World Whisky Day – Honest Celebration or Rip-Off?

by Oliver Klimek on July 27, 2011

In case you haven’t heard it yet: The 27th of March has been proclaimed as World Whisky DayTM. My first thought was: Great idea! There is an International Women’s Day on 8th March, the USA have their National Peanut Butter And Jelly Day on 2nd April, so why not have a World Whisky Day too? But when looking closer, I am not so sure anymore.

The Date

27th March is the Birthday of Michael Jackson, the famous beer and whisky writer who died in 2007. It is a very worthy date indeed to honour the tremendous influence Michael Jackson had on the whisky community.

The Venture

World Whisky DayTM was proclaimed by Aberdeen University student Blair Bowman who apart from being involved with the Aberdeen University Whisky Society has been a judge and “Competition Director” of the International Whisky Competition in Chicago. World Whisky Day and its slogan Let’s Get The World Involved have recently been registered as trademarks, although it is not known if the registration is truly worldwide or for the UK or European Union only. Emails to bloggers and other whisky website owners were sent out mentioning a business plan being written up, a form on the website asks for interest in sponsoring or creating merchandising products.

The History

Back in 2009, Dutch whisky expert Hans Offringa had the idea to honour Michael Jackson by an International Whisk(e)y Day on 27th March which was celebrated at the WFNN in Groningen. Unfortunately the 2009 Groningen event was not repeated in the following years.

In conjunction with Hans Offringa, but as an independent initiative, whisky writer Ian Buxton presented the book Beer Hunter, Whisky Chaser on 27th March 2009 in Edinburgh. Six beer writers and six whisky writers had collaborated to honour Michael Jackson with this book whose entire proceeds were donated to a Parkinson’s disease charity.

As Blair Bowman explained in a statement on Facebook, the idea to use Michael Jackson’s birthday as the date for World Whisky DayTM was not his own. Originally he had a different date in mind, but ‘some people’ had suggested 27th March as an appropriate date. According to Blair, Hans Offringa gave his thumbs up for the idea to revive his initiative and explained the history on the Origins page of the WWD website. Also linked from the website is a PDF file of the poster for the 2009 Groningen event which lists about two dozen well-known whisky people who had supported this idea back then.

The Dilemma

The 2009 event in Groningen and the launch of Ian Buxton’s book were decidedly non-commercial initiatives. The new venture is now trademarked and wrapped into a business plan. Blair Bowman is virtually touring the world to spread the word, to seek sponsors and to try to convince the industry to supply merchandising products.

Blair stated that World Whisky DayTM was entirely his own volunteer effort. I have to take his word for this, but some issues still remain unclear that so far keep me from openly supporting this event:

  1. Does the Michael Jackson estate endorse World Whisky DayTM to be celebrated on his birthday with the current model?
  2. If this simply is a volunteer effort, why is a business plan needed?
  3. How shall the trademark registration be paid for?
  4. Will 100% of the net profit generated by World Whisky DayTM be donated to a charity?
  5. To the best of my knowledge, the people listed on the 2009 poster were not approached, if they want to support World Whisky DayTM as well. I have asked a few but received no positive answer. But yet the website brings them indirectly into connection with it.

From the standpoint of a simple whisky lover, these questions may not be overly important. Any reason to have a dram is a good reason. I fully understand such a position. But as a blogger who was approached to be a multiplicator for an idea, I have to make up my mind about the pros and cons before I decide to endorse it or not. I think this venture has to be regarded with caution. Statements from Blair like “I am not affiliated with IWC in any way” that can be proven wrong by a simple visit to the IWC website do not exactly strengthen the credibility of the “volunteer effort” claim.

If World Whisky DayTM was unconnected to Michael Jackson’s birthday and if there hadn’t been a similar effort beore, I would not care at all about this. I might be raising an eyebrow or two because of the commercial ‘smell’ of the event, but I would certainly back it anyway because I like the general idea of a global whisky celebration very much.

The original initiators had a non-profit philosophy with all proceeds going to charity because of Michael Jackson’s suffering of Parkinson’s disease. I will only support World Whisky DayTM on 27th March, if it will be held in the same spirit. Financing has to be transparent: Who gave money and where did it go? Any money that ends up in a private pocket afterwards is lost for charity which is entirely unacceptable for me.

