Glasgow Whisky Festival

Posted by Whiskydo | Feb 2019 | in News
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Julie Hamilton answers our questions about the whisky festival in Scotland’s largest city

The minds behind Glasgow Whisky Festival: Julie Hamilton, Paul McDonagh, Mark Connelly

We’re very proud to start our interview series with Julie Hamilton, founding member of Glasgow’s whisky club and director at Glasgow whisky festival together with Mark Connelly and Paul McDonagh. The festival stands now as a landmark in the whisky event world: may these words be a true inspiration for anyone embarking on his whisky journey right now!

Glasgow Whisky Festival has just ended its 10th edition. How did everything start?

Glasgow’s Whisky Festival started as the brainchild of 2 members of Glasgow’s Whisky Club – Mark Connelly and Bill Mackintosh as a fellow club member – I was initially on board to assist with the event running on the day – that was my role for the first few years and then I became involved as the third director of the company in 2012. The basis was to bring a festival for the people of Glasgow run by people of Glasgow! We didn’t have one at that time!
Ten years ago we didn’t have access to the number of events we have now – RMW Whisky Fringe and Whisky An’ A’ That in Ayr were the 2 we all ended as guests.
We started with a relatively small crowd in just part of The Arches venue in Glasgow City Centre with about 28-30 stands.
While this is our tenth anniversary this year – November 2019 will actually be our eleventh event. In 2015 we were approached by Events Scotland and asked if we could run a second whisky festival that year which ran in May – to celebrate ‘Whisky Month’ in the 2015 Year of Food and Drink Scotland. Quite an honour! We had lots of guest visitors including those from Scottish Parliament in attendance that day!

Glasgow Whisky Festival 2013 at The Arches (Photo by Alasdair Watson Photography)

We really like your mission statement “Bringing Scotland’s national drink to Scotland’s national stadium”. How did you come up with the idea of such a venue?

Our beloved Arches venue was closed in June 2015 due to licensing issues with the nightclub that was hosted there. This closure was just around the time we were putting our tickets on sale for November 2015, so we had to move quickly to find a new venue. In my other job at the time I was involved in events organising of a different type – more in the way of conferences, so was thankfully able to draw on contacts I had in the hospitality industry. We needed a venue which could accommodate our growing event as well as offering us our next iconic identity. We were delighted that Sodexo were able to offer us what we needed.
Hampden Stadium offers us many things – mainly massive flexibility with the event space – we lost the atmospheric ambience of the converted railway arches but exchanged that for bright, spacious and comfortable suites instead! We have now grown to fill the football stadium hospitality suites! November 2018 saw us host 72 stands so it’s a pretty big event!

Glasgow Whisky Festival at Hampden Stadium
The current venue at Hampden Stadium (Photo by Alasdair Watson Photography)

Tell us something about your foodbank initiative.

The foodbank is an initiative we all feel strongly about and think our whisky festival is an ideal way to support families in our city that are less fortunate – particularly at that time of year.
Folks coming along to the festival are encouraged to bring a donation for the foodbank (we issue a list of items in advance) and in return we give them a number of raffle tickets (corresponding with the size of their donation – the more you bring the more chances you get!) for the chance to win 1 set of ten pairs of tickets for the following year.
The response is always absolutely overwhelming – for the past two years the volunteers from the foodbank have to drive double runs to deliver the bags back to their base. This not only shows our city is a generous one – it lives up to the adage that ‘People Make Glasgow’.

Scotland is experiencing a whisky tourism boom these days (and we’re part of that…). What do you think about it?

I think it’s great and long may it continue! I hope that it continues like this for a really long time! Scotland is a fabulous country to visit with many things to offer – the whisky industry just playing a part in that. We should be encouraging more people to come!
I hope that we continue with plans to protect our identity as a country as well as in the whisky industry – I worry for the future that as changes progress in the UK we get misrepresented in a bigger picture. Time will tell. It’s a very contentious subject just now!

1770 whisky Glasgow distillery at Glasgow Whisky Festival
Glasgow Whisky Festival celebrates the whiskies of the world, but has a focus on local distilleries (Photo by Alasdair Watson Photography)

Whisky festivals are emerging everywhere. Any advice for the newcomers?

Whisky festivals are indeed emerging everywhere and as long as you don’t view it as a ‘get rich quick’ scheme you’ll be fine! I think that’s the mistake that certain people have made in the past – it’s not easy money – it’s hard work!!
You have to invest time, energy and passion into running a good drinks festival – I think this shows at your event – attention to detail is key.
Be respectful of other events – don’t run a whisky show on the same day as someone else, choose a different venue – be a bit more original, you don’t need to be direct competition – there’s enough room for everyone. Just think – if we all run events at the same time, who would we get to exhibit! There are only so many people in the industry and only so many people in each area to attend!
Making sure your guests have a range of choice in stands, that they know what’s available on the day i.e. if there is more than one room give them a floorplan, give them plenty of water to stay hydrated and having decent food available is all they need!
Developing your own identity comes in time – you want it to be the best, so that’s not an overnight achievement! Genuinely look after your staff – a happy team provide a happy environment for your event that people want to come back to – and you can’t run a festival without exhibitors – look after them and they’ll look after you! They’re the most important!
I work at lots of other people’s festivals and events and the difference between them all is amazing! When you are standing talking about whisky for hours at a time – a cup of coffee doesn’t go amiss! Also take care of lone workers – they might need a break or two! And lastly – enjoy it!
Think about what you would want – then apply those ideas!

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