Whisky Advocate

Tullibardine Launched Anew

March 1st, 2013

Gavin D Smith, Whisky Advocate contributor, shares details of the Tullibardine relaunch.

The Perthshire distillery of Tullibardine has announced a total relaunch of its single malt range, with a major makeover of both presentation and liquid, adopting the tagline: ‘A drop of pure Highland gold.’ The new lineup is due in the States by May.

Tullibardine DistilleryAccording to Tulibardine’s international sales manager James Robertson, “I felt that we needed to change some time ago, as our packaging lacked focus and was behind the times, to be honest. Also when asked, no one at Tullibardine could explain what Tullibardine meant to them. I had an idea, but this was different to other viewpoints.”

Tullibardine distillery, in the village of Blackford, was established in 1949, on the site of a former brewery where King James IV of Scotland reputedly paused to buy beer on the way to his coronation at Scone, near Perth in 1488.

James Robertson says that, “We looked at the various key elements of what Tullibardine was and brought these all together, hence the ‘drop of pure Highland gold,’ emphasis on the 1488 date and the King, getting out the message that Tullibardine is a vibrant, elegant whisky that people wanted to feel part of.”

Having been restored to life late in 2003 by a consortium of businessmen after a decade of silence, Tullibardine distillery was sold to the third-generation family-owned French wines and spirits company Maison Michel Picard, based in Chassagne Montrachet, Burgundy, during 2011.

As part of the Picard portfolio, there is no longer the same imperative to sell spirit to third parties in order to generate cashflow as was previously the case, allowing for greater stability and an emphasis on a smaller and more focused range of premium single malt bottlings.

Until the relaunch, the principal Tullibardine bottlings were Tullibardine Aged Oak, with no age statement, and a 1993 vintage, along with a number of caskTullibardine Relaunch Sovereign finishes. James Robertson notes that, “The previous bottles that were available were good, but there seemed to be little continuity, consumers could not identify with the brand, and the vintage dates confused them as they never did the math to work out how old the whiskies actually were.”

Aged Oak has now been replaced by Sovereign as the entry level expression, and Robertson explains that, “Aged Oak was a good whisky with a name that did not have any real meaning, whereas we feel that Sovereign has a more powerful image and one with a meaning.”

The previous vintage variants have been replaced by 20 and 25 year old bottlings, and Robertson explains that “The finishes have been brought under control, so that we have three core finishes: 225 Sauternes, finished in casks from Chateau Suduiraut, 228 Burgundy, with casks from Chateau de Chassagne Montrachet, and 500 Sherry, using mainly PX [pedro ximenez sherry]casks. The numbers relate to the size in liters of the casks that the whisky has been matured in for the final twelve months.”

Inevitably, such a refocusing of image and brand positioning comes at a cost to the consumer. Robertson confirms that, saying, “In the past, we were guilty of selling our whiskies well below the market rate and so with the rebranding we are now able to place the new 20 year old and 25 year olds at a price level that fits their age. I feel that these six new whiskies at last provide Tullibardine with a core range that has an identity and something that the consumer can feel part of, whether they are new or old Tullibardine followers.”
Tullibardine Relaunch SauternesTullibardine Relaunch BurgundyTullibardine Relaunch Sherry

24 Responses to “Tullibardine Launched Anew”

  1. lawschooldrunk says:

    looks like it’s packaged in compass box bottles.

    • Danny Maguire says:

      To me they look more like Diageo bottles, standard tall round.

      • Red_Arremer says:

        But that thick base is not really a Diageo thing. And neither is the increase in diameter from bottom to top. .I think that’s what LSD was getting at.

        • Danny Maguire says:

          You could have a point with the thickness of the base, but the general shape is what you see the flora and fauna range in.

  2. Jazz Lover says:

    Hope it’s as good.

  3. sam k says:

    Can we presume that the 20 and 25 year olds will end as the distillery bumps up against the decade they were closed? It would seem that the 20 year old can only be produced this year if they were closed from 1993-2003.

  4. two-bit cowboy says:

    Was lucky enough to try the 228 in Victoria. According to the rep, “five years in bourbon, 8 months in burgundy, 59%.” It was very good. He didn’t say whether the official bottlings would be at cask strength.

    That “price level that fits their age” for the 20 and 25 year old might be a shocker compared to recent Tulli pricing. And not likely they’ll use that same philosophy for the five year old stuff, eh?

    • Jeff says:

      Of course not! If it’s young, you pay because it’s “bold” or “innovative” (or has an attractive colour), while, if it actually has an age, you pay for quality and dedication to tradition.

