Royal Salute was created in 1953, when an entrepreneurial Sam Bronfman crafted a special Scotch whisky blend for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Since then it has come to stand for excellence: Each flagon of Royal Salute is a golden elixir concocted from a delicate mix of whiskies that have been aged for a minimum of 21 years—the number also references the 21-gun Salute, a centuries-old military tradition accorded at royal events. And with a heritage so intertwined with the monarchy, every endeavour the brand undertakes is equally exceptional. For example, Royal Salute is closely linked with Polo, the sport of kings, and brings together people from all over the world for tournaments that are held in stunning locales such as the fields of Jodhpur, or on the snow-covered slopes of St Moritz.
It’s only natural that the word, “experience”, features extensively in the brand’s vocabulary. Together with acclaimed perfumer Barnabé Fillion, Royal Salute organises a one-of-a-kind Olfactory Studio, a sensorial journey where guests discover the wonders of whisky alongside an exquisite curate of scents and cuisine. “In the case of the Olfactory Studio, it’s about education,” explains Mathieu Deslandes, Head of Royal Salute (pictured above). “It’s not just about how to drink whisky, but how one’s senses and emotions can be influenced by perfume or dance. This changes the way you taste whisky, and there is an elevation.”
In this interview with Harper’s BAZAAR, Deslandes talks about story-telling in the world of whiskey, and harnessing the power of social media to bring the brand forward.
What aspects of the brand resonated with you when you first joined Royal Salute? How did you distill those qualities into the projects you’ve done for the brand?
There’s a huge responsibility when it comes to taking care of this brand because there’s so much heritage to it. There’s a beautiful story. The brand was designed to be the best when it was first created, which means there was a willingness to always be at the pinnacle of the whisky industry. We need to be the ultimate. It’s something we need to remember in everything we do. I’m lucky in that way because it’s easy to work with something of such a high quality.
Is storytelling an important aspect of what you’re trying to achieve for the brand?
Of course. Storytelling is usually about the history and heritage, but let’s never forget the whisky aspect of it. We’re proposing our whiskies to whisky lovers, so it’s very important that we are up to the level of quality they are expecting. It is true that when we talk about whisky, we always try to do it in a very elevated manner. But we must remember that we stand for everything extraordinary and exceptional. There must be magic to what we do.
What’s your idea of style and how do you bottle that?
There is, by definition, a style in the way we do things. There is no other brand that offers such a distinctive and well-crafted proposition. It is such a strong point of view. There is an elegance to what we do, be it in the quality of whisky or the porcelain bottle that holds it. When we hold the Olfactory Studio, we make sure the setting creates an elevation with style. It’s very distinctive. Royal Salute was created for a queen, and since the very beginning it was meant to celebrate a woman. It is something that is quite rare.
Is it necessary to make heritage modern?
I think it’s absolutely necessary. Our whiskies are minimum 21 years of age, and by that definition, we already have a past. But heritage is what we have inside of us—modernity lies in how we express it.
How is Royal Salute planning on harnessing the power of social media?
For any brand, communication now happens on social media. It’s digital. There are no frontiers. But what I think is important for a brand like Royal Salute is communicating the experience. There is a fine balance. It’s how you enjoy your whisky. In this digital age, the education aspect is very important as well, because the more premium you are, the more people want to know and learn.