Magazine article Marketing

Brand Builders: Compass Box

Magazine article Marketing

Brand Builders: Compass Box

Article excerpt

Developing blends to appeal to modern palates is key to this innovative whisky brand's growth.

From the first moment you hold a bottle of Compass Box whisky in your hand, you know you are no longer in traditional Scotch territory.

From the shape of the bottle and label illustration, to the name and colour of the spirit, everything about founder John Glaser's whiskies challenges the industry's conventional thinking.

As a former global marketing director for Johnnie Walker at Diageo, this clean-cut, earnest American certainly learned his trade before setting up on his own. His passionate attitude to whisky is more akin to that found in the wine industry, where grape blends are common.

Glaser, 41, believes flavour is the most important thing, and has not been afraid to ditch the distillers' long-held belief that single malts are the ultimate whiskies in his quest to create new tastes.

He refers to Compass Box as a boutique whisky blender: 'We buy mature whiskies in casks from a range of distilleries, blend them in small batches, and then marry them so the blends are aged for several months.'

Glaser spends a large part of his time perfecting his blends. In the company's offices - a large studio in Chiswick - one area is dedicated solely to blending. While the rest of the office could belong to any trendy young start-up, this area looks more like a chemistry lab with shelves stacked high with sample bottles and scribbled analyses of the flavours.

The first Compass Box product was its grain whisky, Hedonism. While the name alone would make many look twice, the fact that it was a 100% Scotch grain whisky - a rarity in the UK market - ensured interest in whisky circles. Glaser wanted Compass Box to be noticed; blends with names such as Juveniles and The Peat Monster have followed, priced pounds 20-pounds 42 a bottle.

Compass Box is a rarity; the premium spirits sector is not known for its entrepreneurial start-ups. Glaser originally went to his employer Diageo with the idea, but when he was unable to secure its backing he decided to go it alone.

In many ways this took him back to the reason he got into the drinks business. His original desire was to make wine, and after a year in France he joined Johnnie Walker in the US, then owned by United Distillers. He came to England in 1998 when Diageo was formed.

So in the winter of 2000, with the first cases of Hedonism rattling in his car boot, Glaser hit the road and started peddling his wares. The key was, and is, to get people to taste his blends for themselves. This is where most of his marketing has taken place and he still sees education and tasting as vital, although the company is starting to look at very limited press advertising. …

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