When The Glenlivet decided to unveil the third-ever expression of its highly-exclusive, limited-edition 50-year-old Winchester Collection, one of the world’s finest single malt Scotch whiskeys, it decided to call on London-based, Scottish-Welsh designer Bethan Gray – the first time in its history that it has commissioned a designer to imagine both its bottle and display case, thereby turning them into highly-desirable collector’s objects. Working for two years on their design and manufacture, Gray was inspired by the landscapes of the Speyside region in northeastern Scotland where The Glenlivet is distilled, her family connection to the area as her grandfather was a research forester in the Cairngorms approximately 30 minutes from the distillery and the complex whiskey itself. She collaborated with glassblower Brodie Nairn, based in the Highlands of Scotland, who crafted each bottle with contemporary hand-cut lines to create an ombré color effect that echoes the half-century ageing process of the liquid inside using innovative glassmaking techniques and bespoke cutting tools. The bottle is then engraved and hand-painted.
Thereafter, each bottle is wrapped inside a hand-stained, birds-eye maple veneer round case adorned with five meters of sinuous solid copper overlays in a reinterpretation of Gray’s signature Dhow pattern. It references the River Spey and layers of mist that gather in the surrounding valleys and is an echo to the distillery’s charred barrels and copper stills. This new technique of overlaying on a curve that took 12 months to perfect was invented especially for The Glenlivet project and meticulously carried out by artisans in Oman. Mother-of-pearl is inlaid into the case in a nod to the local freshwater pearl mussel shells found in the River Spey. “The Glenlivet’s master distiller, Alan Winchester, and I had a lot in common and that has been the foundation of the collaboration,” Gray discloses. “I’ve also been able to bring access to some of the most highly-skilled craftspeople in the world. The canister has been made by the same master craftsmen who make my Dhow furniture collection and it features incredibly intricate techniques that they have created and that are unique to them.”
Having won four Elle Decoration British Design Awards including Best British Designer, Gray is one of the UK’s most acclaimed furniture and homeware designers. After a decade at Habitat, she set up her own studio in 2008 with a focus on craftsmanship to keep traditional techniques and cultural narratives from across the globe alive, today supporting over 400 master artisans worldwide. “There are a lot of similarities between the whiskey-making process with its focus on noble materials and craft and my own practice where I am fascinated by natural materials and telling stories through craft, so I was really intrigued when The Glenlivet wrote to me to work with Alan and his team to create this incredibly special collaboration,” Gray says. “We are both inspired by spending time in nature, and spent time together exploring the Cairngorms, which I found so inspiring. We intended to tell a story about the craftsmanship behind such a rare and coveted collector’s item, and we wanted to incorporate features from nature that were important to both Alan and I. Ideas for the designs stemmed from the Cairngorms landscape, and going back to nature helped to create a truly distinctive theme. My own work is often inspired by nature, and it was amazing to be a part of a project that takes natural materials and builds on decades of experience and knowledge to create an exceptional product.”
Named after The Glenlivet’s master distiller, Alan Winchester, who has worked in the Scotch whiskey industry for over 40 years, The Winchester Collection is The Glenlivet’s 50-year-old single malt series, which first debuted in 2014 with the Vintage 1964, followed by the Vintage 1966. The freshly-released Vintage 1967 is a blend of rare single malts – the youngest of which was laid down by the brand’s former master distiller, Robert Arthur, in December 1967 – which has been matured for at least 50 years in American oak casks, before being non-chill filtered and bottled at a cask strength of 48 % abv. It boasts a rich and fruity nose with notes of apricot jam, sweet ripe peaches and a hint of toasted almonds, fondant orange and milk chocolate flavors on the palate, and a long and sweet finish. Only 150 bottles of The Glenlivet Winchester Collection Vintage 1967, each priced at $25,000, will be released globally, answering demand for extremely rare, collectible single malts.
In fact, 2018 was a transformational year for rare single malt Scotch whiskeys, which have beat fine wines as an asset class. According to the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index, values for particular old vintage rarities skyrocketed past previous records to reach almost inconceivable new auction highs and have witnessed a 582 % increase since 2009. The Knight Frank Rare Whiskey 100 Index (KFRW100), which consists of 100 bottles of the world’s most desirable rare Scotch whiskeys and tracks UK auction prices, rose by almost 40 % through 2018. A visionary in the single malt Scotch whiskey class with its smooth and fruity flavor profile, The Glenlivet has contributed the biggest volume growth of the single malt category internationally, selling 1.1 million nine-liter cases in the year ending June 2018. In the United States, the world’s largest single malt market, The Glenlivet is number one. Gray explains what The Glenlivet’s pioneering culture means to her, “The desire to push boundaries to their absolute limits is an ideal that I share wholeheartedly with The Glenlivet. It’s a brand whose entire ethos is centered on being the definitive whiskey, with craftsmen like Alan Winchester pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with modern single malt whiskeys. My own practice is based on mutual trust and respect with the master craftspeople and, in this way, we can also push the boundaries of the craft in my pieces to their absolute limits.”