With the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations coming up later this year, Ian Buxton looks at Royal Warrants and the long interlinked history between Scotch whisky and monarchy.
Did you raise a glass of something very special last Sunday evening, 6 February. Something regal? Something with a Royal Warrant, perhaps? It would have been appropriate, because the date marked an occasion that will probably never occur ever again as Her Majesty The Queen became the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years of service to the people of the United Kingdom, the Realms and the Commonwealth.
So what to celebrate with?
My thoughts turned at once to Johnnie Walker Platinum Label – only to realise that Diageo dropped the Platinum tag in March 2017 with a renewed focus on age statements. Platinum is now ‘Aged 18 Years’, which seemed to lack the appropriate gravitas.
Never mind, I thought. As Walker proudly carries Her Majesty’s Royal Warrant I went in search of the Walker Diamond Jubilee bottle. Strangely though, I couldn’t find this £100,000 whisky anywhere – I must have finished it back in 2012. On to their King George V 80th Anniversary bottling which curiously was also absent from my cellars. Johnnie Walker Black Label it would have to be. Or wait, there are always single malts one can turn to in this hour of need.
Not one but two Royal Warrants
Royal Brackla, for example, the first distillery ever to carry a British Royal Warrant and, to this day, the only one with two. King William IV patronised this Highland distillery back in 1833 and, on her accession to the throne, the warrant was renewed by Victoria, despite Brackla’s then owner the irascible Captain William Fraser being fined on several occasions for ignoring demands for excise duty due on his whisky. Fraser was immortalised in whisky history in Reminiscences of a Gauger by Joseph Pacy as high-handed and imperious in manner but, as Pacy himself was a self-confessed stickler for detail and something of a martinet the portrait may not have been entirely fair.
Today owned by John Dewar & Sons (Bacardi) much of the production remains reserved for blending but the single malt has been relaunched and is more widely available than in the past.
No doubt happier relations were enjoyed with Lochnagar, conveniently located close to the Royal family’s Balmoral estate. Victoria and her Prince Consort Albert famously visited in September 1848 after which the distillery was astutely renamed Royal Lochnagar. The Warrant was renewed by both Edward VII and George V but despite His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, (or the Duke of Rothesay as he is correctly styled when in Scotland) visiting the distillery on three occasions, most recently in 2018, it eventually had lapsed. Until December last year that is, when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was pleased to grant a new warrant – the fifth in total held by Diageo.
What of blends other than Johnnie Walker? Chivas Brothers bring us Royal Salute, a super-premium blend first created by the renowned Charles Julian (a blending celebrity before they all became rock stars). It was launched as a 21 Year Old in June 1953 to mark Elizabeth’s accession to the throne and the brand has subsequently released further expressions to mark royal events, most notably Royal Salute 50 Year Old for Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. The Royal Warrant was renewed in 2017.
Prior to that, Chivas’ then owner Sam Bronfman had created Crown Royal, a Canadian whisky that remains a best-seller to this day, arranging for supplies to be placed on the train carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother) on their 1939 visit to Canada. Today, of course, the brand is owned by Diageo and the royal link remains no more than a historical association and marketing hook though it was something of a media sensation at its original release.
Similarly Chivas Regal. Despite the apparent link, it remains – as the label declares – merely the ‘Prince of Whiskies’ rather than something with a full royal endorsement.
The most consistently awarded whisky is…
Possibly the most consistently awarded whisky is Dewar’s which received its first award from Queen Victoria in 1893. After Queen Victoria’s death and the accession of King Edward VII, John Dewar & Sons’ Royal Warrant was renewed as it has been by every British monarch since. Today every bottle carries the Queen’s coat of arms on the front label, marking an enviable continuous association.
Royal associations have long proved safe, enduring and popular with the marketing community. So it’s strange that – so far – no brand has announced a special edition for this remarkable Platinum Jubilee. Perhaps they are reserving an announcement for the specially extended bank holiday weekend from 2-5 June…. but whatever the industry’s plans (or lack of them) that’s certainly a time to break out something very, very special.