I love single malt whisky. It’s not just the taste—it’s the whole experience: the history, the provenance, the brands, the semiotics, and the rituals. Uncorking a bottle of Balvenie, Laphroaig, or Dalwhinnie, pouring a dram into a heavy lead crystal glass, and adding a dash of spring water is a magical experience that is exactly as it was a hundred years ago. And with that extraordinary weight of history, it’s difficult to understand how anything about Scotch can, or should, change.
I don’t profess to be a whisky connoisseur, but I know what I like, and my everyday (although not literally every day) favorite is The Balvenie Doublewood. Partly because it’s so smooth and drinkable, partly because it’s different enough to feel special, and partly because the packaging is so extraordinarily beautiful I can’t put it down. The elegant, bell-shaped bottle, the intricate letter-pressed label, and the carefully curated ensemble of type styles is a combination of everything that’s wonderful about the timeless whisky experience.
However, I recently received a gift from a friend—a bottle of Bruichladdich 21. Pronounced brook-laddie, Bruichladdich is not only a beautifully esoteric brand, it’s remarkably good drink. The last remaining hand-made whisky, it’s distilled and bottled on the island of Islay, and Bruichladdich, more than any other whisky, celebrates its uniqueness. Every batch has a different taste and a different story, which is pretty innovative for a category that is based around timeless tradition and generations of consistency. And what I love the most about Bruichladdich is that this uniqueness, this character, doesn’t just live inside the bottle.
The design philosophy seems to be entirely about how the contemporary and the traditional work hand in hand. It has managed to fuse the timeless provenance of a hundred year old distillery with the relevance of an innovative and dynamic new brand.
Breaking from tradition is hard to do, but reinventing traditions is even harder.