I will raise my glass to Michael Jackson on March 27th anyway. With or without World Whisky DayTM .

Update 18th February 2012

The WWD website was completely revamped recently, and all references to Michael Jackson and the original International Whisky Day seem to have been removed. The new About page also does not mention the commitment to charity anymore that Blair Bowman had promised after this article was published.

To make sure it is not forgotten, here is Blair Bowman’s original statement:

“World Whisky Day was and is a concept aimed at spreading the global love of whisky by encouraging people across the world to hold their own events, or whatever sort, to celebrate whisky in all its forms and incarnations. To avoid misunderstanding – there is a high level of cost in the organisation and management of such an event, which is why it is only sensible to formulate a business plan to make sure that all runs smoothly. It was always the organisers’ intention that any monies which might remain after the event, (and without a business plan, there is the possibility that that would be a negative figure), would be donated to charity. The charity selected for this would be “Parkinsons UK” (the Events Assistant has been contacted) since it has strong links with the memory of Michael Jackson. Gauging the level of interest in such a project has dramatically changed with the growth of social media, which also means that that process is open and transparent. There is much work already being put in to make this event a worldwide success and we would urge you all to join the effort and embrace a concept which aims not only to be a positive force for whisky but also fun for all involved.”

We shall see how this will all turn out.

 

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim F July 27, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Well said, Oliver. I’ve been raising a glass to Michael Jackson on 27th March each year, and will continue to do so, but I won’t have anything to do with World Whisky Day until I know that Blair Bowman is donating all the monies generated to a Parkinson’s charity.

The ball’s in Blair’s court. It would be very easy for him to prove that he isn’t some kind of carpetbagging charlatan by simply coming out and saying that his World Whisky Day is a not-for-profit charitable venture, and if and when that happens he will have the industry’s whole-hearted support for what could be a fantastic event. Until he does so, unfortunately doubts will remain and his motives will continue to be questioned. I hope that he recognises that he could do himself a lot of good with this – but only if he goes about it the right way. His personal credibility within the industry is pretty low, but this would be a good way to restore it.

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Sjoerd de Haan July 27, 2011 at 1:50 pm

I have been following the discussion on Facebook a bit and have to agree with your views. I am willing to support the WWD and spread the word to whomever it may concern, but I want to know I am not sponsoring some business I don’t know about.

Apart from the cool celebrations you mention above, you forgot September 19th! International Talk like a Pirate Day is something special ;-)

http://www.talklikeapirate.com/piratehome.html

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Tom (@AWG_whisky) July 27, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Excellent work, my dear Watson. ;)

Curious in which way this will have a follow-up, while I expect this is not the end of this case, but just a start.

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Keith July 27, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Oliver,
great to see you put this online and well done for doing so. As you know I completely agree with your sentiments and yes, I would love to support (an untrademarked) World Whisk(e)y Day, but this has clearly been set-up as some kind of commercial venture on the back of others’ names and previous (non commercial & very charitable) efforts and as such, it will not currently have my support in any way.
My concerns have been aired elsewhere and have still not been fully answered, but it is not my intention to restart that whole debate again here.
If my work schedule permits I will happily raise a glass or three on March 27th next year, possibly even with you in our favourite watering hole, but the words “World Whisky Day will be far from my lips.
Slàinte Mhath,
from one of the original “Grumpy Old Men”

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Gal July 27, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Nice post Oliver.
I’ve been reading the entire discussion on fb
In the malt maniacs and friends page and it really
Got me thinking.
At first as an avid Whisky lover and blogger
I was happy to assist and put a widget in Whisky israel site
To support that. Now I do not like to be used as a pawn
In some Whisky campaign that people will profit of.
I’m really waiting fir Blair to explain all this
And unless hd does I’ll remove this links from the site.
MJ was a great man and as Keith and Oliver noted
I intend to lift a few drams on his birthday. He well deserves it.
Be it wwd with a ™ or without.
So, Blair. The ball is in your court.
Let Whisky be drunk like water.
Slainte.
Gal, israel.

