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Drinks firms find a new way to deliver tasting experiences by hosting virtual events

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From virtual festivals, to online masterclasses, drink firms are reinventing their usual face-to-face experiences to bring them straight into customers’ homes instead.

Undaunted by the challenges posed by the current lockdown, a growing number of businesses are using the internet to continue to deliver their events.

Speyside’s Tomatin Whisky, alongside Glen Moray, Arran and BenRiach, will host a virtual Lockdown Whisky Festival which will feature an array of brand ambassadors from multiple international firms, all uniting in front of a global audience.

Live streamed on Tomatin Distillery’s YouTube channel from 2-5pm tomorrow (Saturday, April 4th), the brand wanted to put on the festival after a calendar of whisky events were cancelled due to the coronavirus.

Independent whisky influencer, Roy Duff of Aqvavitae, will host the event, asking questions and exploring the expressions on offer during each brand’s showcase.

Other brands involved include Adelphi, Cu Bocan, GlenAllachie, Glencadam, Glen Moray, Kilkerran, Kilchoman, Paul John and Tomintoul.

Tomatin’s Global Brand Ambassador, Scott Adamson

Scott Adamson, global brand ambassador at Tomatin Distillery, said: “The greatest benefit to organising the Lockdown Whisky Festival is that it’s virtual, so we can bring the community together to enjoy and learn from some of the best distilleries in the industry, all from the comfort of home at a time when staying in and staying safe has never been more important.

“It’s exciting to be the first distillery to host a virtual whisky festival and we’re thankful for the other distilleries who have chosen to get involved and support it. We will be encouraging viewers to use #LockdownWhiskyFestival on social when they raise a dram with us.”

Aberdeenshire drinks firm Esker Spirits in Kincardine O’Neil will also host its first online Facebook Live gin tasting on Friday from 5.30pm for an hour on its Facebook page.

Brand ambassador Julia Wishart will welcome viewers to the event which will include a 30-minute tutored tasting focusing on Esker’s two London Dry gins – the original and SilverGlas – a question and answer session with co-founder Lynne Duthie, as well as some tips on how to garnish and serve each gin.

Esker owners Steve and Lynne Duthie with brand ambassador Julia Wishart (pic credit: The Gin Cooperative)

Julia, said: “Tastings, events and meeting people are such a big part of our day-to-day life at Esker and we wanted to find a way to continue with this, even in the current circumstances.

“We want to keep connected with all of our customers who have supported us over the years as well as hopefully introducing some new people to our products. We thought doing something interactive and personal could be a good way to do this.

“People will be looking for ways to stay entertained, especially at the weekends, and because there has been such a big focus on supporting smaller and local businesses throughout [the Covid-19 outbreak], we hope it is something that people will want to engage with.

“It’s a fun, interactive gin tasting experience that you can join in with from the comfort of your own sofa or kitchen table.”

Aberdeen’s Porter’s Gin, which is part distilled in cocktail bar, Orchid, has also launched a weekly cocktail class on its Instagram page, giving fans of the brand the chance to learn and create numerous drinks in the comforts of their own home.

Led by brand ambassador, Jack Wareing, the event takes place every Wednesday at 3pm.

Ben Iravani, co-owner of Porter’s Gin, said: “We’ve found that they are actively seeking out brands that can provide a more interesting drinking experience at home.

“One real positive for us is that our team, who are already spread out across the UK, have been pulled together.

“Our brand ambassador Jack Wareing has done an incredible job with his weekly cocktail tutorials and he has also set up an online pub via Dischord that he’s dubbed “The Winchester”. It’s already picked up 132 members and acts as a space away from traditional social media channels which hosts a movie night, pub quizzes and lots of other fun stuff.”

Eden Mill in St Andrews is another business giving people the chance to immerse themselves in the brand’s offering by hosting a virtual gin tasting this Saturday. However due to demand the event has already sold out, proving there is an appetite for online experiences.

To take part, participants order the 12-gin tasting experience online to their doors ahead of the event. When it goes live, brand ambassador Steve Lowrie Mackay and head of events Chris Weir will guide the audience through the portfolio. Priced at £50 for two people, Eden Mill has already confirmed further events will take place due to its huge popularity already.

But it’s not just spirits people are looking to learn about online, wine tasting events are also a staple in many individuals’ social diaries.

The wine tasting setup at Rutabaga

Aberdeen drinks specialist John Kelman of Rutabaga is keen to keep the public in touch with their love of good wine by launching their own bespoke tastings online.

Already delivering a range of wines, prosecco and spirits contact-free to doorsteps across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, John says the tastings are a great way for people to socialise – be that groups of friends and strangers – and come together during these unusual times and in the way they would at a face-to-face event.

He said: “Offering the delivery service has come at a good time because we’ve been unable to wholesale to any of the businesses as nowhere is open. It was already in the planning stage before all of this happened, but there’s a need for a delivery service like this now more than ever.

“We’ve also launched online wine tastings. The first one we had featured four couples and four singles and it worked really well as they were all friends and people don’t feel so isolated, especially those living on their own. It’s a good way to get everyone together.

Customers set a budget and I drop off the wines and tasting notes and then everyone gets set up to use some form of video calling. We’ve used Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom so far. Our groups can be friends or can be a mix of people who don’t know each other. It’s very bespoke and tailored to what they all want.

“We have a minimum budget of £25 per head, but we can tailor everything to the group’s needs. We used to do a lot of tastings anyway, so it’s the same, but different. We can do wine, gin, whisky – we used to host a whisky and gin club and we’ve had lots of enquiries about that, too.”

And it’s not just drinks brands that are diversifying. Bottle shops and pubs have launched quizzes, and are sharing reviews on their social media pages to keep customers entertained.

The Scottish Gantry owners Jack Breslin and Kevin Moore

Kevin Moore, co-owner of specialist bottle shop The Scottish Gantry in Stirling, added: “Like everyone else we have suffered because of the pandemic. We’re just offering home delivery across Stirlingshire and more just now, but we’re also running online whisky reviews on Facebook and we’ve launched a podcast on our website which features interviews with the different vineyards and wine reviews.

“All our customers really engage with the whisky review videos and even if they don’t have the whiskies we’re discussing, they are still encouraged to enjoy a dram throughout. All of the products we feature are on our website for people to order. We’re really just trying to do what we can to make things more interesting for our customers. We’ll look at introducing reviews of other spirits and we also host quizzes so it’s a great way for everyone to socialise.”