Some of the Most Interesting Technology in the Whisky World is Outside the Distillery
Whisky is both an art and a science. Each individual distillery operates under its own unique combination of old-school techniques and tradition with new-school tools and technology, from those whose production has proudly never changed (such as Springbank) to those who are fiercely ultra-modern and analytical (such as Waterford).
But beyond the production of the spirit, technology has influenced the whisky industry in other ways, most profoundly in consumer engagement. For years Bruichladdich has included batch codes on their bottles in the goal of complete transparency, which the interested consumer could look up on the distillery’s website for more information about that particular bottle. Other distilleries, such as Waterford (not surprisingly), have followed suit.
Kilchoman recently took the online product code lookup to yet another level, technologically speaking, with Near Field Communication (NFC). After successfully launching NFC labels on its Machir Bay and Sanaig bottlings in 2018, the distillery has since added the technology to all its brands globally. Each bottle has a uniquely identifiable printed neck-tag utilizing technology from Thinkfilm Electronics. When tapped with one’s phone, the tags open a product-specific portal filled with Kilchoman information, video, and portal exclusives—while simultaneously providing the distillery with further insight into customer behavior.
Bottle-to-phone communication has also been utilized to deliver Augmented Reality experiences. The dragon and direwolf on Johnnie Walker’s two Game of Thrones bottlings (“A Song of Fire” and “A Song of Ice,” respectively) leap to life when a QR code is scanned and the bottle is viewed through a phone. Similarly, download the Jack Daniels app and then point a phone at a bottle to transform the label into a miniature version of the distillery and walk through the distillation process.
Virtual distillery tours are not limited to Augmented Reality, however, with many distilleries from across the whisky making spectrum including them to their websites. Many of these utilized 360-degree cameras for as immersive an experience as possible recreating the actual physical distillery. These may be augmented with virtual museums or conceptual recreations of the processes. Virtual tours can never replace the real thing, of course, but in these COVID travel-restricted times they provide a level of connectivity otherwise lost. Single-malt scotches Laphroaig and The Macallan, bourbons Buffalo Trace and Four Roses, American single malts Westward and Stranahan, and Irish whiskey Teelings have all implemented virtual tours, among others.
Not all technology advancing the whisky industry is distillery driven, however. Stay-at-home orders and Zoom have resulted in a stratospheric rise in virtual tastings, whether operated by whisky clubs, bars, or even festivals. Participants either pick up their tasting kits or have them shipped prior to meeting over Zoom to share the tasting experience which is often led by distillery or distributor reps and can include question-and-answer sessions. The Water of Life itself has taken the virtual tasting concept one-step further, integrating enjoyment of tasting kits into virtual screenings of the film.
While the pandemic will hopefully soon be over, these virtual tastings are not likely to disappear any time soon. The ability to draw a wider, more varied audience over a larger area, coupled with the safety of drinking from home and not driving, should sustain their long-term appeal or at least their survival in a combined in-person/virtual hybrid model.
What other ways have you seen technology drive the whisky enjoyment experience?