Brave new world

Brave new world

Visitors ot the new Dewar's World of Whisky centre will be dazzled by the arry but thank heavens real distilling gets a look in.

Travel | 16 Jun 2000 | Issue 10 | By Gavin Smith

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The Scotch whisky industry has come a long way since the day in 1969 when Glenfiddich opened the country’s first purpose-built distillery visitor centre, while their competitors looked on with a blend of curiosity and amusement.However, with the opening last month of the innovative £2 million Dewar’s World of Whisky at Aberfeldy in Perthshire,
a new benchmark has been set, against which all future developments will have to be measured.Aberfeldy has been associated with the famous Dewar name since its opening in 1898 (see Whisky Magazine, Issue 7), and for many years was part of the DCL/United Distillers portfolio, passing to Bacardi Martini in 1998 along with the Dewar’s brands and four other distilleries, as part of a £1,150 million package. Aberfeldy single malt is at the heart of the White Label blend.According to Bacardi Martini’s global brands director Neil Boyd, “We looked at the other 43 distillery visitor centres in Scotland and decided we didn’t want Aberfeldy to be the 44th. We wanted to create something exciting, involving, dynamic and interactive. We are hoping to attract 40,000 visitors in our first year, but the quality of the experience is more important than numbers. We will treat this as a brand centre rather than a profit centre.”“We’re not just competing with other distillery visitor attractions here in Scotland”, he emphasises. “Our competitors are places like Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee, the World of Coke in Atlanta, and the Millennium Dome; attractions which have raised the visitors’ level of expectations.”Tommy Dewar was one of the whisky industry’s great innovators and marketing experts, in an age before the word ‘marketing’ had even been invented. The team that created Dewars’ World of Whisky in the old Aberfeldy maltings hope that they are breaking new ground in visitor interpretation in the best traditions pioneered by Whisky Tom.Admission includes a tour of the distillery itself and access to the centre, where each visitor is issued with a personal audio-guide which enables you to wander through the World of Whisky at your own pace. The first surprise comes on entering the opulent, triple-screened audio-visual presentation auditorium with its plush, red, cinema-style seating. The room is redolent of a Victorian theatre, and reflects Tommy Dewar’s love of show and theatricality.Away from the auditorium, a giant video wall projects global images of Dewar’s advertising and there are facilities to access the company’s website. You may even have your photograph taken against a Dewar’s promotional backdrop and then e-mail it anywhere in the world.The more mature visitor might, at first, feel slightly intimidated by all the innovative technology that has been harnessed to spread the Dewar’s word, but the beauty of the World of Whisky is that there is something for everyone, regardless of age or level of knowledge.Lots of artefacts and advertising images are featured, along with excellent reconstructions of Tommy Dewar’s London office and the blending room from Dewar House in Perth as it was in 1929 – the walls lined with enticing sample bottles of spirit.There is even the chance to interactively create your own blended whisky, though honesty compels me to admit that my efforts met with scorn from the interactive master blender, not to mention the real life presences of the distillery manager Chris Anderson and Neil Boyd. The general verdict on my effort was ‘too salty, too grainy, with not enough malt’, though apparently I’d got the ‘earthiness’ just right.The World of Whisky experience ends with a dram of White Label in a smart tasting area next to what is called the brand store. This is the exclusive outlet for the re-packaged Aberfeldy single malt, now marketed as a 12 year old, and for a 25-year-old which is only available in limited quantities.While some distilleries seem to have become tourist retail outlets with whisky-making plants attached, Aberfeldy remains first and foremost a busy, working distillery. According to Chris Anderson, it is currently operating at full capacity, Monday to Friday, producing some two million litres of spirit each year.Dewar’s has succeeded in creating the ultimate Scotch whisky visitor centre at Aberfeldy, but the most memorable aspects of a visit remain the sight and sound of four pairs of hot copper stills in action and the unmistakable aroma of a working distillery drifting in from the site along Strathtay.
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