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Lifestyle: History In A Bottle
The inspiration for the whisky came from the 21 gun salute which is the highest mark of respect for a monarch
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I was first in-troduced to Royal Salute as a teenager by my father. No, he did not pour me a Patiala peg, instead he told me a story. In the late 70s, he and his friends discovered a bottle of Royal Salute in my uncle’s cupboard. As they opened the blue case and took out the beautiful sapphire-coloured bottle from its luxurious velvet bag, their excitement knew no bounds. Unfortunately, the bottle was empty, bar a few millilitres of alcohol. My aunt had kept the bottle in its original packaging as in those days you could sell imported luxury alcohol bottles and packaging for a fair amount of money. My father and his friends felt that even a few drops of the treasured liquid was too precious not to be partaken. So they poured a little water and all of them had a few drops, feeling blessed at having tasted the nectar of the Gods.
Twenty years later, I tell this story to Torquhil Ian Campbell, the 13th Duke of Argyll and the global brand ambassador for Royal Salute. He smiles and says he can totally understand the fascination my father and his friends had.
“That’s the beauty of Royal Salute. It has so much heritage, so many stories,” says, the Duke who has a 60,000 acre estate in the western coast of Scotland and is chief of the Campbell clan.
In 1953, Samuel Bronfman, a Canadian businessman who was a true royalist, got an invite for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Owner of the Seagram Co. which had bought Chivas Brothers in 1949, Bronfman was one of the largest whisky manufacturers of those days. As an ultimate tribute to the Queen he bottled a 21-year-old blended Scotch whisky, the Royal Salute, and gifted it to her. The inspiration for the whisky came from the 21 gun salute which is the highest mark of respect for a monarch. The Royal Salute comes in a porcelain flagon, bottled in three colours — ruby, emerald and sapphire — representing the jewels on the coronation crown of Queen Elizabeth II.
“Bronfman was so focused on being a royalist that he turned up at the coronation in a suit made of the Union Jack. But as a tribute he created the first true luxury whisky,” says the Duke.
In 2001, Pernod Ricard bought Seagrams and Royal Salute became a part of its brand offering. “The Royal Salute, from the very beginning, has been a minimum of a 21-year-old. So it’s about craftsmanship, heritage and luxury. We now have a range of whiskies that start at 21 and go all the way to 50 years,” explains the Duke. Only 21 bottles of the 45-year-old were produced and were sold in jewel-encrusted porcelain decanters for around $200,000 a bottle.
In 2003, a 50-year-old Royal Salute was produced to mark the Queen’s golden jubilee. “A bottle was gifted to the Queen. I presented a bottle to Sir Edmund Hillary in Kathmandu on 29 May 2003 which was the 50th anniversary of his reaching Mt. Everest,” says the Duke.
In India, Royal Salute sells 2300, 9 litre cases annually and has been growing at a CAGR of 4.9 per cent (2011-15). Last year alone, there was a 15 per cent increase in sales.
At dinner, later in the evening, the Duke raises a toast. We have all been poured a drink of the Royal Salute 21-year-old in a traditional Scottish utensil called a Quaich — a shallow two-handled drinking cup. The Duke asks us to hold it with both hands, drink it, and then upturn it on our heads as a mark of respect for the host. While we are all very amused with this custom, we do it spiritedly.
During the course of the evening, we are also served the Royal Salute 38-year-old ‘Stone of Destiny’ — named after the legendary Stone of Destiny which for centuries was used at the coronation ceremony of ancient Scottish kings and queens. In 1296, it was transported to London’s Westminster Abbey and was last used for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1996, after 700 years it made its way back to Scotland and is now at Edinburgh Castle. The 38-year-old is a blend of exceptional whiskies, each aged at least 38 years. As I sip the extremely smooth whisky, I realise it’s not just whisky but history in a glass. Somewhere in Scotland, it was being poured in casks just around the time I was born.