Flicking through a list of the talent whisky brand The Macallan has collaborated with over the years is like reading a Who’s Who of the creative industries.
It ranges from violinist Nicola Benedetti and 80s rock icons Simple Minds through to designers Stella and Mary McCartney and Four Weddings and a Funeral director Mike Newell.
Some of the partnerships launched by the Speyside distillery have trod familiar paths with visual artists, such as working with Spanish illustrator Javi Aznarez on the advertising campaign to unveil its Red Collection of bottles.
200th anniversary collaboration
The Macallan has also worked with graphic designer David Carson on its Colour Collection and a refreshed look for the overall brand as the whisky-maker kicks off celebrations for its 200th anniversary.
Yet some of the collaborations are more unusual, roping in everyone from Spanish chefs the Roca brothers through to luxury car marque Bentley.
Sharon Gibson, global head of creative content at the distillery, said collaborating “opens us up to new and exciting worlds across the likes of gastronomy, art, film, music, photography, automotive and fashion.”
The iconic single malt whisky brand – owned by Edrington Group – picks its partners based on “shared values” such as “mastery, craftsmanship, creativity, and innovation”.
Aside from the commercial benefits of the publicity that such projects bring, whisky distillers believe working with the creative industries can bring other benefits to their brands.
Ms Gibson said the partnerships allow The Macallan, based in Craigellachie, to gain insights and knowledge to help with its broader innovation.
Artists also benefit from working with the brand, she said, adding: “Each is inspired by the other’s work – it’s a two-way street.”
As well as the distilleries themselves, other companies in the whisky sector are collaborating with the creative industries.
The end result is an oil painting and accompanying high-resolution uncompressed scan of the picture, as well as a video pointing out the story behind key sections of the image.
The artwork was the digital title deed for a 30-year-old ex-sherry butt from The Macallan.
Getting digital with whisky is big business – cask fetched £1.7 million
It was stored in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT) or unique digital file on the Ethereum blockchain – an online distributed ledger – to prove ownership, replacing the traditional “proof of ownership certificate”. The cask was accompanied by the all-important “delivery order”, the magic piece of paper that transfers ownership.
Both the cask and accompanying artwork were sold at auction in 2021 for US$2.3 million – around £1.7 million at the time – smashing the previous £416,000 world record for a barrel of Scotch, which was also set in 2021 by another Macallan in Hong Kong.
‘I do like whisky’
Mr Jones said: “Metacask got in touch with me and asked if I’d be interested in working with them on an artwork that would be partnered with the 1991 Macallan cask they owned. I was excited to get involved.
“It was a perfect partnership. I’ve lived in Scotland for 23 years, I was quite a big name in the NFT space and I do like whisky.”
Mr Jones had left his native Canada in 1996 and graduated with a master of arts degree, with honours, in fine art from Edinburgh University in 2008.
— Trevor Jones 🎨 (@trevorjonesart) October 22, 2021
Working on The Macallan project opened doors for him in the whisky industry and beyond.
“The sale generated a lot of really good publicity worldwide, for me and Metacask,” he added.
The Macallan recently contacted him about potential new projects.
Mr Jones said: “I’ve had a really good conversation with Jaume Ferras, their global creative director, who said I’ve been on their radar since the cask sale. I’m looking forward to working with them on something cool.”
It’s not just the big whisky brands that are breaking fresh ground through their collaborations.
The Cairn, the whisky distillery built by independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) near Grantown, teamed up with Instagram illustrator Phil Dean – better known as the “Shoreditch Sketcher” – to give three amateur artists the chance to draw, both in London and on Speyside.
Richard Gaskell, Nigel McAuley and Louise Smith joined Mr Dean in London last year for a tutorial to learn more about his techniques.
They then headed for the Cairngorms to capture the new distillery in their sketchbooks.
Steve Richards, head of creative at Elgin-based G&M, pointed to the benefits of not only introducing The Cairn brand to Dean’s 100,000-plus social media followers, but also to a wider audience that may not have engaged before with content from whisky distilleries.
We were looking to really appeal to people on a more esoteric level.”
Steve Richards, head of creative, Gordon & MacPhail
Working with Mr Dean was part of wider brand-building for The Cairn, rather than to specifically drive ticket sales for tours of the distillery, Mr Richards said.
He added: “We were looking to really appeal to people on a more esoteric level, not really to do with the detail around the whisky-making process necessarily, but around flavour.”
The partnership with Mr Dean – one of three Beacon of Inspiration collaborations – was based around the idea of a traditional cairn on top of a hill and intended to inspire people to explore new paths or challenges.
The other two collaborations involved food and music.
Chef Tim Maddams worked with aspiring foodies Dave Cox, from Surrey, and Fiona Patterson, of Drumnadrochit, to develop dishes for the restaurant at The Cairn.
Meanwhile, Glasgow-based band Admiral Fallow teamed up with Canadian singer-songwriter Madeleine Roger and Taiwanese producer Yu Tsan Pin to create what Mr Richards described as “a theme song for the launch of the distillery”.
While Mr Richards has plans for further Beacon of Inspiration partnerships for The Cairn, they are unlikely to include the more exotic digital formats for the time being.
“It’s a bit of a watching brief on NFTs and crypto,” he admitted.