In June 1953, the first Royal Salute whisky was presented by Chivas Brothers to Queen Elizabeth II to mark her coronation. Sixty-five years on, the brand is re-aligning itself with her grandsons.
As one of the most prestigious Scotch whiskies, Royal Salute has for over 65 years fostered its links to royalty. Royal Salute's signature blend is aged for a minimum of 21 years, making it the oldest aged blended whisky, and a nod to the 21 gun-salute that honoured the Queen. It has long been a sponsor of Polo - the sport of Kings - and today sponsors matches in 15 countries from Argentina to the UK to China.
But in recent years the brand somewhat lost its way, explains Jean-Christophe Coutures, the chairman and chief executive of Chivas Brothers, the company that owns Royal Salute.
“A few years ago the brand was very reliant on the business practice of gifting in China, so the anti-extravagance initiative had an impact on our business there,” he explains. He is referring to the anti-corruption crackdown launched by President Xi Jinping in 2012, which sought to limit lavish gifting amongst government officials, which often took the form of expensive watches and Scotch whisky.
It hit the industry hard. According to the IWSR Global Trends Report, the benchmark in global alcohol consumption data, the global Scotch market experienced declines for 2015, 2016 and 2017, and last year just began to inch its way back up, as certain brands sought to innovate.
“It forced us to reinvent,” Coutures agrees. As a result, in the last year, says Coutures, Royal Salute has grown sales by 10 percent and within the last 6 months, by 15 percent. Almost 80 percent of its sales take place in China, Korea, Taiwan, India and Japan, a quarter of which in Korea. "We’ve had a complete turnaround," he adds. He refers to it as "the sleeping beauty" of the whiskies, which after several years of having lain dormant, has now awoken.
We are speaking at the relaunch of Royal Salute in Seoul, Korea as the brand signals its step into new era. At a major event showcasing the whisky's journey of discovery and olfactory sensibilities, Coutures explains how Korea is an ideal market for growing the Royal Salute brand. Here, young drinkers are discerning, sophisticated and knowledgeable; while they are drinking less in terms of volume, he says, they are drinking better quality alcohol.
The new branding exactly caters to this, epitomising youthfulness and luxury. The new packaging for the bottles is quirky and vibrant, drawn in jewel tones by artist Kristjana S. Williams, inspired by the British Royal Menagerie. The mood is eccentric in a classically British way; an indigo-maned lion with a crooked crown proudly surveys his kingdom filled with tartan butterflies and jewel-coloured roses. An owl wearing a bowler hat and monocle inspects his leafy bower, while an old-fashioned cannon - the Royal Salute gun - can be seen adorned by foliage.
It's a nod to the younger generation of the British royal family, says Coutures, who were a key inspiration point for the new brand.
"We are reinventing the proposition by bringing to life the vibrancy of the royalty in England. British Royalty is no longer dusty. It’s modern, it’s exciting. When you see Harry, when you see William, and the way they behave, it’s really inspiring. We wanted the new packaging to reflect what royalty in England is now about."
Royal Salute has for many years nurtured links to the younger generation of British Royals with its connections to polo. One of Royal Salute's international ambassadors, Malcolm Borwick, is both a champion polo player and a good friend of Prince Harry's.
In addition, for the first time since the brand's inception, Royal Salute has added two new expressions to the permanent 21-year-old range, The Malts Blend and The Lost Blend.
The Malts Blend is the first blended malt from Royal Salute crafted with 21 single malts, while The Lost Blend has been crafted combining rare whiskies from distilleries no longer in production. The two new additions join The Signature Blend, Royal Salute’s flagship whisky.