Ardbeg, masters of marketing hype that they are, have attempted (and are reasonably successful) to make the Fèis Ìle open day into something more global than just the festival on Islay. Despite being a rather small operation (1.3 million liters per year, smaller than Bruichladdich and about a third of Laphroaig). How was this done?
The very successful “Ardbeg Committee” affinity program, coupled with Ardbeg Embassies (i.e retailers) across the globe have created a network of fans who have adopted the brand as their own – just think of the difference between being a “committee member” with a network of worldwide embassies to being a “friend of” (with a bottom line of both being peated whisky sold in a green bottle…).
The result of this brilliant affinity program was both deepening the brand’s strength and, starting in 2012, having aficionados take ownership on “Ardbeg Day” launched by the distillery bottling a festival bottling simply called “Ardbeg Day” (The United States alone has 24 events in which spanning from May 27th to June 6th all titled “Ardbeg Day”, with 20 countries listing events on the Ardbeg website). The funny thing is, that there are only some 110,000 committee members around the world. Also, the use of soccer as part of the Ardbeg day celebrations, as well as winking toward the world cup with last year’s Auriverdes, ultimately the subject of this review.
Truly, Ardbeg is employing some brilliant guerrilla marketing strategies and is a textbook study in creating consumer involvement!
Ardbeg has changed ownership eight times over the 200 years they’re around, but it was only under Glenmorangie’s ownership that Ardbeg got to where it is today with a golden hoard of fans a little bit on the other side of crazy, which suits the hype loving distillery just fine. If this last sentence sounded like criticism, let me be clear – from a marketing standpoint it isn’t! As a student of the industry, it’s actually a pleasure to watch.
Just how deep is the crazy?
Last year, as part of the Auriverdes marketing, some gold painted 700 ml bottles were sent out to some bloggers (no, sadly not to yours truly!), and two of which showed up in auctions. Mind you, this is an expression that was sold (admittedly in a green bottle) for £90. This is what ensued:
And not to be outdone, a couple of weeks later:
These bottles brought a righteous wrath from the distillery, swearing to put serial numbers and other identification methods, but I suspect that this was met with great satisfaction in the marketing department at Glenmorangie headquarters. Some might have even insinuated a more active involvement in these bottles landing in auction, but I don’t deal in innuendo….
I will say this, and tip my hat to them in the process – the distillery in keeping release prices under £100 (despite releasing rather young whisky, which can only be gotten away with due to the high peat content). I have yet to taste this year’s release, the Ardbeg bicentennial bottle named Perpetuum, but have heard from friends on Islay that it’s really young. I’ll let you know when I get it.
How was last year’s Auriverdes?
Ardbeg Auriverdes, 2014 Fèis Ìle Bottling (49.9% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Gold, thick and slow legs.
Nose: Café au lait, light peat with woodsap in a fire, eucalyptus trees in the rain. Under these fresh scents is the ever present peat and a syrupy sweetness.
Palate: Sweet tat, citrus (with more than just lemon going on there), mocha filling in a praline and vanilla. The whisky is thick and chewy with a viscous-y sugary quality.
Linger: Spice and peat in the back of the throat, citrus notes with some sugary molasses on the tongue.
Good and drinkable. Not the best Ardbeg ever, but good. At £90 though, the value for money is marginal. For £2500, I could have my whole home painted gold!
Where is all this crazy going? It’s not going away, if you’re wondering. In this postmodern world, being part of the Cult of Ardbeg is a way to be special, even in the very special world of the malthead.
My hat’s off to you – you anonymous people behind this brilliant guerrilla marketing!