The Macallan’s New Scotch Whisky Experience

Luxury
Managing Director of Edrington SEA-Pac, Ms Kok Lai Ching

With an unrivalled commitment to the mastery of wood and spirit since 1824, The Macallan now elevates their single-malt Scotch whisky experience. The launch of The Macallan’s new experiencial retail concept in Raffles Hotel, Singapore indulges guests with a holistic, multi-sensory experience across the 3,000 square feet experiential retail space. Designed by internationally award-winning architect Jamie Fobert exquisite design of The Macallan House brings together unique references from the brand with innovative design and contemporary interiors creating a world-leading single malt Scotch whisky experience. The Macallan House offers visitors the chance to discover The Macallan Estate in Scotland where its exceptional collection of single malt whiskies is crafted, bringing our home to the world. Visitors are encouraged to explore through sight, scent, touch and taste to engage with stunning biodiversity and discover a whisky expression that resonates with them.

LUXUO speaks to Managing Director of Edrington SEA-Pac, Ms Kok Lai Ching to discuss how The Macallan is capitalising on Singapore’s rapid growth as the regional hub for wine and spirits. She also clues us in to how The Macallan’s evolution and elevation of the retail experience is pivotal in elevating the overall brand experience to cater and appeal to local consumers’ affinity and appreciation for innovation – from product level to consumer journey. 

How do the tastes or preferences in the Asian markets differ from that of our Western counterparts?

Based on my experience and insights gathered from industry reports and market analysis it’s clear that the whisky category is relatively young in many parts of Asia, Asian consumers are generally curious and very open to trying new tastes. Scotch whiskies resonate well with consumers in Asia based on the category market size. The taste profile of Scotch tends to be complex but gentle, depending on the region can be fruity, floral or peaty, with distinctive notes of sherry due the longer maturation. Whereas Western markets tend to prefer bourbon or rye-based profile which can be described as softer, sweeter in character and flavour with caramel as the signature note.

How does one work on refining their whisky palate, from smell to expressions, what do we need to be aware of during a tasting?

Be curious and try out different types of whiskies as this helps our brain develop our taste memory and preferences. On a personal level, I enjoy a bit of fun doing blind tasting with my friends. I have found that nosing with your mouth slightly opened helps with the circulation of aromas. Then when you’re ready to taste the whisky, add one to two drops of room temperature water to the liquid – this step “opens” up the whisky. Afterwards, take a sip and chew the liquid around the mouth to taste the full spectrum of flavours. Enjoy and savour.

What does The Macallan House look for when it comes to acquiring a single-malt whisky?

The Macallan House refers to our globally developed creative concept inspired by “Nurtured by Nature” animated through carefully curated consumer engagement programmes by our Singapore teams through a sensorial journey within our retail flagship boutique (The Macallan House), located at Raffles Hotel Singapore. Our mission is to bring our Speyside Estate home to the world and is regarded internally as The Macallan’s new “home away from home”. It is also the epitome of the perfect partnership between Scotland’s most iconic single malt whisky, The Macallan with Singapore’s most iconic hospitality landmark, Raffles Hotel.

At global level, any new brand acquisitions are conducted and assessed by our parent company The Edrington group based in Scotland where we have a dedicated team focused in this area.

How does Macallan differentiate itself from other single-malt whisky labels on the market?

The Macallan’s positioning as the Prestige single-malt whisky sets us apart. We are committed to quality, exceptionalism and incomparable mastery – from whisky making, brand building, distribution to consumer engagement. In recent years, we further strengthened our direct-to-consumer model to establish and develop the relationship with existing and new consumers directly.

The Macallan House is an example of the evolved retail space that we directly operate since 2020. The role of Marketing is to build brand desirability with exceptional stories that inspire and evoke a lasting emotional bond with the brand.

The Macallan House provides a sensorial experienceWhy it is important for the consumption of a single-malt Scotch whisky to be a multi-sensory experience?

Be it whisky or other form of beverages, the enjoyment ritual should always involve our senses to fully savour the experience. When we see, smell, touch, taste and hear we interact and connect at a deeper level with our environment; we are present and appreciate the current moment.

When one visits The Macallan House Singapore, one will be transported to The Macallan Estate that is surrounded in harmony with the nature of Speyside – the barley fields, River Spey, the woodland and Easter Elchies House…one will also discover Jerez, home to our sherry-seasoned casks with the Albariza fertile soil that forms the backdrop of our Bar and the wood story throughout The Macallan House.

What should we look out for when trying to find a whisky expression that resonates with us and our personal preferences?

Personal preferences are unique and of course, personal. For me, I’d learn about where and how the oak casks are obtained because the casks deeply influence the taste of the whisky. In The Macallan, our exceptional oak casks are responsible for 100 percent of the natural colour and up to 80 percent of the aromas and flavour.

Can you clue us in to the whisky market in Singapore and Asia-Pacific? Is the market growing in terms of customers, stakeholders, vendors, and other participants in the industry?

Single malt and blended malt Scotch are the largest whisky segments in Asia. Single malt Scotch whisky is the fastest growing in both value and volume. It is also a region where premiumisation is taking place as value growth outpaces volume growth by almost two times, signalling consumers in Asia appreciate drinking better and higher value whiskies. Our business and trade partners have been particularly enthusiastic on the prospects of the premium whisky market.

