Skirls of the pipes, rainbows of tartan, über-eager sheepdogs, nimble dancers negotiating swords, heavy objects flying through the air, and kilts galore – in short, a Scottish Highland games. Other mainstays include clan tents, Scottish food, drink, and merchandise vendors, regal Clan Chieftains wearing identifying feathers in their jaunty Glengarrys, and entertainment heavy on Celtic beat, brogue, and banter.
Games are an ideal and conducive platform in which to present single malt Scotch to a wide range of audiences, from interested novices to serious fans. Ironically, many people in the Scotch business are unacquainted with Scottish Highland games, and many folks who attend these Scottish-centric events profess a lack of knowledge about Scotch whisky, but are interested in learning. From a marketing and education point of view, this arrangement has lucrative potential for a win-win situation for both sides.
I’ve been privileged to present educational whisky tastings to thousands of guests at games throughout the United States for over 20 years, as an independent contractor and as a brand ambassador for specific brands. Most U.S. games are presented over one or two weekend days, with many games hosting a special social event on Friday evening.These functions may take the form of fancy dress or casual affairs, and are held in elegant ballrooms, historic hotels, on the field, or, in the case of games in Long Beach, California, in the 1930s art deco splendor of the Verandah Grill, aboard the Queen Mary. Three or four seminars, with about 40 guests per session are held each day of the event, either in on-field tents, or inside permanent buildings on the games’ grounds. Sometimes, the seminar venue is in a spectacular, high-profile location. A nominal attendance fee is charged, with all proceeds going to the games. Sponsoring brands receive acknowledgement in games’ programs and at the seminars.
Guests, many bringing friends, come to ask questions, learn about specific brands, and enjoy whisky with like-minded people. They engage with the whiskies, often taking notes, referring to whisky books brought into the seminar, “Googling” on electronic devices about details and “where to buy”, photographing bottles and tasting mats, and collecting collateral material.
After an introduction to the basics of what single malt Scotch is all about, the heart of seminars comes with answering questions from the audience. Answers are an opportunity to expound on specific characteristics of particular brands and expressions. Predictably, questions range from the basics to the more studious. At nearly every seminar guests want to know the difference between “whiskey”, “whisky”, “Scotch”, and “Bourbon”, as well as why it’s called single malt. Asking for a description of peat and its role in Scotch, and whether or not to add ice are also very popular areas of interest.
More sophisticated concerns include the role of wood in aging, what was used before wooden casks, what creates the differences between various brands of Scotch, and recommendations for resource materials to learn more. Oftentimes, authentic and antique implements used in whisky’s production are used to illustrate key points.Bottom Line: educational seminars at Scottish Highland games are great marketing opportunities. Guests experience various single malts and are inspired to seek out and purchase these brands. Many people express thanks for their newly-gained knowledge and confidence, many times mentioning brands by name.