Is Virtual Reality Whisky’s Next Frontier?

The Macallan Distillery is using virtual reality technology to entice customers with interactive experiences.
Inside The Macallan Distillery experience / Photo by Ryan Kobane Photography

At least the whisky was real.

Last week, Scotch producer The Macallan debuted a virtual reality experience in New York’s Grand Central Station. The experience took would-be visitors behind the scenes of the company’s new $186 million distillery, which opened to the public last month in Scotland’s Speyside region.

The “Macallan Distillery Experience” encouraged passersby to walk inside a 15-foot cube. The cube uses six projectors to immerse viewers in 360 degree views of the distillery and the surrounding landscape (no virtual reality headsets required); wind- and scent-diffusion technology added to the effect. Participants also received small pours of Macallan’s newly released Edition No. 4 Scotch whisky, a limited-edition bottling.

“Since we can’t bring everyone in the world [to the distillery] just yet, we arrived at this 4D virtual reality experience as the most compelling, impactful way to tell our brand story,” Macallan Brand Director Samantha Leotta says.

The event is part of a larger trend among liquor producers (and winemakers, too) in using virtual reality and interactive experiences to help generate excitement about their products. Macallan, a subsidiary of the Edrington Group, has been particularly active in generating such events.

Inside The Macallan Distillery experience
The Macallan Distillery experience / Photo by Ryan Kobane Photography

Augmented reality cocktails

Last year, the company partnered with Conrad Chicago hotel to host an event that featured Oculus headsets to experience a $95 “augmented reality cocktail” made with Macallan.

In June, the Scotch-maker sponsored a limited NYC run of Behind the City, an immersive theater experience that included cocktails made with Macallan and concluded with a private tasting of the whisky.

This is the first time that an interactive experience of this kind has been opened to a large group of consumers, Macallan says. Over the course of three days, about 5,000 people participated in the Grand Central experience, Leotta estimates.

The Macallan Distillery experience
Photo by Wes Tarca Photography

The future of VR experiences

Expect more to come, predicts Kathryn Yu, an expert in immersive experience events and managing editor of No Proscenium magazine. Why? These experience-driven events are one of the few ways to hold the attention of increasingly distracted consumers, and Instagram-thirsty Millennials in particular.

“During a VR activation, they’re not on their phones, they’re not on social media,” she explains. “They’re immersed in the world you created for them.” In addition, these events are “memorable and shareable.”

Yu likens the Macallan walk-through exhibit to wildly popular, selfie-driven marketing installations like the Museum of Ice Cream, the Museum of Pizza, or the forthcoming Candytopia.

The Macallan Distillery experience
Photo by Ryan Kobane Photography

The investment

Leotta declined to provide specifics about the cost involved in putting together the interactive experience, noting that it was “a significant amount,” and a joint investment amortized across multiple global teams. However, the content will be used at multiple launch functions through the cube technology or VR events. It will also live on via YouTube, where it can be repurposed for mobile or desktop viewing. Return on investment is measured through visitors, sign-ups for notifications about future Macallan events, social media engagement and press mentions.

“We thought it was a great investment, because it’s not only what took place over the last week, but it’s seeing the returns it will bring us a year or even longer from now,” Leotta says. “It’s helping us recruit this new generation of consumers into the brand, which is fantastic.”

The Macallan Distillery Experience first debuted in Asia, and following the NYC launch it will be moving to Mexico in a couple of weeks, Leotta says, followed by Europe “and other parts of the world.” Additional U.S. events may follow, she said.

Published on August 3, 2018
Topics: Latest News
About the Author
Kara Newman 
Spirits Editor

Kara Newman reviews spirits and writes about spirits and cocktail trends for Wine Enthusiast. She's the author of several cocktail books, including Shake.Stir.Sip. and NIGHTCAP: More than 40 Cocktails to Close Out Any Evening, which debuts in September 2018. Email: spirits@wineenthusiast.net




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