It was supposed to be Summer in Seoul, but it hasn’t acted anything like it since we arrived. South Korea’s capital was more overcast than sunny, gloomy rather than bright. It reminded me a little of the last time I was in Scotland, actually. Which wasn’t all bad considering I was here to discover how Royal Salute, the luxurious premium blended whisky, was preparing for the future.
SCENT-SATIONS The Korea Furniture Museum was the setting for an olfactory journey with master perfumer and Royal Salute Creative Advisor Barnabé Fillion
The story of Royal Salute began with the coronation of a queen. To mark the ascension of HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, the house of Chivas Brothers created an exquisite blend of Scotch whisky that had been matured for at least 21 years old for opulence of taste and elegance. Each bottle was housed in beautifully crafted porcelain flagons made by Wade Ceramics (founded 1867) and named after the 21-gun salute that honoured the queen. Every step of its creation had been carefully calibrated to ensure that Royal Salute was nothing less than a whisky stepped in history and tradition, a gift befitting of a queen.
For more than 60 years, Royal Salute remained essentially unchanged – with the exception of intermittent extensions of its range, including the Royal Salute 38 Year Old Stone of Destiny and Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute, that broadened its prestige, the original 21-year-old expression, instantly recognisable in its porcelain flagon, remained the same. In that time, it has also become a brand synonymous with the pinnacle of Scotch whisky expression. It’s taken a while but, finally, Chivas Brothers felt a time for a change: not only will Royal Salute have a new look there would also be two new 21-yearold expressions to join the original.
And the first step in the unveiling of this change took place the very evening we arrived in Seoul, when we met Mathieu Deslandes, Royal Salute’s Marketing Director, at the Charles H Bar of the Four Seasons Seoul. Over cocktails, made with a base of Royal Salute, of course, and delectable canapés, Deslandes took us through the history of this prestigious whisky.
While he assured that, at its core, nothing has changed, the story of Royal Salute was set for some very profound changes: “Royal Salute has an esteemed history and we have worked hard to ensure this heritage has remained at the heart of the brand as something we are exceptionally proud of. However, we also strive to ensure our portfolio is at the cutting-edge of Scotch whisky innovation and these latest creations are testament to this ambition.” The new whiskies, he had no doubt, would just be as exceptional as the original and just as fit for royalty.
SCENES FROM A MUSEUM
To find out how exceptional the new whiskies from Royal Salute would be, as well as discover the new packaging for the original blend, we had to make our way to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Gwacheon, Seoul, for dinner the next day. Not the museum exactly, but its extensive and curated grounds, where Royal Salute had set up a fairy tale-like setting: a temporary pavilion, blazing with chandeliers, standing amidst the lush green landscape. A sense of enchantment surrounded the three long tables with their décor of flowers and butterflies (both faux and real), and heightened with specially commissioned scents (more of that later) and music.
Earlier, we had already seen the new livery that would launch Royal Salute into the future. Created in collaboration with fine artist Kristjana S Williams, the new packaging features a striking illustration that is a visual embodiment of the new direction Royal Salute is taking. Featuring a colourful depiction of the British Royal Menagerie that pays tribute to the brand’s royal heritage, the illustration creates a neverending exploration of the history of Royal Salute, composed of carefully curated references to the brand’s royal heritage. From the iconic Royal Salute lion with his crooked crown and the fluttering tartan butterflies that represent the brand’s Scottish roots, to the oak casks, rushing river and Speyside distillery integral to the production of Royal Salute whisky – each individual element tells a story of Royal Salute world.
It was during dinner, which was hosted by Jean-Christophe Coutures, Chairman and CEO of Chivas Brothers, that we were introduced to the new whiskies. In between courses of tuna tartare, Alaskan snow crab and roasted duck breast, Sandy Hyslop, Royal Salute’s Master Blender, took us through the 21-year-old whiskies. The original expression created in 1953 has been renamed The Signature Blend to distinguish it from its new siblings – The Malts Blend and The Lost Blend (see sidebar, Fit for Royalty). The former is the first-ever blended malt from Royal Salute, while the latter is its first permanent peated whisky.
Hyslop described The Malts Blend as a ‘symphony’: “Each of the single malts ‘performing’ in this blend complement and enhance one another’s unique flavours and together create the final composition. Working with the finest single malts to create The Malts Blend was extremely special, and from the moment you taste the super-sweet richness of this blend, with its hints of spice, it’s clear that this whisky is nothing short of magic.” The master blender was equally effusive of The Lost Blend: “This is a whisky to be simultaneously savoured and enjoyed. Including some of the scarcest whiskies in our inventory, it celebrates the legacy of some of the best whisky distilleries in Scotland, which I am proud to immortalise in an exceptional new 21-year-old blend.”
