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Impressions of Matisse

by Gavin D Smith, 09/11

Matisse is a relatively new name to most European whisky drinkers, but the Matisse Spirits Company Ltd has been established in the Far East for more than a decade, and has spent some 40 million marketing its products during that time. Matisse is one of the best-selling brands in the lucrative Taiwanese spirits sector and also performs well in China, Thailand, Singapore, Australia and the USA.

Wu, Chi-Min, UK Managing Director, explains that "Matisse, as the artistic name suggests, is about pioneering a new way to drink Scotch whisky. It was founded in 1999 in Taiwan by our Chairman Mr Yang Teng-Kuei. After spending more than 40 years building a vast media, television and entertainment empire, he decided to launch a Scotch whisky brand that would challenge convention. We believe he is the only individual to combine media and whisky in their business portfolio and it has had powerful results.

"As a result of Mr Yang's background, Matisse was the first to use celebrity endorsement, a strategy which other leading Scotch whisky brands have started to follow across Far Eastern markets. Yet, Matisse stays ahead of its competition by constantly evolving. For example, we don't focus on the shape of the stills or the distillery and its heritage. Rather we aim to create an emotional connection between the whisky and our target consumer."

edward drummond Matisse's ownership has allowed the company to put celebrity endorsement at its heart and to achieve product placement across the Far East, but it is not only shrewd marketing that has ensured Matisse's continued growth. According to Matisse's Master Blender Edward Drummond, right, "A new approach to whisky in the UK is long overdue. The whisky market is hugely crowded with big name brands occupying the lion's share of both the domestic and export markets.

"To differentiate Matisse, we have combined the highest quality spirits with luxurious packaging to satisfy the tastes of the consumer both here in the UK and globally. Matisse has launched a range of expressions from its accessible and easy drinking 12-year-old blended malt to the Single Malt Series, of which Matisse Caperdonich 1972 is one example."

Drummond explains that "Because we are not tied to one distillery, we can search out the hidden gems that reside in warehouses across the many distilleries of Scotland. Some of these single malts are used for blending purposes while others lie, and have lain for many years, in the warehouses of distilleries that have fallen silent and are unlikely to reopen. Our mission is to bring these whiskies to the global stage.

"Our business model has always been about bringing new drinkers into the category rather than competing with existing whisky brands. When we launched in Taiwan, Scotch whisky import volume grew by 30 per cent during the same period as we took share from local white spirits."

Regarding its expansion into the UK and other European markets, Drummond declares that "Initially we intend to focus on independent specialists as well as exclusive listings with carefully selected multiple retailers. Choosing the right outlets for Matisse will be vital in terms of the brand's positioning going forward."

the whiskies

Matisse, 12-year-old Blended Malt (Scotland)
Aged in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, the 12-year-old blended malt is smooth and pleasing on the floral nose, with soft fruits, lots of orange, and toffee. Maltier with time. Quite full-bodied, rounded and fruity, with nuts and cereal notes. Medium to long in the well-balanced finish. 40.0% ABV, 70cl, 26.00, specialist whisky merchants.
Matisse, 19-year-old Single Malt (Scotland)
Initially fragrant, with fruit notes soon developing. Ripe oranges, peaches and vanilla. Full-bodied, with Sherry, worn leather, honey, toffee and a slight sherbet fizz. Lots of developing spices. The finish is long, spicy and consistent. 46.0% ABV, 70cl, 55.00, specialist whisky merchants.

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