hey if you like this whisky coming through the airport, you can get it in a more uncut form and an opportunity to compare and contrast.
So then Vat 3 is 15 years old and non-chill filtered, at 50.2% ABV, and number 4 is our 18 year old but higher strength [and] non-chill filtered as well at 47.8% ABV.
PC: Have you felt more able to take risks with this collection?
SGR: I think it starts with kind of understanding the customer, right? So I think in airports, and as someone who spends a lot of time in airports, there’s a different kind of buying behaviour that goes on, perhaps – you know, self-gifting, gifting full stop, more adventurous spending.
If it’s like business travellers, they may be killing time before that next flight, so you know [they may] try a few things or buy something out of their usual buying profile or style.
Then if it’s holiday makers or people travelling for leisure, then [they] do tend to be a little more adventurous and willing to premiumise as well. I know from some things I’ve bought in airports [especially when] you’re on another three-hour delay and you’re also feeling quite experimental. And so we as a brand, with quite a firm offering in the domestic environment, definitely feel like you can offer the travel retail customer something a little more playful, at a higher strength. You’ve definitely got the advantage when it’s duty free.And crucially, [it’s important] to offer someone a totally different offering to something they would [have got] five minutes ago when they were landside. You go airside and you get something different.
PC: Why did this seem like the right time?
SGR: It’s the return to travel, right, which I think we all tried to embrace and I think the airlines weren’t quite ready for us. I think there’s definitely reason for optimism there, you know the last two years there wasn’t much travel and there wasn’t much retail, so the travel retail section, that’s two crucial things for them.
So the launch of Perpetual comes hand in hand with the celebration of being back. Whether that’s back seeing colleagues around the world and seeing markets as I am, or if it’s just people getting back on holiday or going and visiting loved ones, it is exciting to see people returning to that space. Certainly, we’ve got so many great people representing us in airports around the world… so there is definitely optimism there and I think this collection reflects that as well.
PC: Could you explain the process behind the artwork?
SGR: It’s a studio in Berlin… and each expression is going to have six different versions of the pack. It’s almost [like] the sense of perpetual motion and never standing still has been carried through to the pack. You can be a little bit more bold and experimental with your offering in travel retail… it is wildly different to anything I’ve seen out there already. I like that the colours give you a reasonable guide, perhaps of flavour profile, but beyond that it’s just really disruptive in terms of design.
Also shelf space in travel retail is highly competitive, everyone is really well represented. I find it really quite exciting to walk through travel retail and see what everyone is offering – it’s great to see things that are so wildly different to what you’re seeing in the domestic space.
PC: Where is the collection available?
SGR: Basically, start of August officially was global launch, so anywhere with a geographical access to us, William Grant, so it’s in Luton, it’s about to go into Heathrow and we’ll say officially global by October. And really, October is when you’ll start to see more of that kind of high-profile brand activity going on in the airport – sampling, of course, and getting the message out in a more high-profile way. The rest of the world [is] just step by step.
This article was first published in Travelux issue 2 in September 2022.