Behind the ancient stone walls of Strathisla distillery in the Scottish town of Keith, something extraordinary occurs. As a guide describes to a group of guests the unique flavor combinations found in three of Chivas Regal’s most popular whiskies, a cluster of amber glass bubbles suspended from the ceiling glows in a pre-programmed sequence. The innovative installation by London-based designer Florian Dussopt was commissioned as part of a more comprehensive refurbishment of the oldest working distillery in Scotland, and it’s the latest example of Chivas’ progressive approach to enhancing the way customers interact with its range of single malt and blended whiskies.
Externally, the group of buildings that make up the distillery have changed little since it was established in 1786. Its iconic twin pagodas enclose distinct copper stills that continue to produce the flavorful malt used as the foundation for the Chivas blends. Inside, however, the brand wanted to create a more contemporary and engaging environment for the thousands of international visitors it attracts each year. “The existing building was dusty and old fashioned, like a lot of distilleries in Scotland,” says Dussopt. “Chivas understood the value of creating a more exciting, hands-on experience that uses storytelling to add value to the visit.”
Dussopt was tasked with designing two rooms as well as a lounge for the distillery’s guests. After touring the production area and learning about the processes used to make Strathisla single-malt whiskies, visitors can choose to partake in an intimate tasting session, or have a go at creating their own blended whisky. “We always start with the story the brand wants to tell, while focusing on the experiences of the end users,” explains Dussopt, whose multidisciplinary studio FDDS regularly explores the seam between physical and digital design, creating products and experiences for clients such as Samsung and Virgin Atlantic. “In this case, we tried to capture the rich history of the Strathisla site and introduce some appropriate contemporary interventions.”
In the tasting room, guests are seated beneath the custom-made constellation artwork, which comes to life as they are guided through the flavor notes of Chivas 12, Chivas Extra and Chivas 18. As a whisky expert describes the various aromas and flavors in each spirit, they activate pulses of light that extend along tubes connecting the organically shaped mouth-blown orbs. This visual representation of how different key notes such as pear, vanilla, hazelnut and butterscotch combine to give the whiskies their complex flavor adds another layer to the sensorial experience. “The sculpture follows the rhythm of the tasting, acting as a reference point for the guests,” Dussopt adds. “Slowly revealing the complex network of flavors, it draws with light the constellation of the whisky being tasted.”
The studio was also responsible for creating a new blending room that helps visitors appreciate the challenges and nuances involved in concocting a superior blended whisky. Sessions led by a Master Blender take place around a communal workbench, where laboratory equipment is set up to simulate the methods used to combine malt and grain whiskies precisely. Back-lit shelves, brass fittings and details that recall the surface of cut crystal all help to evoke the brand’s heritage and prestige.
Finally, FDDS worked on a lounge where visitors can relax and enjoy a dram of whisky in a suitably cosy and relaxed environment. The room’s shape is softened by the addition of a vaulted ceiling lined with brass arches intended to recall the hoops surrounding whisky casks. With an expert on-hand and a comfortable Chesterfield sofa to nestle into, it’s the perfect place to debrief after participating in one of the immersive sessions. “We wanted to create a place for people to discuss their experience and perhaps test whether the knowledge they have gained affects their appreciation of whisky,” the designer concludes. “Best of all is seeing people who felt intimidated by whisky suddenly become empowered to talk about it and try different kinds. It’s just what we hoped for.”