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Chapter 2

Speyside, Scotland

A wee dram at Cardhu

It’s not just the smart products at a modern airport that brought us to Scotland. After a drive of just under four hours through the wonderfully sparse mountain landscape of the Highlands, we arrive in Speyside, the heart of the Scotch whisky industry. Our destination is the Cardhu distillery, which is not only well-known for its smooth and slightly sweet single malts, but also for supplying important ingredients for the best Johnnie Walker blends.

Scotland’s largest whisky producer is in the process of becoming a model example for the use of a smart product. Almost two years ago, Johnnie Walker presented its popular Blue Label blend at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in a smart bottle. It bears an imprinted sensor with antenna and integrated circuit with an ID number that makes it uniquely identifiable and at the same time serves as copy or piracy protection mechanism. The module recognizes whether the bottle is open or still sealed and can exchange personalized tags with the “user’s” smartphone using the NFC (Near Field Communication) standard.

Why did Diageo, the beverages group that also owns a large number of other well-known brands such as Smirnoff and Guinness besides Johnnie Walker, introduce this innovation? The primary reason was to improve the customer experience. The majority of customers look for the appropriate brand of whisky digitally and directly, often with their smartphones standing in front of the shelves – and a product that the customer can reach both physically as well as digitally is an important element in improving this process.

The smart bottle, however, follows an agenda that has been taken a lot further. Communication between the producer and the customer generally ends with the purchase at the checkout counter. And it is this break that Johnnie Walker wishes to bridge. Once the bottle has been opened (which is indicated by the sensors), the customer no longer needs to be persuaded to buy – the sales process is over. Now it’s more a question of turning whisky drinking into a perfect experience. As is well known, this depends on many factors: the quality and the temperature of the glass, the temperature of the whisky, the proportion of soda water, the quantity of ice cubes, and a whole lot more. This is where smart whisky has a role to play.

The intelligence on the bottle thus provides a platform for fascinating options. A virtually infinite number of scenarios can be developed, ranging from an individual alcohol test and the provision of cocktail recipes to the sale of whisky glasses depending on the number of sensors available and the way in which they are integrated using corresponding apps – especially when the intelligent Blue Label bottle becomes an element in a smart network in which it interacts with other intelligent objects and forms shared data structures. Whisky, water and ice box can then collaborate to ensure perfect enjoyment. The tag on the bottle is therefore just the beginning.

However, we do not drink a toast to this with Johnnie Walker, but with a Cardhu Special Cask Reserve, instead, before setting off on our journey again. It would really be a good idea to implement the concept of the custom alcohol test sometime soon…