Back to the launch of Macallan’s new experiential retail concept, do you find that e-commerce platforms play a role in reaching new clientele, particularly the younger demographic?

Referencing to the drinks industry, ecommerce platforms do play a role especially in product research, convenience and accessibility. In China, ecommerce plays a critical and overweighted pillar of growth to recruit and engage with local consumers.

In the context of a prestige brand like The Macallan, ecommerce completes the overall brand experience hence the look and feel must be consistent with that of The Macallan House. Here in Singapore, our Digital Boutique at https://www.themacallan.com/en-sg/shop operates 24/7 to serve our local consumers.

Are there any differences between the unique taste experiences of Millennials and Gen Xers?

We observe younger consumers to be more curious and appreciate cocktails, whether classic or new iterations. Whichever the preference, personal tastes are unique to individuals, hence The Macallan whiskies can be enjoyed in cocktails, neat, over ice or with a small dash of water.

According to a recent survey done by Forbes, the non-alcoholic whiskey category has broadened in the last few years “although traditional whiskey still reigns supreme”. Will Macallan look into alcohol-free whisky substitutes?

To my knowledge, there are no immediate plans by The Macallan business unit to venture into this category for the time being.

Where do you see the demand for premium single-malt whisky growing in the next five years?

We believe the emerging markets of Southeast Asia with growing affluent middle and upper middle classes where appreciation for personal luxury goods is well received, present very attractive opportunities to be uncovered further.

The whisky industry is known for being a male-dominated industry. Can you tell us more about your experience as a successful woman in this industry and the glass ceilings you had to break?

I joined the industry during covid and was the first female Managing Director to lead a market cluster with the mandate to steer post-covid transformation journey to reset and rebuild the foundation needed to accelerate value creation and delivery, in a sustainable manner for the longer term.

There were few female leaders in a decision making or market leader role especially ones who came from outside the industry. Conscious or unconscious, the industry has pre-existing bias due to deep rooted social culture of drinking. If you are a female leader with clear ambitions, speaks her mind and challenges the norm, you are perceived as aggressive, bossy and pushy. A male counterpart will be perceived as decisive, assertive and commanding. Transformation is change – it brings opportunities but comes with resistance. Cliques were common and negative behaviours had to be addressed, but thankfully we have the strong support from my boss (who is a gentleman and a big supporter of female leadership) and a large proportion of our teams who want to contribute positively towards our ambitions. Though a challenging journey, we have achieved remarkable successes in the past 2.5 years.

Today in our company, more and more female leaders are in senior leadership decision making roles, in my team alone our leadership team is 85 percent female-led and in total our team is 60% female vs. 45% three years ago. Across Southeast Asia, I am so proud that our teams are a high performing, diverse and so rich in heritage and experiences. Overall, organisations will need to continue progressing equity and inclusion from pay, job sizing and thought diversity standpoint.

As someone who manages distribution expansion, what are some strategies you have implemented to accelerate brand growth, particularly in the luxury sector?

Taking examples from global luxury brands with great success in building brands in Asia, owning the relationship with the customer and having a high degree of control in the distribution and brand management are critical building blocks. The pillars my team and I have remain steadfast focus on are:

1)  Step changing our robust brand investment directed to recruit new affluent and younger demographicsconsumers, especially via high impact consumer activations, digital social amplifications and outreach programs.

2)  Strengthening our direct-to-consumer model via our experiential retail with The Macallan House and privateclienteling stream.

3)  Elevating the quality of accounts, activations and execution in collaboration with our trade partners and ontrade bar community. Trade is important and highly relevant to the beverage industry especially with on trade and hospitality as both are critical brand and consumer touchpoints.

Lastly, across your more than 20 years of experience in key Asian markets, what have been some of the biggest consumer behavioural changes you’ve witnessed with regard to both luxury goods and premium spirits?

I have noted the following observations:

1)  Ecommerce as an enabler role to facilitate accessibility, convenience and overall brand experience whichelevates the consumer journey or a brand ecosystem that traverses between on and offline. The beverageindustry is slower to adopt and adapt if not for covid and we need to catch up.

2)  Amplifications through social means whether social platforms or influencers, and influencers can be a friend,a retailer, a bartender or a celebrity. They are the modern word of mouth and if authentic, helps build truststowards a brand.

3) Responsible consumption – consumers today are discerning, knowledgeable and have a high awareness ofsocial and environmental impact. Hence Sustainability cause is high on the agenda for many brands. At The Macallan, we use only recyclable and sustainable materials in our transit packaging and 98 percent of our product packaging, with the goal to convert 100 percent of all packaging by 2025.

All wood and wood fibre materials in our packaging are sustainably sourced and the wood that is crafted into Fine and Rare and higher aged- expression boxes is 100 percent FSC-certified. Since 2022, we are also trialling two dematerialisation initiatives in some markets where: –

1) The Macallan core range products are shipped to our On Trade customers without the secondary packaging and

2) weight reduction of The Macallan core range glass bottles. Both initiatives aim to advance our CO2 emissions reduction commitment.

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