Every year our friends at Diageo bring out a series of Special Releases. This simply means that the whiskies that fall into this category are genuinely outstanding quality, limited in stock, super premium, and will never be released again. They are special, and they are rare. Many of these are bough and placed in collections, never to be drunk, others make it into small rooms with heavy wood and leather furniture, where they are slowly sipped, contemplated and discussed. These are serious whiskies, enjoyed by serious whisky drinkers. And as it so happens, we at Shotopop love whisky. Because of this, we jumped considered ourselves honoured to be able to create a special release packaging for Diageo when the opportunity arose.

The name is said to mean “the Mill in the long valley” and the Pied Wagtail (a familiar sight in the Distillery yard at Strathmill in Speyside and on the banks of the nearby River Isla) has been the symbol for the distillery since they started distilling in 1891.



Diageo drives the creativity in their Special Releases. This means we get to do something slightly less traditional, and we have a bit more freedom to explore. This is all good and well, but it was also important for us not to alienate any of Strathmills’ loyal fans. The design had to be bold and new, but retain the essence and history of the distillery, appealing to old fans as well as new ones.



The first presentation we made was purely conceptual, putting forward three different concepts to base the packaging design on. The FIRST was to do track down the people who actually worked in the distillery 25 years ago and base the packaging on them and what happened to them and their neighbourhoods in the year that they distilled the spirit. The SECOND was a purely visual concept that would produce a very detailed illustration inspired by the character of the whisky itself: Matured in refill American oak, this is sweet and creamy, with a whack of vanilla from the oak, and showing the grassiness that is the distillery’s hallmark. The THIRD idea was to create a story about the Pied Wagtail: A story written like a folklore legend would be the base of the graphics that we would use, bringing into play the pied wagtail, the valley and the distillery itself.


The 3rd concept went through to development, and we started off by writing a narrative in the style of a folklore legend, incorporating into the story all the elements of significance: The Pied Wagtail (Gypsy Bird), the river where the distillery draws its water from, the valley, the distillery itself and the age of the liquid. Here goes:

Now hear the story of the ancient Pied Wagtail King. Said to appear in the first mists of old spring. Folklore foretold of this rarest sight, when the waters flow pure and the winds sing just right.

The seeker bird swooped down from his vantage on high. Across the fields of Speyside, every fertile inch he’d spy. For a hidden valley there lay just down below. Who’s gifts on a weary traveller he would that day bestow.

The valley did shelter in its bosom a mill. Which served a great purpose when it acquired a still. For only the purest grain and finest of spring, is found in the hidden valley of the Pied Wagtail King.

For five and twenty winters the cold winds did bite. And each time those blessed Pied Wagtails take flight.

But when once more the twitch-tail gypsy sits on the barrel and sings for its king. Crack open the cask and enjoy the treasures within.



The final sketch that was approved was a single colour wood-cut style image of the Pied Wagtail towering over the valley and the distillery in the distance. After the main illustration was approved, we set out to apply it to the bottle, box, inlays and stickers that were to make up the final packaging.