Generally, brand ambassadors at spirits companies have pretty good jobs -- going to bars and events and talking up whatever brand of booze you're representing (and giving out free samples along the way). But last year, Balvenie brand ambassadors Nicholas Pollacchi and Andrew Weir received a new assignment from their bosses in Dufftown, Scotland.
Since the brand message of the Balvenie single-malt Scotch whisky is their unique commitment to handcrafting their product in much the same way it was done when the Balvenie was founded by William Grant in 1886, why not take a handmade Morgan roadster on a trip across the United States in search of old-time craftsmen and film it?
Pollacchi and Weir set to the task, taking Mary Rose (the car) on an eight-month journey to speak with violin makers, blacksmiths, furniture makers, glassblowers, cigar rollers, and other artisans. On the way, there was a lot of information sharing -- and Scotch drinking.
The resulting 30-minute film was shown last evening at the Moore Building to a group of about two dozen spirits enthusiasts. What was essentially a marketing piece was as well-crafted and engaging as the Scotch. The message was subtle but strong: In these days of cheap,
disposable items, there's still room for passionate people putting out beautiful hand-crafted wares (be they lamps or booze).
Of course, there's no such thing as a brand marketing session without a little tasting. The Balvenie 12-year-old, 14 year-old Caribbean cask, 15-year-old, and 21-year-old Scotches were presented for sampling. The 14-year-old Caribbean cask is named for the Caribbean rum barrels in which the whiskey is aged, though it's not as easy as it sounds. Instead of
importing empty barrels from Puerto Rico, Barbados, St. Lucia, and other rum-producing countries, the Balvenie imports the casks while still filled with rum. This allows the Scotch distiller to have more control over the aging of the barrels. When the casks are aged enough (don't worry -- the rum is enjoyed), they're smashed apart, only to be put together again by the in-house cask-maker (or cooper), who's been with the company for more than 40 years.
Asked why the Balvenie wanted to do something different with its marketing plan instead of the usual drink-and-learn sessions, Pollacchi, who was about to embark
on a second road trip in Mary Rose, said, "My job is easy. The story of the Balvenie is compelling. We're not owned by a large corporation. We do everything by hand, from
growing our own barley to using a hand crank to transfer the whiskey into the casks for aging. But I also didn't want to come here in a kilt talking about the rolling hills of Scotland. Last year we decided to seek out craftsmen who were as dedicated to their work as we are to ours. It just seemed to fit."
The Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow is seeking nominations for craftsmen and artisans to visit on this next road trip. This year the company is offering small grants to some of the people they meet along the way, enabling these small-business owners to continue making wares. To nominate someone, click here.
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Here's a trailer for Rare Crafts in America, which will be submitted to several film festivals: