Whisky drinkers are seeking experiences that extend well beyond a brand’s products, Jacques-Henri Brive, head of brand advocacy and prestige acceleration at Chivas Brothers, tells us with the opening of Linn House.
Dreaming of a dram? Try one in a Victorian manor in the heart of Speyside. Followed by Hot Toddies and foraging trips in the Cairngorms, or a visit to Ballindalloch Castle, or a personalised tour of one of Chivas Brothers’ many distilleries.
These are just a few of the activities that can be booked at Linn House, the guest house from the Scotch whisky arm of Pernod Ricard, now open to the public having previously only been available to invitees.
Situated on the banks of the River Isla, in Keith, Scotland, and with origins that date back to 1870, Chivas Brothers has luxuriously reimagined the house, so it’s match fit for a section of the industry that’s seen an outpour of interest of late – spirits tourism.
Brive led the project to open Linn House, and he hopes to show guests not just Chivas Brothers’ whiskies (though that’s also a big part), but the whole scope of what the brand is all about. “When you talk to people spending over £200 on whisky, most of them want more than a product,” he said speaking to The Spirits Business. “Prestige whisky is one of the fastest growing sectors in the industry.”
High demand for prestige whiskies
As for why Chivas Brothers decided to open Linn House now, Brive said the brand’s thinking “accelerated after Covid”.
He said: “[Post-Covid-19], I think that two things have changed. One, you know, is that during the pandemic Linn House was closed. And it’s really a space that people liked and were missing. It was a place where you could hear amazing stories and share your own. We thought ‘why don’t we enlarge our base and open it to private parties?’
“And two, from a business perspective, prestige whisky is on the rise – that is products over £100. Being part of this ecosystem is very important. Maybe it sounds counterintuitive in terms of high inflation and the cost of living crisis, but the desire and demand for high-end whiskies and rare casks have never been greater.”
Data from the Scotch Whisky Association taken over the last 12 months showed whisky visitor centres are Scotland’s top attraction, with visits totalling more than two million. “If you want to keep pace with the prestige trend, to accompany the demand we have from customers to go beyond the product and really expand our brand – The Glenlivet, Ballantine’s, Chivas etc – in a different way, then you have to accelerate,” Brive explained.
An intimate home
While many other brands are now offering experiences for whisky, Brive believes that it is intimacy that “makes us different from the competition.’’.A stay at Linn House isn’t a corporate experience. “We built a house’’, Brive goes on to say. “It used to be a private residence. There’s 13 bedrooms and everyone sits together for dinner. You cannot really accommodate hundreds of people in the bar.’’
Each bedroom sports its own unique boutique aesthetic, inspired by one of the brand’s distilleries – Scapa, Longhorn, Aberlour, The Glenlivet, to name a few.
About dinner, Brive said: “We have a resident chef, who is sourcing ingredients locally. He has a game estate from where he hunts. He is serving venison that he hunts during winter, and he knows all local producers, including a friend who hand-dives his scallops on the Moray Coast.” The dinner is paired with three Royal Salute whiskies and at one point, guests are even treated to a traditional haggis address.
He added: “We also pay a lot of attention to our garden, for instance the strawberry jam that guests have in the morning is harvested from there. Some of the herbs that you see in the cocktails are from the garden as well. Sustainability is a big thing for us, as is working with the local community.”
Going beyond the product
Linn House also puts together bespoke itineraries for its guests, with transfers cared for. Brive acknowledges that accessing distilleries isn’t always easy: “We’ll organise a mini van for them. When you’re going to discover whisky country, different Chivas Brothers distilleries and the products, you shouldn’t be driving – you cannot drive. You need to relax and you need to be safe.”
He hopes that the wide range of activities on offer to people – from cocktail masterclasses to exploring the smugglers trails in the surrounding area – will help to attract a younger crowd.
Linn House’s whisky library is a dedicated space showcasing the full depth of the Chivas Brothers portfolio. Brive views it as the highlight of the house: “People want to spend a lot of time there. They want to start at shelf one and go into shelf 12. Many houses in Scotland have a couple of whiskies, but here we have 200 expressions, including products from lost distilleries that no longer produce such as Caperdonich.’’
“Being able to start with a cocktail made with Ballantine’s 17, then going into a whisky-paired dinner, and finishing with an exceptional whisky in the library, such as an Aberlour A’bunadh.” – this what Brive says makes Linn House unique.
Linn House can now be booked by groups of up to 12 in six rooms, or full-house occupancy for groups of up to 24 in 12 rooms. A minimum two-night stay is applied to both options, which include breakfast, dinner, and bottle of Linn House Reserve whisky for each guest. A two-night stay for six is priced at £9,600 (US$1,200), and £19,200 (US$24,100) for 12.
Brive made a final note on the exclusive whisky gift: “The Linn House Reserve that we leave in rooms was put through for maturation 26 years ago. There are products here that don’t exist anywhere else.’’
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Author: Rupert Hohwieler