Meeting the Challenge

There’s definitely a silver lining to these clouds
By Christopher Coates
Christopher Coates, editor of Whisky Magazine
Christopher Coates, editor of Whisky Magazine
Over the past few weeks I’ve conducted, on average, two remote video interviews per day with whisky brand representatives. From Teeling to Tobermory, Tennessee to Taiwan and spanning brand ambassadors, distillery managers, blenders, founders, and visitor centre chiefs; all have graciously taken the time to sit in the whisky ‘hot seat’, answer my questions and share their stories in order to record season one of Whisky Live TV. This new on-demand web series was launched in tandem with Whisky Live At Home, a delivered-to-your-door whisky tasting experience that saw a (frankly massive) box of whisky goodies delivered to UK ticket holders’ doors.

The event was itself a response to the times we live in. Unable to host a ‘live’ Whisky Live event in London in 2020, for obvious reasons, the team and I instead explored ways of bringing as much of the experience as possible to the comfort of ticket holders’ homes - and all in time for the holiday season. In the end, more than 40 brands participated and over 50 different expressions were bottled as miniatures for sampling. Setting aside for a moment the not-insignificant amount of head scratching required to pull such a thing together and the rather steep learning curve inherent in pivoting from a live event to a remote one, what delivering this experience has shown me is that the whisky sector and, indeed, the wider industries that support it are uncowed in the face of these ‘interesting’ times in which we live.

In addition to the drinks brands we worked with - without them Whisky Live At Home wouldn’t have been possible - the project meant engaging the services of and working alongside bottling experts (special thanks to ACEO Ltd and their teams at Coleburn Distillery Warehouses & Dandaleith in Speyside); printers; packaging companies; AV electronics manufacturers; a team of video editors (a special shout-out to Coolbox video) and, of course, the fine folk here at Whisky Magazine. Of all these companies and the countless people who played a part in pulling Whisky Live At Home together, not one even hinted that they were letting the pandemic get them down. If anything, an unshakable resolve and determination to power through seems to have set in; these remarkable and hard-working people didn’t for one moment try to use the current environment as an excuse not to do something, but instead at every turn appear to be looking for ways in which this change in circumstances can become an opportunity to try something new, to learn a new skill, or find a new way to bring whisky to the people who love it most, wherever they are in the world.

I’m delighted to see that many brands which historically did not prioritise in-house content creation or social media outreach have seized this opportunity to adapt to the new normal. In many cases, these circumstances seem to have been exactly the nudge that was required to get some of them to move into the worlds of distillery blogs, photography, film and live streaming. As a passionate content creator, I couldn’t be happier and I hope it turns out to be a positive legacy of this strange time.

I can’t say that I spoke to anyone who would say that 2020 was a relaxing year, but rarely did conversation linger for more than a moment on individual frustrations. More often than not, conversations would instead quickly turn to the present predicament of the travel and hospitality sectors. It seems that everyone has a colleague, friend or family member that’s been touched by this crisis in some way.

However, discussion of this situation was never mired in glum despondency; rather, there was abundant talk of what was being done to help and how different businesses and individuals are showing their support for the people who work the hardest while the rest of us, in better times, unwind. Across the board, the message was this: whisky is enjoyed best with friends, and friends look after one another. I think that’s a sentiment we can all drink to.