On Feb 6, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years of service. To commemorate this, many events and initiatives took place in great fervour across the nation, culminating in a four-day bank holiday weekend from June 2 to 5.
There was a tangible buzz on the streets of London leading up to the long weekend. Restaurants, hotels and markets offered “royal” experiences and jubilee-themed goods while street parties and live-viewing preparations were well underway. And rippling against the spring-summer breeze was the Union Jack, festooned over high street and alley and emblazoned on every surface imaginable. The whole of Britain waited in anticipation for the celebrations to begin.
Seven decades have gone by since Her Majesty ascended the throne in 1953 at the age of 25. Back then, the occasion called for a fitting tribute, and so an exquisite blend, created using whisky from Strathisla, the oldest working distillery in the Scottish Highlands, was presented at her coronation. It was named Royal Salute — after the famous 21-gun salute — and thus began the story of a remarkable whisky brand that has since marked every significant event in the lives of the British monarchy.
Royal Salute is unique in that it has only used whiskies aged for at least 21 years in its offerings, giving rise to the informal motto, “We begin where others end”. While its Signature Blend, the very one used to mark Her Majesty’s coronation, remains one of the brand’s stalwart whiskies, global collectors and connoisseurs are always keeping an eye out for its distinctive and limited editions.
To celebrate the monarch’s momentous milestone, Royal Salute invited VIPs, whisky pundits, distributors, journalists and loyal patrons from around the world to a bespoke dinner at the iconic Tower of London — for the unveiling of the highly anticipated, prestigious and extremely rare Royal Salute Platinum Jubilee Edition.
Guests were ushered into the castle by legendary Yeoman Warders, also known as Beefeaters, the royal bodyguards who have long been symbols of London and Britain. To qualify as a Yeoman Warder, the men and women must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years, reached the rank of warrant officer and been awarded the long service of good conduct medal. A short tour of the premises was given, with the veterans sharing stories of the tower’s history as a fortress, palace and prison, where kings and queens rose and fell.
A private viewing of the Crown Jewels ensued and what a spectacle it was. The Jewel House holds more than 100 sacred and ceremonial objects flush with over 23,000 gemstones. It was hard to believe the nation’s precious treasures — including the most important and sacred regalia, St Edward’s Crown, which is only used at coronations — were displayed before us. One of the guardians quipped that the most frequently asked question is, “Are they real?” Their reply has perpetually been, “Yes, they are!” The collection of royal regalia is still used regularly by Her Majesty for important national ceremonies. As such, an “in use” sign is marked at empty slots whenever items are taken out.
After the viewing, guests meandered through the Royal Armouries at the White Tower, which exhibited military arsenal and equipment used in past wars, before being led into a chamber for pre-dinner canapés and cocktails — courtesy of Martin Siska, director of the famed Scarfes Bar at Rosewood Hotel. Entertaining the crowd was a string quartet, performing classical covers of modern tunes à la Bridgerton, very fittingly so might we add, considering that the illustrious company was dressed to the nines.
Weaving through the vaulted room decorated with pockets of English blooms and inspiration boards of the Platinum Jubilee release, soignée guests rubbed shoulders with the upper echelons of society, including brand ambassadors Torquhil Ian Campbell, the Duke of Argyll, and polo champion Malcolm Borwick; fashion designer Richard Quinn, who recently created two striking porcelain flagons for the distinguished brand; and master perfumer Barnabé Fillion, creative adviser of Royal Salute’s Olfactory Studio.
The New Armouries was where the dinner was held. The storehouse turned banquet suite was resplendent in Royal Salute’s signature blue, with display cases showcasing the Royal Jubilee Edition decanters as well as installations depicting the motifs used on them. After guests had taken their seats, global marketing director Mathieu Deslandes gave the welcome speech. “It has been such a long time since we were able to bring people together and create wonderful experiences. When I think about Royal Salute, this is what we are all about. I’m so happy we are once again able to share an enchanting moment with you all.
“Royal Salute was created in 1953 as a gift to Queen Elizabeth II on her Coronation Day. This is a big story for a brand to have on its shoulders. Since then, we have always been inspired by the Queen and by everything she does. It was very natural for us to launch this ultra-rare limited edition to celebrate this special moment with Her Majesty.”
The Duke of Argyll also shared a few words, noting the extremely special occasion and how we may never experience another royal Platinum Jubilee in our lifetime. “To the Queen!” he toasted, and so began the dinner proceedings.
On the menu was coddled Clarence Court eggs, roasted guinea fowl and chocolate mousse, but most guests were busy getting to know their tablemates, catching up with old friends and exchanging pleasantries with whisky lovers from the world over.
