Recently, British Polo Day descended onto Los Angeles for a day full of high-adrenaline sporting, Royal Salute whisky tasting and general revelry. Typically held in exotic locales like Abu Dhabi, India and Russia, it marked the first time this prestigious global event was held in the United States. The day was hosted by Lord and Lady Frederick Windsor, and His Grace, Torqhuil Campbell, the dashing and personable 13th Duke of Argyll who also serves as a global ambassador for the spirit.
400 individuals including celebrities, royalty and the general upper echelon enjoyed a lovely lunch overlooking the Will Rogers Polo Club immediately followed by a loud auction that raised over 50 thousand dollars in charity donations. Immediately following the winnings, the well-heeled crowd turned their attention to the beginning of the polo match, accompanied by the often hilariously British banter from the commentators. The afternoon progressed to encompass tea time featuring an array of beautifully crafted desserts, tea and a never-ending flow of libations.
There is really something to say about the fashion at an event like this. Designer labels were everywhere and some of the bravest fashion aficionados wore some extremely unique ensembles. But the icing on top of all of this was the event itself and the toast to the winners, highlighted of course by Royal Salute.
Considered to be one of the best Scotches in the world, Royal Salute’s youngest whisky is what many distilleries produce as more of a mid-line offering, aging a minimum of 21 years in honor of the very traditional 21 gun salute and starting at an opening price point of around $170. If you are true whiskey connoisseur you may also recall that Royal Salute's most elite expression sells for up to $200,000.
Honored to be seated with His Grace, we were given the chance to interview the Duke and jumped at the opportunity to find out more about him, life back in Scotland, his close ties with polo and of course his personal passion for Royal Salute.
JustLuxe: You are currently the Global Ambassador for Royal Salute whisky; a name some would argue is the ultimate blended Scotch, taking home both a Gold and Double Gold award at the recent San Francisco Spirits Competition. How did you come to be in that role and what do you enjoy most about it?
His Grace: There is absolutely nothing to argue about with regards to the credentials of Royal Salute. When it was first produced in 1953 it was the only luxury Scotch Whisky in the world. Today there are many pretenders but there is simply nothing better. It is the ultimate luxury scotch whisky. In my own personal life I believe that you should strive to be the best you can. Whisky is in my blood, my heritage and therefore working with the very best was the only option. As the Duke of Argyll I represent the brand as a Global Ambassador, be it polo events, product launches, talking to the media, but most importantly spending time with people who appreciate the very finest things in life.
JL: Royal Salute says, “We begin where others end,” in regards to how they create the most prestigious whisky in the world. How does that statement resonate with you personally?
HG: My father once told me that I should always try to hand on to the next generation something better than was given to me. A very simple phrase that can apply to anyone and everyone. The big question is how you actually achieve it. With Royal Salute we are always striving to be the best. We have to be better than the competitors.
JL: In today’s age it is becoming more acceptable to drink a fine whisky however you choose, while many purists still believe neat is the only way to really appreciate an expression. How do you personally prefer to take your Scotch and why?
HG: There is a misconception here that often leads to confusion. When tasting whisky I always encourage people to mix it 50/50 with water. This brings out all the aromas and flavors that can be appreciated and talked about. With Royal Salute this is all about the richness of flavors balanced with the delicate floral fragrance and the honeyed sweetness. Then there is the way that you want to drink it and they don’t have to be the same. For me there has to be a bit of a ritual, after all you are appreciating something that has taken over 21 years to mature and is reassuringly expensive. A beautiful crystal tumbler that has weight and stature, a splash of water, a comfortable chair and most importantly a couple of great friends to share it with.
JL: What do you feel is the most common misconception when it comes to the comparison between single malt and blended whiskies?
HG: At the end of the day all whiskies are blends of some form. A single malt whisky is blended from a single distillery from a range of different casks, be it sherry casks, American oak, old, new etc. Royal Salute being a blended scotch whisky has whiskies from many single malt distilleries, the most important being the Strathisla distillery, which is the oldest operating distillery in Scotland. It also contains grain whisky, which is a slightly different process. I don’t think that any particular style is better, they are just different. The big difference for a blended whisky is that the Master Blender, which in the case of Royal Salute is Colin Scott, has many more flavors to play with.
JL: If there were one thing you wanted to convey to the public about Royal Salute, one message, what would it be?
HG: Royal Salute is the only Scotch Whisky with a range starting at 21 years old. Each highly acclaimed drop is perfectly aged and masterfully blended, using rare whiskies taken from the Chivas Brothers’ inventory, one of the largest aged collections in the world. That’s what makes it special.
