Distillery Focus

Family colours

Change is afoot at Wemyss Malts, where a trio of much-loved blended malts have been transformed
By Justine Hazlehurst
We all know that whisky takes a long time: a long time to produce and a long time to mature. “It’s the exact same process with its branding,” explains Steven Shand, brand manager at Wemyss Malts. The Edinburgh-based independent bottler and blender, managed by brother and sister William and Isabella Wemyss (pronounced ‘Weems’), was founded in 2005 and, since its inception, much of the growth and development of its ranges has been purely organic. However, since joining the company just under five years ago, Steven has been busy garnering customer feedback to identify exactly how people perceived the company and its products.

Following years of research, in November last year a vibrant, new look for the company’s core range of blended malts – The Hive, Spice King and Peat Chimney – was revealed to much acclaim. “Looking at what the purpose of rebranding is, it shouldn’t just be about revealing a shiny new bottle. The process has to have more depth and integrity to it,” Steven points out. To elaborate, he says, “In terms of aesthetics, with the old branding there was probably some DNA of what was popular with blended malt at the time. But when we take into account how we see ourselves and what we want to talk about, essentially what we have is a premium product. Wemyss’ blended malts are made in small batches, bottled at a higher strength and are non-chill filtered; our whisky deserves to be on shelves exuding confidence and that’s why we purposely turned the dial up to 11 with the new packaging.”

While appreciation and the popularity of blended malts has increased among informed whisky enthusiasts, the category is still somewhat misunderstood by the casual whisky drinker. “A blended malt doesn’t have the same storyline as a single malt with regards to the history and heritage of a particular distillery. Blended malts are a different beast, so we had the freedom to be louder and more colourful,” explains Steven. Striking the balance of providing as much information as possible about the whisky, without overwhelming customers with too many technical details, was always going to be a challenge; the rebranding needed to be as impactful to both the ardent and casual whisky drinker alike.

Details such as the structure of each blended malt, together with the flavour wheel tasting note on the carton give consumers an ‘at a glance’ understanding of the whisky’s profile. Look closer, however, and the outline of the history of the Wemyss family together with the story of the brother and sister collaboration bring the essence of Wemyss Malts’ brand to life.

Working with Craig Mackinlay’s Breeze Creative – winners of Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky Scotland award for Design Agency of the Year 2020 – the newly designed bottle not only conveys some of the architectural features of Wemyss Malts’ sister company, Kingsbarns Distillery, but also reflects elements of the original family home of Wemyss Castle.

“It’s quite a blocky, angular castle and the bottle takes the silhouette of its imposing, broad-shouldered vibe,” explains Steven. “We also added some of the castle’s decorative elements, such as the archways at the base of the bottle, which replicate those along the wall separating the castle from the cliff.”

There are a few other ‘hidden’ features too: the Wemyss Malts deboss in the ring finish together with the swan and the ‘je pense’ Wemyss family crest on the base integrate the family’s history into the end product. With its wide cork mouth and chunky base, the bottle has a retro, decanter feel to it. The bottle design itself will be used throughout all the ranges – from the blended malts through to the exclusive single cask releases – so it was important from the get-go that it created that ‘wow factor’ whilst still acknowledging the longevity of the Wemyss family.

...The rebranding needed to be as impactful to both the ardent and casual whisky drinker alike

It was during the Victorian age when the family first started to have links with the Scotch whisky industry – most notably by selling their land to the Haigs for the expansion of Cameronbridge Distillery – and it was from this era that Steven took inspiration for the packaging’s illustrations. Influenced by William Morris prints, Steven imagined the tactile, luxury wallpaper which would have adorned the walls at Wemyss Castle and transposed that image into the rebranding process.

The packaging’s illustrations have themselves been designed to replicate this style of wallpaper, enveloping the bottle with vibrant designs that blend the classic and the contemporary. As Steven explains, “The packaging is acknowledging who we are. We’re not a 150-year-old single malt distillery; we don’t have that story to tell. So, we’re shouting about other things instead: flavour, the history of the family, and the art of blending.”

It’s the latter which could not have come in any better shape or form than the coveted 25-year-old Velvet Fig, launched last year to coincide with Wemyss Malts’ 15th anniversary. First released in 2014, the original Velvet Fig won the heart of many a whisky enthusiast. For some, it was their first experience of Wemyss Malts and, six years on, those long-ago empty bottles are still very much lamented. “It seemed a really good idea to bring it back in some form for the 15th anniversary,” said Steven.
The decision to release a 25- rather than a 15-year-old whisky was based purely on the quality of Wemyss’ available stock. Steven explains, “We didn’t want to produce the exact same blend again and, as we had access to some really good older sherried stock, we started to put this recipe together. We didn’t just find the 25-year-old equivalent components to the original Velvet Fig. Instead, we used different cask types as well as sourcing liquid from different distilleries.”

Released in February last year, to coincide with the 15th anniversary celebrations at Gosford House, this was Wemyss Malts’ first super-premium blended malt. Retailing at the very reasonable and fair price of just over £100, it was also the company’s fastest-selling limited edition. This is testament not only to the quality of the whisky being released but also to Wemyss’ enhanced reputation as a purveyor of quality spirits built up from those early days in 2005, when they started out.

Even though the pandemic prevented Wemyss Malts’ in-person celebratory events from extending throughout the rest of 2020, the company itself continues to go from strength to strength. With light at the end of the tunnel, it’s only a matter of time before we can all head to our local whisky specialist, peruse the shelves at our leisure and admire the full array of colours of the Wemyss Malts range.
The new look of the Wemyss Malts core range
The new look of the Wemyss Malts core range