Many were throwing expectant glances at Royal Salute master blender Sandy Hyslop too, who was merely two seats away from us. A feverish excitement coursed through the room. And as he made his way to the stage to introduce the raison d’être, everyone took their seats. It was the moment we had all been waiting for.
The Royal Salute Platinum Jubilee Edition is an intricately layered blend that includes some exceptionally high-aged whiskies (at least 33 years) from no fewer than seven silent stills and finished in Tawny Port casks for over two years. In a private conversation later on, Hyslop divulged that his research began five years ago, when he looked into the menu at the Queen’s coronation. The Tawny Port was inspired by a wine served at the banquet in 1953.
The unique and unrepeatable blend expresses the best of Inverleven Distillery, Lochside and Caperdonich, starting with juicy red apples on the nose, along with ripe strawberries, spiced orange and honey-roasted almonds and cinnamon. Coating the palate is a lavish and balanced nectar that trails notes of blackcurrant jam, poached plums and fresh apricot laced with velvety caramel, dark toffee and warm spices of cloves and nutmeg. The finish is long and rich. A collective “wow” was heard across the room. It truly is a dram fit for royalty.
Given its strength of 50.8% ABV, one would think a splash of water would be needed to take it back a bit. But unless you deliberately intend to experience its other aromatic and flavour elements, water is not really necessary. Thanks to Hyslop’s mastery and expertise, the Platinum Jubilee Edition glides down smoothly.
“Royal Salute has a rich, sweet and opulent character,” Hyslop explained. “And I wanted it to still have that. I wanted anyone who likes Royal Salute to go ‘Wow, that’s got all the signatures that I like but my god, it’s got an extra dimension here!’ I wanted the Platinum Edition to have that sweet, syrupy jammy texture. To have that balance, complexity, that extra lift of flavour.”
The crowd was especially tickled after finding out this was the first time people outside the blending room were sampling the whisky, making the group the first in the world to do so. “I wasn’t just saying that!” Hyslop assured. “Even the Royal Salute marketing team hasn’t tried it. No one had tried it before tonight. So, it was like a grand reveal.”
He joked, “I’ve never done a 100-odd people grand reveal before” and continued, “That was the first time ever. I was so proud when everyone came up to me saying, ‘Wow, that’s lovely. That was amazing.’”
But the entire process was not without challenges. Hyslop shared that there was a bit of a panic because the whisky was ready before the decanters were. “I couldn’t leave it in the port casks any longer. It was too much of a risk. It was about four to six weeks before we got the decanters, so I took the whisky out of the port casks and put them back in American Oak for the last six weeks, just to make sure the flavour was just right. The last thing I wanted was to fall over at the last hurdle.”
This could not be helped as the bottles were one of a kind as well. To honour the Queen’s years on the throne, seven motifs, inspired by Her Majesty’s personal brooch collection, are engraved on seven Dartington Crystal decanters and box designs, which feature pastel colours reflective of her wardrobe. There are only 147 bottles available.
“When I talked to my team about this project, I asked them to think about the Queen. Think about what represents her best,” said Deslandes. “We have never been so bright and playful with colours. But if you think about how people describe her, how she dresses in vibrant colours, this is her. That’s how the colouring aspect came up. And the second aspect is the brooches. She has a fantastic collection of brooches. There’s meaning behind it. They’re telling stories. And it is something royal and majestic.”
In further tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, Royal Salute partnered with London-based jeweller Bentley & Skinner to fashion a unique brooch in honour of the Platinum Jubilee. Inspired by the humble barley sheaf, a key ingredient in the production of whisky, the exquisite brooch is created from 18-carat yellow gold and adorned with 70 diamonds. Accompanied by a hand-crafted Dartington Crystal decanter and displayed in a gold and platinum-coloured presentation box, the set went up for auction at Christie’s on June 8, raking in £68,750 (RM366,000), which was donated to the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, a charity that supports young leaders who are transforming their communities.
When speaking to the gentlemen, you could sense their patriotism was synonymous with their devotion to Royal Salute, both in maintaining its level of craftsmanship and conserving its regal heritage. “It is an honour of a task,” Hyslop said, despite shouldering a huge amount of pressure as master blender. “There is so much history,” Deslandes added. “You need to be up to the challenge. You need to love it. It is more personal, from the heart, with a passion and a level of responsibility as well.”
Beckoning the crowd with whisky in hand, Hyslop raised a glass to the Queen’s health. Slàinte Mhath!
This article first appeared on June 20, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.