Back in 1947 the founders of the Edinburgh International Festival could hardly have imagined what their legacy would be. Over the years their inspiration has not only spawned the Fringe but a host of claimants to International Festival status: Film (1947); Television (1976); Book (1983); Science (1988); Children’s (1990); Storytelling (1990); Internet (1999) and Marketing (2010). In addition there are many other celebrations that abjure the international title and are content with just being a Festival. The creators of this latest addition hail the Edinburgh Cocktail Festival as a first. In a city with a long history of distilling, brewing and imbibing, never before has there been a festival dedicated entirely to cocktails.
There was a time when tonic water was simply tonic water
Behind every big event is a big name. In this case it is Diageo. While we all know what we like to drink, we may not know the company behind it. Such is the scope of Diageo’s brand portfolio that if you have stood at a bar and ordered a drink one of theirs will have been on your lips. If you are in any doubt, here’s a brief checklist: Gin (Tanqueray, Gordon's, Booth's), Rum (Captain Morgan, Ron Zacapa, Cacique), Tequila (Don Julio), Vodka (Smirnoff, Ketel One, Cîroc) and Whisk(e)y (Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Bulleit, Seagram's, George Dickel, Caol Ila, Talisker, Lagavulin, Oban, J&B, Bell's, Buchanan's, Cardhu). To that can be added Baileys and Guinness along with a sizeable share in Moët Hennessy, for those who prefer cognac and champagne. Until April of this year, when it was overtaken by China's Kweichow Moutain, Diageo was the world's largest distiller for many years.
The number of people and events in Edinburgh during August makes it an exciting location with a vast market for a company like Diageo. Being on the streets of Edinburgh is a world away from a trade-only show behind closed doors. Stephen Martin, Diageo Reserve Brands Ambassador for Scotland, said, ‘The first ever Edinburgh Cocktail Festival is a global platform for industry professionals to showcase the city’s eclectic and vibrant cocktail scene to an international audience. I was excited to work with The Drink Cabinet on this project, as their team possess all the creative flair needed to bring guests a fun, interactive and entertaining festival experience’.
The month-long event takes place at New Waverley, a courtyard at the lower end of the Royal Mile. It's a compact square that’s suited to browsing around. There are not just bars. The Food and Flea Market features local handicraft stalls and the central, undercover area is the focus for an eclectic mix of live music events and guest DJs. Set back from the hustle and bustle of the High Street it can be something of a refuge, but with fine weather it soon fills up and develops a party atmosphere. Inevitably, the bars are the main feature, but if you feel the need to line your stomach before starting on the hard stuff there are plenty of food outlets to suit most tastes. Scottish Street Food Awards 2017 Champion’s The Buffalo Truck has a range of burgers on the burner, while Pizza Geeks will create perfect handmade pizza for you and Barnacles & Bones will supply fresh Scottish seafood.
Now it's probably time to mingle among the medley of cocktails and cocktail-themed experiences available every day, led by three main brands. Ketel One’s Bloody Mary Kitchen offers a hands-on cocktail-making experience, where guests can design and construct their own personalised Bloody Mary. For those into the deconstruction game it's possible to throw away even the tomato juice and add flavours that perfectly hit the spot. Chemists, or those who just like to play with misty mixes, will have fun in the mysterious Tanqueray Ten Future Forest where they can mess with nitro-infusion and other methods favoured by top mixologists. If you are a devotee of whisky you are invited to the Make Yourself @ Home event courtesy of the #LoveScotch campaign. This is a cocktail party where you can learn all about the classic Old Fashioned, sip on whisky cocktails, and discover the secret of creating your own cocktail bar-quality drinks in your own home.
If overindulgence leaves you in the dog house you will not be alone. Edinburgh’s famed Dog House pub has been on walkies and made friends with Copper Dog blended malt whisky and Hop House 13 Lager. Try it's pop-up for a pairing or go for a cocktail. You might, of course, feel the need for a soft drink, but this too can be a source of discovery. There was a time when tonic water was simply tonic water. Now, it can be enjoyed alone and in a variety of contrasting flavours courtesy of Fever-Tree, although the company is by no means alone in exploiting this burgeoning market. Having decided it's time for this refreshing drink your resolve to resist alcohol might weaken, however, when you see the carefully chosen gins to match the range of distinctive styles.
To fully participate in all that's happening wristbands are available for purchase at different prices giving discounts and various levels of access to events, although it's possible to pay regular prices at any of the bars and there is something for everyone. As the organisers say, this event is a call to ‘all cocktail lovers, mocktail lovers, gin lovers, whisky lovers, vodka lovers, beer lovers and street food lovers!’