Today in Creative Beer Advertising: Heineken’s New TV Spot, ‘The Voyage’

As I was saying the other day, unless you time-travel to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union circa 1968, advertising is going to get you one way or another. On the plus side, not all ads have to deaden your brain and destroy your soul like a local TV spot for a car dealership. These days, in fact, some ads are downright cinematic and fun. And for whatever reason, the alcoholic beverage industry is leading the way. There are creative, film-like ads for Dewar’s and Chivas Scotch, Captain Morgan and Bacardi rum, among many others. But the king of them all appears to Heineken, as the Dutch beer brand seems to revel in creating fun, entertaining ads that feature actual stories along with their iconic green bottles. Remember "The Date," which featured that song Jaan Pehechaan Ho? It was so good you stopped fast-forwarding the commercial on your DVR and backed up to watch it. Well, they’ve got a new one out today, called The Voyage, and it’s a fine one. It features a rakish young man (all Heineken heroes are rakish and young) visiting India who ends up chasing a goat who has absconded with his beer bottles. 

The ad’s only two minutes long, so I’ll spare you the recap, but I will say this. I’m not an actor, but I know some people who are, and, for the most part, they much prefer doing proper TV shows and movies to doing ads, even though they’ll sing the odd Just for Men Gel jingle to pay the rent. But I imagine that young actors are clamoring to be a part of film-esqe ads like this. Can you imagine what the shoots are like for these things? Probably just like shooting a scene for a massive blockbuster movie. There’s every chance that the protagonist who eventually gets his beer-goat will also eventually get some great offers for mainstream, non-commercial work.

In the meantime, I’m sure we both appreciate ads like this, ads that are actually a pleasure to watch. The question, of course, is whether they actually sell beer, or just give away some entertainment for free. Well, it’s 10:34 a.m. on a sweltering Friday morning in New York City, and I’ve just watched this thing three times in a row. Do I want an ice cold bottle of Heineken right now? I do. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Nightlife Guide; Dewar’s is from Glasgow, and Glasgow is Gritty, and Maybe You Are Too; Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna Make Cool Mini-Movie for Chivas Scotch; Today in Creative Spirits Advertising: Bacardi’s ‘Cuba Libre’ Film-mercial; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Industry Insiders: Stephanie Macleod, Dewar’s Master Blender

As master blender of Dewar’s Scotch Whisky, Stephanie Macleod’s job requires a mix of science and art. Creating such whiskies as the iconic Dewar’s White Label, Dewar’s 12 Year Old, Dewar’s 18 Year Old, and Dewar’s Signature is no easy task, but with a background as a sensory analyst at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow – the gritty home of Dewar’s – and years of whisky experience, she’s up to the challenge. Since we’re more than casual fans of whisky, we asked her about how it’s made, and, more importantly, the best way to drink it.

How exactly do you blend Dewar’s? Do you have a recipe or do you just wing it every time? 

We have a recipes for all of our brands. We’ve got hundreds of different types of whiskeys we work with, and each go into different types of casks. We manage the inventory by splitting it up into different categories. We might have a fruity category, a grassy category, a peaty category, etc. The recipe might call for a certain percentage of Category A spirits in it, a certain percentage of Category B spirits, and so on. We have substitutes if certain components aren’t available.

What’s it like creating a new blend compared with something you’ve been doing for a long time?

For Dewar’s White Label, it’s tried and tested. When we’re creating a new blend, there’s lots of trial and error. I’ll do some pilot blends of what I think they’re looking for so I’ve got a sensory picture of what they require. That makes it more tangible. Then we have more pilot blends and more testing in the lab, and we’re taking them home as well.

Oh man. Homework. 

It’s important to taste it in a more relaxed atmosphere to make sure there’s nothing else coming through other than what we want. I’ll try it with different mixers.

So there’s a proper Dewar’s lab in Glasgow, with the white coats and everything?

We have a lab complex, and we have a sensory room that has been set up to specifically assess samples of whiskey. We even have red light to minimize color differences. All our perceptions are recorded on computer. But we also have the blending room where we’re basically sloshing about lots of different malts and grains, putting them together in little sample bottles, leaving them for a while to settle, and then testing them.

Sloshing about sounds perfect. What’s the procedure for tasting the samples?

The first phase of testing is done in the blending room. Seeing what works and what doesn’t. Then the actual sitting in front of a panel is done in the sensory laboratory. Along with sensory work, we’re also running it through chemical analysis to make sure there’s nothing untoward with the whiskey that we’re either blending that day, or introducing as a new product. The components of the blend have been tested from the beginning. Everything is rigorously tested through the whole process.

So exactly how many whiskies are blended to make Dewar’s?

