My most recent trip on behalf of Walsh Whiskey Distillery, in January, was my now annual pilgrimage to Stockholm in Sweden for three nights on a cruise ship in the Baltic Sea. You may not believe me when I tell you that it is all work-related. You certainly won’t believe me when I tell you that Vikings, Cinderella and Whiskey were all involved without my so much as having a dram myself!
2015 was our best year yet in terms of sales and overall progression of the business, but each new year we start with a blank page and each day we live by the motto “You are only as good as your last order”. If 2015 was special, then 2016 is going to be our most exciting year yet as we will commence production at our distillery at Royal Oak in just a few short weeks.
That thought put a real spring in my step for my, by now, annual pilgrimage to Stockholm in Sweden for three nights on a cruise ship in the Baltic Sea.
For those that do not know, The Viking Cinderella Whiskey Festival is an annual event involving three cruises out of Stockholm, on consecutive days, with the whole car-deck transformed into a “whisky live” (trade fair) type of setting. It sounds weird and wonderful…and it is!
With the temperatures in Sweden well below zero, I pack as much warm clothes as possible (including a new pair of gloves bought specially for the journey) into my case along with our whiskeys, The Irishman and Writers Tears, and off I go. Flying through Copenhagen to get to Stockholm is a bit of a trek, but I always use these travel days to catch up on emails, presentation updates and those projects left on the “long finger”. They can be very productive days indeed!
As we have just started a new travel retail sector partnership in Scandinavia, this was my first time to meet our new partners, Altia, and so I did not recognise Bjorn when he welcomed me warmly at the Viking Line terminal. Bjorn had our tickets organised and we were soon beckoned on board to join a long queue of whiskey ambassadors, suppliers and industry experts. Familiar faces greeted me warmly from our Scottish neighbours and beyond. It’s a close-knit industry this whiskey business and the friendships you build within it are a fantastic perk of the job.
Once on board it was straight down to the lower deck that had been transformed to a whiskey lover’s paradise with hundreds of whiskeys on show across 35 exhibitors. With our stand ready and out-front and Writers Tears and The Irishman taking pride of place, it was all systems go. The world’s biggest whiskey festival at sea was under way! With 1,500 whiskey enthusiasts on each cruise and three cruises in total this is always an interesting few days and a great opportunity to spread the gospel of Walsh Whiskey Distillery, our whiskeys and Irish whiskey generally which is one of the great stories of the global spirits sector generally!
The reaction to our whiskeys at these shows always amazes me and I have yet to meet anyone that is not blown away by the quality of the drams I am taking them through. These guys and girls, Vikings and Cinderellas alike, know their whiskey and they live and breathe the whole eclectic and expanding scene. Here they are, voluntarily on a ship in the middle of the Baltic Sea, deep into a Scandinavian winter, surrounded by nothing but whiskey and freezing cold water and they could not be happier!
Some are there to taste, but most are there to buy and, over the three days many a Scandinavian goes home happy with The Irishman or Writers Tears (sometimes both) in their bulging bags, along with a new found appreciation for Irish whiskey.
With the evening session over it’s up to the buffet for us weary exhibitors and by the time we get some food and sit down it is already 11pm. After an hour or so swapping some industry stories, some hardy bucks then head to the bar for a night of dancing. Not for me (of course), tomorrow is another day and the morning session will bring another 1,500 enthusiasts on board and I need to be nothing less than ship-shape to greet them.
With my first shift over, just as I get to my cabin, the ship starts to sail out of the harbour and slowly heads for Finland. By the time I wake up we will be back in the Stockholm harbour and I am ready to go for the morning session. But first, I have to get to sleep despite the rolling motion of the ship…so which will it be, a wee dram or a couple of those sea legs tablets?