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Dom’s World of Whisky

The Hitchhikers Guide to Trade Shows

There are various ways of approaching a trade show. You can go through the exhibitors beforehand and plan your route for each session. You can book meetings in advance. You can wander at leisure and stop as the mood takes you. Or you can do what we did – work yourself in to a frenzy of pitiful chaos.

Trade Shows

I once worked for an editor who spent three days at a trade show in the bar, working on the assumption that eventually everyone he wanted to see would come in for a drink. And the approach had the added advantage that exhibitors are more likely to talk to a journalist when they’re away from their stand than when they’re trying to win new business.

But that approach wouldn’t work in Cannes. The travel retail exhibition is massive, and anyway it relies on the fact that you know everyone. Here I know practically no-one.

So the plan for me was to be taken by the sales team wherever they wanted. And happily, we started with Patron.

Patron’s reputation goes before it. Not only is it an amazing business success story but it is among an elite group of brands posing a contrary argument to the view that the future is all about heritage and provenance. I’ll blog about this separately in a day or so.

Patron provides the first great surprise of the exhibition – XO Cafe, which has a spicy barbed finish that is like no other drink I’ve ever tried. I can’t wait to start my education in to the world of tequila.

The people at Irish whiskey Tullamore Dew, now part of William Grant, were very excited about their news of a new ad campaign and new packaging.

To be fair on them, Tullamore Dew has waited a long time to have the financial clout to compete properly in what is a highly dynamic sector right now, so an international television campaign is big news for them.

And then there’s the advert itself. We were told before we saw it that the brand wanted to break away from the traditional Irish idea of a red headed woman dancing in a green field. What they’ve done, though, is go for the most stereotypical Irish drinking image of all, and then given it a twist.

The ad features a group of men singing a traditional Irish song in the most traditional of Irish pubs. But then you realise the men are in handcuffs and after they’ve downed their whiskey they’re marched out of the pub to cheers, one raising his hand in defiant triumph.

This is a hearty nod to the rebel heart of Ireland, and a vague reference to its independent, maverick and controversial past. As an Englishman of Irish Catholic descent I felt that I was being gently eased out of my comfort zone. It was as if the brand was saying “We know what you’d like us to be, but we’ll decide what we are for ourselves.”

And why not? After all, we may not talk about it, but the history of conflict is very recent and cannot be ignored. And you can find it in whiskey and song.

A few years ago I joined a press party to Ireland headed by John Ryan, a marvellous ambassador for Irish whiskey, a witty raconteur and a master in Irish toasts. He may have had the poshest voice you’ve ever heard, but he was maverick Irish through and through. Over three days he led us through many toasts and many whiskeys, and by the end of it I had fallen in love with the spirit.

But the highlight of the trip was an evening in a pub in Cork. We had been to dinner in suit and ties at the Ballymaloe Hotel and watched a tourist show of Irish dancing – what’s known as plastic Paddy entertainment.

John Ryan was so disgusted that he ordered us out to the minibus and instructed the driver to take us in to Cork. The pub was as rough as Ireland gets and as our party of suited Englishmen came through the door every leather-jacketed lanky haired youth stopped talking and drinking and just stared.

“Evening,” said John, producing a guitar. “Can we take the back room please? A bottle of Jameson and a glass for everyone here who wants one.” Then he strode in to the back room, waited for the whiskey and started singing.

What he sang was a collection of militant Republican rebel songs from the earliest days of the IRA; fighting, anti British cries of defiance. And within minutes the youths in the front room had joined us, had ordered another bottle of whiskey and were singing along lustily. When they asked us to sing an English song in reply, the best we could muster was a limp version of By Ilkley Moor Ba T’at.

After an hour or so, John bought the bar another bottle and ordered us out and despite the protestations of our new friends, we left. It later transpired we’d been in an IRA recruiting pub.

The Spirits Business Team in Cannes. Which one is Dom?

Tuesday belonged to Tullamore Dew. William Grant hosted a stunning party for the brand on a yacht in the marina, the warmest of sunsets the perfect backdrop to sip Irish whiskey. Great to see the brand in the spotlight.

Final stopping point was in the Majestic for the Bacardi party. Now I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t got a sweet tooth and so Coca-Cola cocktails don’t work for me. But then I’m not the target market anyway, and the combination of stunning looking girls and retro heavy rock music held the attention for a couple of drinks at least.

But the amber light had gone off. A lot of alcohol had been consumed and if I’m noticing girls young enough to be my daughter it’s time to go. Of course I got lost trying to find my hotel, but didn’t care and as a result bumped in to longtime friend and now rival editor Christian Davis of Drinks International and freelance travel retail writer Joe Bates, who I employed at Whisky Magazine.

So we went for a beer and did what ageing journalists always do – bemoaned the state of the publishing industry, complained about the erosion of editorial integrity, and railed against the commercial pressures of the trade press.

Three grumpy old men in total bliss and as if on cue, the whisky writer who is the epitome of the old fashioned drinks hack, Jim Murray, rang to rather flatteringly ask me to give my view on the new notes he’s written for the sleeve of The Whisky Bible, which is finished and has 1,200 new entries.

That was it for me. I retired with a shot of Xante, which is like alcoholic peardrops, a thoroughly contented man.

It won’t last.

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