Marketing says up to 40 different whiskies.

Well, if that’s what marketing says …

Ha, yeah. We have to work within the confines of the Dewar’s house style, but we can tweak it and show different facets. We draw samples from different casks and we set them out in the blending room. Let’s try a bit of this and a bit of that, put it in a sample bottle, leave it to settle, and taste it. All the while we’re writing down, recording what we’re putting in. Once I’m satisfied with three pilot blends we’ll go to the market and see what they prefer. We’ll go through all the iterations of the different blends.

Sounds like fun.

That is the part of my job that I like the best because it’s creating something new. It’s really interesting to discover and create exactly what your customer wants. That is obviously what we all want to do as blenders, create something in your name.

Dewar’s is doing a number of different things, right? 

We also do quite a lot of single-cask expressions, like Aberfeldy. One single cask from that distillery, a particular year, a particular cask.

Take me through the tasting process. How should I be experiencing whisky?

Okay, let’s use the Aberfeldy 21 as an example. First, I would advise a tulip-shaped nosing glass, but if you don’t have that, a wine glass that’s tapered at the top. Make sure it’s clean, of course. Sparkling, everything about it. Crystal is a good start. You want something with a thin rim. Put a quantity of whisky in the glass. First you’re going to admire its color, so you gently swirl it. Hold the glass by the stem so none of the odors from your hand – hand cream, aftershave – get in the way of the flavor. If possible, it’s a good idea to have a watch glass at the top to keep the odors inside the glass. Now swirl the glass, admiring the legs as it runs down the inside of the glass. You’re looking for a deep golden amber color. Take off the watch glass and dip your nose into the glass, taking short breaths. The first thing that hits you with Aberfeldy 21, for example, is a sweet honey nose. An intense sweetness, and a wonderful creaminess. Then you’ll find floral notes, also a kind of Christmassy note. Dried fruit, sumptuous plum notes, and a hint of coconut. The coconut comes directly from the oak. It’s oak lactone that causes that. Although you notice that the wood is there it doesn’t overexert its influence. You still know it’s Aberfeldy.

Come on, I want to drink.

Take a small sip to start with, just to coat your palate. Let it go all over your tongue. There’s a wonderful sweetness coming through. Some whiskies are quite dry. There’s a wonderful malty, cereal note resting on the palate. A note of expensive chocolate. So the finish is long, and you’ll find that its full-bodied. It feels fuller in the mouth, doesn’t feel thin. Slightly spicy.

Sounds good. 

That isn’t the end of the story. We then add some still water at room temperature. In order to explore all the aspects of a whiskey you really should add some water to it. You’ll notice that strands seem to form, and it seems to squirm in the glass. That’s the whiskey accommodating the water. When we add the water you get fresh fruit and more creamy notes coming out, and a slight smokiness at the very end. Adds another layer of interest. Some people taste orange marmalade. But it’s always good to have the right glassware and the water is the right temperature, not fizzy. 

Anything else I need? 

The company of friends is always good as well.

Dewar’s Scotch Whisky is available pretty much everywhere. We like drinking it in bars like the Brandy Library in New York. Check out the BlackBook City Guides for more great places to enjoy a dram. Download the apps, subscribe to the newsletters. Knowledge is power. 

Dewar’s is From Glasgow, And Glasgow is Gritty, and Maybe You Are Too

Have you seen the new TV advertisements for Dewar’s? They’re theatrical and well produced, like those Heineken spots, but a lot grittier. Thing is, the people at Dewar’s realize that we’re not all living the lifestyle embodied by the Scotches of yesteryear. We don’t sip our drams in leather armchairs in the library of some massive estate, hunting dog at our feet and an oil painting of a scowling patriarch hanging on the wall above us. Nope, more likely we’re enjoying our whisky at a bar, house party, or in a clandestine lounge behind a curtain in a sketchy-looking auto shop by the docks of Glasgow. Wait, what? Look, just watch the ad and it will all come back to you.

You see? Don’t you remember the time you were driving that luxury car through the gritty streets of Glasgow? And you drove along some partially abandoned docks, and there was a black-and-white checkered lighthouse, and a fishing boat, and a crane, and a white horse and a car on fire for some reason, but it made sense at the time? And a guy with a black leather jacket opened up the bay doors of a warehouse for you, and you drove in, parked the car, got out, and walked past some tough-looking guys working on cars, and maybe it was a way station for stolen cars, and maybe it was a completely legitimate auto repair business, but you didn’t care because you were on a mission? And this older guy with white hair led you through the back, past corrugated steel walls to an elevator that opened to a dark curtain, which the guy parted for you and you entered a really cool lounge that had chandeliers and an art deco-style bar? And there was nobody in the bar, you were there to drink alone, or possibly to meet somebody, so you took a lone glass off a shelf and helped yourself to two perfect ice cubes that were in an ice bucket that was filled with fresh ice just for you, and you opened a bottle of Dewar’s White Label and poured two fingers for yourself, and then took the glass and bottle and sat down on a couch with red satin and smooth gray velour cushions? And you talked about taking life seriously, because even though it’s not always easy, it comes with serious benefits? And then some off-screen guy named Angus said something weird and you basically told him to stuff it because you were having your serious drink? Also, you were a woman?

