Spirited Xchange: Celebrating creativity and culture with Diageo’s Special Release single malts

November 13, 2023

By Simon Adamson, Creative Director, and Toby Atkins, Associate Creative Director, Illustration.

When Diageo approached Bloom with this year’s Special Release collection of Scotch single malts – our fifth such collaboration – the brief was to emphasise the unique flavour profiles it was bringing to its annual portfolio.

This year, Diageo took us on a global journey. With whisky, bourbon, rum, wine, tequila and port cask finishes, the aromatic voyage extended from Japan to the US and Latin America, stopping off in China, France, Portugal and the Caribbean along the way.

Every year we challenge ourselves to surpass the previous year’s creative thinking. So, with that in mind, we decided each of the eight bottles must represent a unique national spirit and link its flavour to the regional culture.

Cultural collaborations

To meet this challenge, we joined forces with eight illustrators from different parts of the world who could represent their nation’s culture as a metaphor for Diageo’s approach to the cask-finished whiskies.

Initially, the main challenge was selecting compatible illustrators for each bottle. The whiskies already had established styles, so it was crucial to select artists whose aesthetic echoed those character traits.

Spirited Xchange allowed the illustrators’ stylistic choices to create a representation of each whisky’s character using various techniques – from digital graphics and watercolours to the ancient art of suminagashi. The approach also served to bring the collection together as one. As well as being beautiful to look at in its entirety, by unifying the collection consumers are encouraged to move beyond default choices and explore new brands. It appeals to connoisseurs, explorers and new-comers, and even encourages many to experience the entire set of eight.

This year’s Special Release malts offer all whisky drinkers a remarkable collection of flavours and stories. It gave us an opportunity to keep pushing creative boundaries and redefine industry standards, with results that marry art, culture and flavour in an exquisite way – all while doing the essential branding job of cementing existing links with loyal consumers and encouraging experimentation from new.

The collection explained

Mortlach: The Katana’s Edge by Kouzou Sakai

Mortlach, finished in Kanosuke Japanese whisky white oak and Pinot Noir casks, found its narrative in feudal Japan and centred around a midnight samurai, his katana drawn with a light trail that represents the whisky’s rich wine and ginger notes.

The Singleton: The Silken Gown by Pierre Mornet

This Singleton expression, finished in Chardonnay de Bourgogne French oak casks, is set during the golden age of French cinema. The focal point? A starlet’s amber-coloured dress, which embodies the whisky’s silken toffee and lush golden fruit notes.

Lagavulin: The Ink of Legends by Raul Urias

Finished in Don Julio Añejo tequila casks, this illustration depicts a Mesoamerican ritual. The artwork features a carved stone effigy with a tattooed Mayan priestess surrounded by Lagavulin’s smoke, and colourful accents that represent the whisky’s bright herbs and fruit.

Talisker: The Wild Explorador by Rui Ricardo

Finished in a combination of ruby, white and tawny port casks, this illustration is set on a 16th-century Portuguese caravel, symbolising adventure and the promise of rich, wine-sweet horizons.

Glenkinchie: The Floral Treasure by Dong Qiu

This Glenkinchie expression, its oldest-ever bottling, found its metaphor in China’s dynastic period, celebrating the art of porcelain. Dong Qiu’s illustration features a vase adorned with floral forms that mirror the whisky’s orchard blossom flavours.

Clynelish: The Jazz Crescendo by Sandford Green

Clynelish, matured in first-fill bourbon American oak casks, was transformed into a jazz club scene, reflecting the whisky’s caramel and honey notes. The warm, rich lighting and hexagon bokeh added a touch of magic.

Oban: The Soul of Calypso by Kim Thompson

Oban, finished in Caribbean pot-still rum casks, found its inspiration in a carnival procession of Soca dancers. The bright, colourful costumes and vibrant feathers convey the whisky’s tropical notes.

Roseisle: The Soaring Kite by Ryoko Tamura

Roseisle, an innovative distillery experimenting with whisky flavours from around the world, made its collection debut. Finished in first-fill and refill bourbon casks, the illustration combines elements from Scotland and Japan, capturing the whisky’s complexity with layers of pale watercolour and suminagashi techniques.

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