Having taken over as master blender in 2016, Hyslop is ever conscious of the whisky institution he is custodian of: “There is no greater honour than protecting the continuity of the blend that was first created in 1953 and has remained exceptional ever since. But to have the opportunity to create something entirely new for this sensational portfolio – an elevated Scotch evoking the signature Royal Salute style but with its own unique characteristics – that’s truly the dream.”
JOURNEY OF SCENTS
NEW STORY Royal Salute takes a step into the future with a new look and two new 21-yearold whiskies
The next day, Royal Salute had another treat for us. Located in the Seongbuk district in Seoul, the Korea Furniture Museum is home to more than 2,000 pieces of traditional furniture spread out over 10 hanok, or traditional Korean houses. Visits are by reservations only, but it’s worth making the time – apart from its fascinating contents, the stately museum, located up in the hills, also offers an amazing panorama of the city.
We were here for more than the views, though: master perfumer and Royal Salute Creative Advisor Barnabé Fillion, who created three bespoke body fragrances inspired by each of Royal Salute 21-year-old whiskies, was taking us through a nosing journey in The 21 Year Old Olfactory Studio. Although whisky-making and perfumery might be different industries, Fillion sees many affinities: “The worlds of perfume and whisky share many similarities; both igniting a complex, multilayered journey and both greater than the sums of their parts. To create harmony and truly delight the sense requires skill, patience and finesse. It’s why we call it the art of blending.”
Throughout the intimate dinner, accompanied by Royal Salute whiskies, Fillion shared his vision of his art, using a variety of objects including fossils, ceramics, gadgets and plants for us to touch and smell. His journey was the exploration of a palette of sensation to deconstruct the whiskies we were drinking while exploring concepts of nature and time. The last, he explained, was the most precious ingredient of all: “As with every drop of Royal Salute, we understand the present through the past.”
And it was this that reminded me of what Sandy Hyslop said of his role at Royal Salute. While he is blending new batches of Royal Salute for release today, he is also securing the future: whatever new whisky he lays down for maturation now would only be ready for use in 21 years’ time. The past really does inform the future of Royal Salute: and this has always been the case ever since it was first created. There’s no real need for a 21-gun salute to celebrate this new phrase in the Royal Salute story. A rousing slàinte mhath is cheers enough.
FIT FOR ROYALTY
The three expressions are presented in Royal Salute’s trademark porcelain flagons, but in different hues that are inspired by the precious stones set within the Imperial State Crown: sapphire for The Signature Blend, emerald for The Malts Blend and obsidian for The Lost Blend.
THE SIGNATURE BLEND
Created in 1953 to celebrate the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II, this is a powerful, sophisticated and opulent blend, aged for a minimum of 21 years. TASTE: Full, deep fruity flavours with a subtle smokiness. The first taste brings the subtleties of the nose to life. Sumptuous sweet orange marmalade flavours infused with fresh pears burst across the tongue. The second taste brings in a rich medley of spices and a nuttiness of hazelnuts that have a mouth-filling intensity, and then the final warmth from hints of smokiness. NOSE: Rich, fruity aromas and sweet fragrance of autumn flowers. Powerful aromas of sweet pears and citrus fruits are balanced with the full fragrance of autumn flowers. Elegant aromas of sweet vanilla and a dry oakiness are enhanced with subtle notes of sherry and smoke.
THE MALTS BLEND
The 21 Year Old Malts Blend is the first blended malt from Royal Salute and crafted with more than 21 precious single malts from the five regions of Scotland. The result is an indulgent and profound Scotch whisky bursting with notes of orchard fruits and enriched by subtle spices. TASTE: Super sweet and rich echoing the nose. Apricots, creamy vanilla and banana crème brulee all rounded off with a touch of spicy clove boiled sweets. NOSE: A melody of ripe soft fruits namely pears, sweet peaches mandarin oranges, blackcurrant jam and sweet violets.
THE LOST BLEND
The 21 Year Old Lost Blend was meticulously crafted combining scarce whiskies from distilleries no longer in production. This perfectly peated blend features the ’lost’ Imperial Distillery at its heart. Named in honour of the British monarchy, the distillery was created in the same year as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and was topped with a gilded cast iron crown in tribute to the momentous event. Available exclusively in duty free stores around the world. TASTE: Juicy sweet pears, fresh hazelnuts, charred orange rind completed perfectly with aromatic smoky peat. NOSE: Balanced and complex with notes of sweet orange and peaches intermingled perfectly with smouldering bonfire embers.