I knew it would come back to you. Yes, this is the way we drink today. And while I poke fun–this is marketing, after all, so let’s please not take it too seriously–I get what the spot, and the others in the series, is getting at. For most of us, even amid all this supposedly labor-saving technology in the world, life is hard, but if you can grind it out you’ll find your rewards. Maybe it will be a hidden lounge behind some Glasgow chop shop, and maybe it will be happy hour at the local Chili’s, but if you put in the sweat, you’ll get yours, and it will feel all the better for your labors.

The commercial is part of a larger campaign for Dewar’s about defining what the "drinking man" is about. From what I can gather, he’s about hard work and courage and confidence and creativity and maybe a flash of kindness for those deemed worthy.

Dewar’s had a cool event in New York recently that started at Milk & Honey and ended at Madam Geneva. I only made it to the latter portion, since the drinking man picks up his kids at school when his wife gets stuck at the office, but I think I hit the right one. At Milk & Honey, people learned how to mix cocktails and blend whisky. To me that sounds like work, which I was done with for the day. At Madam Geneva, we just sampled a selection of cocktails made with Dewar’s. They were all great, but my favorite was Dewar’s 18 on the rocks, with its gorgeous golden color and creamy notes of honey and spice. That’s technically not a cocktail, of course, but I’m a drinking man and I earned it. 

Gabe Cardarella Stays with Starwood, Spikes Your Hot Chocolate

There’s no better way to learn about hotels than from frequent travelers, and if those travelers come bearing cocktails, then we’re all in. Gabe Cardarella, bartender and brand ambassador for Dewars, told us a little bit about his booze-soaked existence (in a good way), and filled us in on his favorite drinks

Where are you based and how long have you been there?
If you travel as much as I do for work, then calling anywhere home can be difficult.  The best answer I can give you is JFK, ORD, LGA, DFW and LAX.  I travel a lot.  Being the Ambassador for the best selling blended whisky in the United States to means I have a lot of ground to cover.  At the moment I’m in Hollywood, hosting a series of tastings at Jim Henson Studios, giving consumers a look into our double-ageing process that is so unique to our brand.

How many days a year are you on the road?
Last year I traveled roughly 240 days, this year closer to 280. The demand for the Scotch category as a whole is growing not just in the US, but all over the world, Dewars is no exception. This past summer, I spent my time visiting our Caribbean market in places like Curacao, Puerto Rico and Aruba where Dewars is one of the most popular spirits. 

Sum up your job in one sentence.
My main task is to bridge communication from the brand to the market place, sharing our whisky’s story with trade and whisky enthusiasts. 

What are your favorite cities to visit?
Every year I’ll spend a few weeks in Scotland, visiting out distilleries, brush up on the lasted techniques and spend time in our blending lab and bottling plant in Glasgow. Scotland is a beautiful place, everyone is very friendly and a limitless supply of Scotch, naturally making it one of my favorite places in the world. Next month I’ll be traveling to Hawaii for a week, which I’m sure won’t be so bad either.

Where/which are your favorite cocktail bars right now?
In LA, La Descarga is one of my favorite bars for custom cocktails, they’re making fantastic cocktails using scotch, my favorite being their take on the Dewars 12 Manhattan.  When I’m in the Midwest, Delilah’s in Chicago has one of the best whisky selections I’ve ever seen and places like The Brandy Library and Soho House in New York are great places to have a dram of whisky, to name a few.  For me, nothing beats a great dive bar.  Give me a good jukebox, bartender that knows my name and glass of Dewars 18 and I’m a happy man. 

What’s is your drink right now?
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of Dewars 12 Rusty Nails.

What’s the last great meal you’ve had?
Any time I can get a home cooked meal I’m psyched. If you’re reading this, Grandma, time for some spaghetti. 

What’s the best hotel you’ve stayed in this year?
The Scotsman in Edinburgh.  You get your own private loft with beautiful views of Princess Street. 

What makes a great hotel?
It’s all about the points. I’m loyal to Starwood, in fact just went platinum my last stay. Comfortable beds and a TV remote that works is a nice touch too. 

