Who drinks top shelf whisky? Well, we know Errol Flynn, Jimmy Stewart and George Bernard Shaw did. Even Bogey famously regretted, “I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis.” While these iconic manly men helped establish the sense of class and style that Scotch carried with it decades ago, many whisky brands more recently have found themselves struggling to make their drinks relevant to a modern male audience. But thanks to a few enterprising spirits brands (and perhaps inspired by the now ubiquitous Most Interesting Man campaign for Dos Equis), there is a resurgence in experiential programs that seek to capture the spirit of the bygone era and the essence of the gentleman who knows his Scotch.
To educate aspiring whisky-philes and give the already initiated a taste of their best, premium-blended Scotch whisky brands Chivas and Johnnie Walker this year are hitting the most stylish urban markets across the country. EM’s Kenneth Briodagh visited the Chivas Brotherhood 1801 Club in Chicago and the House of Walker in New York City to bring you all the manly details. (He’ll have two fingers, neat.)
The Pernod Ricard premium-blended Scotch Chivas Regal this fall has been treating its proprietary “Brotherhood” to a sip of style at its uber-luxe 1801 Club pop-up events. During the months of October and November, the brand is deploying six 1801 Clubs, handled by Chicago-based Legacy Marketing Partners, in two phases to treat its new band of brothers like the high-class gentlemen they are. The brand launched the Chivas Brotherhood this year to entice men of the affluent, stylish and cool demographic to try the premium blended Scotch whisky in its 12-, 18- or (if they’re really savvy) 25-year varieties.
The clubs were open in Chicago, Houston and Miami throughout October, and have redeployed as phase two in Dallas, Los Angeles and New York City this November. Throughout the course of the month, in each market, the brand hosts media nights, partnership events with local style brands, distributors and other strategically smart partners and open nights to attract new members to the Brotherhood.
“We’re integrating the Brotherhood into everything we do,” says JC Iglesias, director of marketing for Scotch, whiskey and cognac at Pernod Ricard. “Men come to blended Scotch in search of an experience. The Chivas Brotherhood, and 1801 Clubs, are all about creating that experience for them.”
Each Club is housed in a special, exclusive location in a classically high-style part of the city. In Chicago, it was in a West Loop mansion; in Los Angeles, it’s in Bel Air (another mansion) and in New York City, a West Village townhouse. Though each has its own feel and ambiance, they have some things in common. The bar (for drinks), the game room (for pool and poker), the relaxation room (for watching a movie or sports) and the tasting room (for guided Chivas tastings) are the common areas. Also, there are specialty elements, like a putting green or cigar rolling station.
“The 1801 Club feels organic to the space, like it has been there forever,” says Chris Kapsalis, general manager at Legacy. “One of the greatest compliments in experiential is when consumers mistake the temporary for the permanent. For a brand with the heritage of Chivas Regal to create this feeling for consumers is critical to success.”
In total, the idea is to help the men of the Brotherhood get a sense of the brand, live and in person. It’s all about drinking in the spirit of the spirit, while, of course, sipping the spirit itself. Most members are registered in advance through the Brotherhood website, where they can get a look at the schedule of 1801 Club events and RSVP to event nights. If a non-brother shows up, they are invited to join at the check-in station, which they can do on an iPad before heading in to take advantage of the heady vapors of refinement.
Who are these men? “He’s young-ish and looking to expand his sophistication. He wants to start enjoying his personal and professional success,” Iglesias says. “The brand is ideally part of that sophisticated world view and by extension gives the men the opportunity to do that.”
The House of Walker
The House of Walker pop-up experience has been helping establish the Johnnie Walker Striding Man Society as a legit members-only club among savvy Scotch drinkers for a few years now. For this year’s installation, the Diageo brand this November took up residence on Greene Street in Manhattan where it created its exclusive experience for an invite-only crowd. Guests registered in advance or were invited to attend through a cooperating organization. While in line, brand ambassadors chatted with waiting guests and helped them confirm their registration information and answer a series of behavior-related questions on a row of iPad tablet stations. Once the entry survey was done, it was time to grab the free drink chips for the tasting and belly-up to the bar.
Comfy seating and brand relics like some of the rarest and most expensive Walker bottles decorated the space. The bar and the brand’s mixologists helping the men (and some women) find the right taste served as the centerpiece of the room. In addition to New York City, Walker tastings took place through December 3 all over the U.S. (MKTG INC, New York City, handled).
“The House of Walker experience offers people an interactive journey through the Johnnie Walker portfolio,” says Dan Kleinman, marketing director at Diageo. “We’re really taking the conversation online, too, and these tools provide a great way to communicate with the Johnnie Walker fan base.”
To help its Striding Man Society members achieve high levels of knowledge and sophistication, they “strode” though the brand’s selections toward the pinnacle product, Johnnie Walker Blue. The brand also offered Scotch whisky education on its Society microsite and via its expert ambassadors at live events. In addition, the brand helped teach men how to make a toast, mix a signature drink and throw a high-class party in the “Mad Men” style.
Pass the high ball, Mr. Draper. EM