      “The previous bottles that were available were good, but there seemed to be little continuity, consumers could not identify with the brand, and the vintage dates confused them as they never did the math to work out how old the whiskies actually were.” – I had an idea here: why not just state the age, in years, in big numbers, RIGHT ON THE LABEL? You could call it an “age statement”, and it could even give you a big shelf/sales advantage over those, unable, or unwilling, to do the same. Mr. Robertson might have a point here, however: whether they are capable of it or not, many customers may not have been willing to take the time to do the math on every Tullibardine expression, given the distillery could not be bothered to take the time to make the same calculations even once. Yet they’re now keeping track of CASK SIZES on 12-month finishes? I admit those numbers, though utterly meaningless, do look impressive on a label (as they were meant to).

      And I can’t fault Tullibardine for a lack of nerve. That distillery labelling anything, much less an NAS, as “Sovereign” indicates a big set of spheres or a lack of understanding of the term.

      Taking the advice of many, I don’t really hate the players, but the game(s)…

      • Red_Arremer says:

        Still Jeff, I wouldn’t spare the “player”James Robertson any criticism. Articulating ones perspective on the game requires reference to actual people places and things. And as far as the game goes. He’s being paid in part to *represent* the distillery.

        I didn’t like what Robertson had to say. Congratulating oneself on dumming down and pricing up a product is a vile thing to do– Though, admittedly, it is also a paying job.

        • Jeff says:

          Thanks for the reply, Red, and it’s certainly fair comment. As part of a larger trend, in which consumers are assumed to be not quite stupid enough to simply accept worse as better and less as more, the industry does need people to perform the unenviable, hopefully distasteful, task of putting the best spin on decisions made in boardrooms but presented as natural outgrowths of traditional craftsmanship. The fact that the industry requires that AS a paying job is one of the fundamental things currently wrong with it.

  5. Michael Dereszynski says:

    New tag line: “a drop of pure Highland gold.”
    I find the tag line on the distillery sign more interesting: “All vehicles MUST enter in forward gear. No reversing in or out is permitted.”
    Now that would be an eye catcher on a label!

    • Russell says:

      And possibly lead to higher sales! How many people will, in casual conversation, discuss the “drop of pure Highland gold?” Put “All vehicles MUST enter in forward gear. No reversing in or out is permitted.” on the label, and Tullibardine will go viral!

    • MrTH says:

      “Don’t look back!” Ah, wait, there’s that 1488 thing.

  6. Wait. They tell us that they dropped vintage because consumers can’t count? They gp NAS because consumers are too stupid?

    How low can you go…

  7. Danny Maguire says:

    N.A.S. can make sure they keep a product on the market, real question is, how good is it?

  8. Mark S says:

    Can’t say I like the re-brand much. The tagline is a pretty cheesy, and sounds like it could be used for a Scottish shampoo. The labels… I don’t know: The colours and big meaningless numbers on the front look kind of childish. But, what’s in the bottle should dictate its worth, so let’s hope it’s good.

  9. mongo says:

    i wasn’t able to tell from reading this whether there is any change to the actual whisky in the move from “aged oak” to “sovereign”. is this merely a case of old whiskies in new bottles?

    i would expect whisky advocate to provide at least some “reporting” on these issues and not just a regurgitation of marketing materials.

    • sam k says:

      I would think the most meaningful reporting Whisky Advocate could do on this subject will be in the ratings and reviews of these whiskies.

      • Jeff says:

        While I understand what you’re saying, I also think mongo has a point; it’s not really clear if Sovereign is just a renaming of Aged Oak, while the comment “Aged Oak was a good whisky…” implies that there is SOME difference between the two. On a larger issue, while I see that the story was covering Tullibardine’s re-launch and comments, and I think Gavin is an excellent writer, you do have to read between the lines to get away from “the party line” here, and some additional facts would help put the forthcoming reviews in better context. Regardless of what anyone THINKS of Sovereign, either it IS Aged Oak relabeled or it isn’t, and a clarification would be nice (although perhaps embarrassing to Tullibardine).

      • mongo says:

        sam, i was not aware that whisky advocate is primarily a compendium of ratings and reviews. do john and lew know about this?

  10. politicalidiot says:

    Looks interesting…depends on where they price these NAS bottlings. There are just too many great whiskies out there to choose from at fair prices.

  11. MrTH says:

    Well, it’s easy to roll your eyes at the marketing-speak, but they are a business, after all. The strategy seems to be about what you would expect from a distillery that reopened ten years ago. It will be interesting to see whether the bread-and-butter shifts from NAS finished whiskies to more straightforward age-statement bottles as they get the aged stock in the warehouses.

    • Jeff says:

      NAS or Age Statement, the main shift will continue to be toward higher and higher profit margins on production (driven by relatively low resource investment for NAS and escalating pricing for both NAS and Age Statement products). Until consumers start saying “enough” to marketspeak and the attempts at gouging it tries to obscure, the big chains that now own these distilleries will continue to give you the homespun “dedication to tradition” malarkey while largely eroding those same traditions to give you less for more. The reason it’s easy to roll your eyes at this stuff isn’t simply because it comes from a business model; it’s because it’s transparently exploitative and self-serving.

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