JL: Polo has been a part of your life for a very long time, would you say that it’s your favorite sport? What else do you enjoy watching/playing?
HG: Polo is special and I enjoy the camaraderie around sport, be it the players or the spectators. It is so easy to get drawn into the magic of the polo. It is most certainly one of my most favorite sports to watch, helped by the fact that games take place in some of the most magical spots in the world. Fly fishing is my great personal passion and I also play golf very badly.
JL: The popularity of polo has sunken considerably in the United States over the last century or so, why do you think that is?
HG: Polo is definitely benefitting from a global resurgence of interest. I have witnessed this all over the world in the last 8 years since Royal Salute started sponsoring tournaments. There is still a long way to go and it's never going to be a mainstream sport. There are places in the US where polo is very accessible. For example West Palm Beach, where the Royal Salute polo ambassador Facundo Pieres (the number two polo player in the world) plays 26 goal polo (the highest level played outside Argentina); Greenwich, CT – where we host the Royal Salute Jubilee Cup, to be played on Sunday September 7th – Facundo will also be playing.
JL: Do you agree with the commonly used catch phrase referencing polo as the ‘sport of kings’? Why or why not?
HG: Yes and you can add to that Princes, Sultans, Maharajas and of course everyone else. It’s a game with a very long history, almost 2000 years in one form or another with its roots in the great empires that were built on horseback. It was by its very nature a game for those privileged enough to own many horses and have enough time and space to play. Today the game has a much wider appeal, although there are still very strong connections to mounted army regiments all over the world who use polo as an important part of horse training. However for amateur players, my personal favorite quote comes from Winston Churchill, who on a handicap of three was an impressive amateur. He said, “a polo handicap is a passport to the world.” No you don’t have to be a King any longer to play polo, but you might meet a few along the way!
JL: You told me you have been to a great many polo matches. Which one stands out the most for you and why?
HG: It would have to be going to the Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo, known as the Argentine Open at Palermo in Buenos Aires. It’s the World Championships of polo if you like and the only place that you can watch polo of that standard and in a stadium as well.
JL: Thank you so much for hosting the event here on the West Coast. What was the highlight of the US British Polo Day for you?
HG: Coming here to the Will Rogers Polo Club and soaking up the sun, polo and of course fantastic atmosphere has been a real privilege. However presenting Elon Musk’s delightful wife Tallulah Riley with a bottle of Royal Salute 38 year old Stone of Destiny which they bought in the auction was a treat. British Polo Day raised $54,250 for local charity Homeboy Industries and Great Ormond Street Children’s hospital in London.
JL: Tell me about life back in Argyll, Scotland. What is a typical day like for you?
HG: Well there is no such thing as a typical day and for me that’s what makes it all the more interesting. I split my time between London and our family home at Inveraray on the west coast of Scotland and of course traveling the world promoting Royal Salute. Scotland is where my heart is and my time there is spent supervising our various business operations. I have a small team who take on the day to day running of our various enterprises. When I am not sitting in my office I can usually be found talking to tourists visiting the castle or even serving customers in our shop. I believe it’s the personal touch that makes all the difference. It’s that ethos that I use when promoting Royal Salute. Customers want that little bit extra.
JL: You have traveled the world, and I am sure have met many amazing people. Who is it that you have come to look up to you in your own life? What have they taught you and what would you pass along?
HG: People are amazing and yes over the years I have met some very interesting ones. I have always been a great admirer of the huge diversity of culture that we have in our world. The drive that people have to make something out of nothing and against all odds turn it into something remarkable. In Scotland we call it Scotch Whisky.
JL: Tell me something about yourself that might surprise me to learn.
HG: Clan Campbell is arguably the largest Scottish family around the world and I have the honor of being the Clan Chief or head of the family. If you were to take all of the people that trace their heritage back to Clan Campbell, you would end up with a family of around 13 million. I don’t send Christmas cards to them all!!
JL: Both Scotch and Polo have rich histories steeped in tradition and heritage, not unlike your own name. What other similarities do you share?
HG: Power is a word that rings true. The power and heritage of Royal Salute, which goes back to, its origins in 1953 when it was first produced to commemorate the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II. The power and finesse of the horses and players on a polo field. The power and strength of one of the greatest and most influential Scottish families, Clan Campbell.
JL: Lastly, what else is on the horizon for you? What other things are you involved in, interested in or hoping to do in the future?
HG: The summer is very busy in Scotland for us and we welcome almost 100,000 visitors from all over the world to Inveraray Castle. We filmed one of the special episodes of Downton Abbey which has driven a huge amount of interest in the North American market. Then of course there is our on-going commitment to the world of polo and all those wonderful places to visit.