DEWAR’S Holiday Cocktails:

DEWAR’S Hot Toddy

1 part DEWAR’S® 12 Blended Scotch Whisky

3 parts hot water

1 tea bag

Honey and lemon juice, to taste

 Coat the bottom of a mug or an Irish coffee glass with honey. Add DEWAR’S 12 and the lemon juice. On the side, heat water in a tea kettle and add the tea bag to make hot tea. Pour the hot tea into the glass and stir.

DEWAR’S Hot Chocolate

2 parts Dewar’s 12 Year-Old

3-4 parts hot cocoa

Whipped Cream

In an Irish coffee glass, combine DEWAR’S 12 with hot cocoa/hot chocolate; top with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder.

For Father’s Day, Dad Wants Liquor

Screw the tie clip, the sweater, the lawn-care implements. A card is nice if you actually write something in it, but if all you’re going to do is sign the thing, save your $3.99. Absent absurdly expensive toys, Dad bought himself what he wanted long before you knew he wanted it. In fact, forget all that traditional Father’s Day stuff. You’ve put Pops through a lot over the years, and since you can’t give him back the youth you stole from him, the least you can do is give him a brief respite from the noise of the world: Give your dad a good bottle of booze this Sunday. Here are a few favorites that I’d totally expect my brood to offer up if I didn’t already have them.

Whisky: Perhaps the iconic dad spirit, it’s hard to go wrong with a bourbon, rye, or Scotch. I’d be happy uncorking anything from Jack Daniel’s, Dewar’s, or Johnnie Walker. Give dad a great drink and a Scotch education with a fifth of Glenlivet Nadurra 16 ($60), which is bottled at cask strength and is non-chill filtered. It has the flavor of apricots and oak and a healthy kick. If you’re ready to spend some serious – but not quite insane – cash, Talisker 30 is worth every one of the 350 dollars you’ll pay for it. With notes of vanilla, sandalwood, and caramel, he’ll forget about how you took out the lawn gnomes with his Buick that one time.

Tequila: Perhaps your dad prefers an agave-based spirit. If so, head straight to the tequila section of your local booze-mart, where you’ll find an amazing selection of quality bottles that simply weren’t around when he was coming up. While cheaper tequilas work well in margaritas, I’d definitely spend some extra scratch on the primo stuff if he’s just going to be sipping it. Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Silver ($53) has just a touch of grapefruit in its flavor profile, while Jose Cuervo Platino ($60) has citrus notes and a fun assortment of botanicals that dance on the tongue. I absolutely love Gran Patrón Platinum ($200), and offer it to guests who tell me they’ve never had a really good tequila. It’s butterscotch smooth, with flavors of honey, cream, and pear nectar. It’s so nice, in fact, that my prized bottle of the stuff is almost empty.

Rum: Rum’s having a moment, at least in my liquor cabinet, with so many varieties with wildly different flavor profiles – which means you have to try them all. You definitely can’t go wrong with Mount Gay Extra Old ($50), which has an oaky bouquet and flavors of vanilla and cinnamon. Creeping upscale, there’s Ron Zacapa XO ($100), a delicious drink with hints of birch and ginger, and the mind-blowing Bacardi Reserva Limitada ($110), which is made from rums that have mellowed in charred American white oak casks. Limitada is as smooth as rum gets, with flavors of lemon and orange practically jumping out of the glass. Educate dad on rhum agricole, which is made with fresh sugar cane juice instead of the traditional molasses. I like 10 Cane ($30), with a pleasant vanilla flavor, and Clement Premiere Canne ($32), which boasts a pleasing sandalwood aroma and coconut and citrus flavors.

Vodka: It might be the un-booze, but vodka’s supposed absence of flavor might be the ultimate expression of peace in your old man’s soul. I just wrote about vodka, so I’ll only mention a couple of standouts. At $23, Ketel One punches way above its weight class. It’s as smooth as a whisper and perfect in a martini. 42 Below ($22) is another good bet, traveling all the way from New Zealand to the side table by Dad’s TV chair. It has hints of grain and straw and a great mouthfeel. Square One Organic ($35) is delicious and has a great story. It’s made in Idaho from American rye and has vanilla notes and a hint of spice. Grey Goose ($40) tastes as good as it looks, and you know how sexy those bottles are. And I was impressed with Stoli Elit ($60), the iconic Russian vodka house’s most refined offering. The bottle looks like something from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, and the liquid tastes like a Siberian winter, with the faintest hint of grain. Chill it, pour it, and let dad sip it.

Of course, the obvious benefit of these bottles is that Dad will be obliged to share them with you, at least for a drink, so be sure to pick something you like as well. You’re a good kid, did I ever tell you that?