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Mary July 27, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Personally, every time I hear Blair Bowman’s name associated with anything whisky….I am suspicious. I think he’s always looking for a way to make a buck or have someone pay for his travels/hobbies. My opinion….

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Oliver Klimek July 27, 2011 at 9:00 pm

After publishing this I learned that today is “National Scotch Whisky Day” in the USA. I have no idea about its origins but this seems to be a grassroot thing. What a coincidence…

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Blair July 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm

I understand a few of you have some rather personal concerns. Might I suggest that you raise these personally with me by sending me an email ([email protected]) or a contact number and I can get in touch.

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Blair July 28, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I have added a statement to http://www.worldwhiskyday.com

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Oliver Klimek July 28, 2011 at 2:04 pm

I am glad to see an official devotion to charity, and I hope it won’t just be lip service. For the sake of transparency it would have been better to gather a group of enthusiats to organize this thing together instead of running it as a one man show. But the good thing of being alone of course is that you can keep the costs at a minimum. It’s easy to spend a lot of money for bells and whistles, but is it really necessary? If you really stand behind this, you will agree that any money is better off at Parkinson’s UK than at the bank account of an advertising agency or whoever. It’s a step into the right direction. A first step.

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Ian Buxton July 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm

I am pleased to see that the ‘Origins’ page appears to have been removed. I’m sorry to say that it wasn’t entirely accurate and – by implication – my name was being used in such a way as to suggest, indirectly, that I was supporting the ‘World Whisky Day’. In fact, I have never been contacted about this and no-one has ever asked me if my name could be used. I wasn’t very happy to see my name appear on the WWD site. It is discourteous at the very least.

With my experience of organising the publication of the Beer Hunter Whisky Chaser I can suggest that planning a ‘World Whisky Day’ will be a huge undertaking. I would personally be very reluctant to take on such a thing, without a considerable organisation and proper funding. Without this, my fear is that this will be a damp squib and just make the concept look rather silly. So, of course, it does need proper planning and – I would say – full-time, professional staff committed to make this work. And they, of course, will need a salary (they have to live) and expenses and so on.

It will be very interesting to see the promised business plan and see what salary the organisers plan to take out of this before the charitable donation has been made! And I wonder if anyone has contacted the Parkinson’s Disease Society to get permission to use their name and to give their blessing on the whole idea. From my experience, there are issues of concern linking alcohol and Parkinson’s Disease and I had long and detailed conversations with them before announcing the book…has this been done for World Whisky Day?

Conceptually, this seems like a good idea but it feels as if it’s being done in a pretty half-baked way…..I hope that I’m wrong.

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IM July 28, 2011 at 9:52 pm

I thought the concept was a great idea – however, I was very concerned when the gentleman behind it started listing himself as creator and owner of World Whisky Day. There was no subtlety here – just a very stark ‘I own this’ message which put me right off.
I do not know the chap behind it and have no personal axe to grind – I merely hope that he will let the day flourish without trying to over-control or strangle the potential that the event could have. I hope he does find a way to make a buck out of it too – this is a business led world – but trying to milk it would be very counter-productive.

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Victor Brierley February 15, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Okay, cards on the table, I know Blair Bowman. He’s not a Fat Cat or ‘The Man’ trying to make millions by caring not a jot about things..

Where to start with this rant? In my eyes, as a relative newcomer to the ‘Whisky Industry’ I’ve noticed a lot of ‘factions’ a very disjointed approach and so far, a $billions ‘Industry’ that has stead-fastlly got nowhere NEAR having a proper’ World Whisky Day’ (or whatever it is we should call it).

Meanwhile, over in Guinnessland, the stout efforts of a certain large conglomerate has turned St Patrick’s Day into THEIR event. I don’t see many people in The Emerald Isle crying into their London-recipe porter because Diageo are making BUCKETLOADS of cash. Ireland wins, tourism wins and yes, Guinness wins, big time.

Looking above, there’s a number of very clever ‘Luminaries’ who have commented here could make this idea fly and in doing so, give Scotland (sweeping statement here but I think Scotland should be the fulcrum for this) a massive tourism injection. In doing so, more people would come to Scotland to drink whisky, Michael Jackson’s estate will make a right few quid out of book sales and young Blair Bowman (who is is business guy) will also make a few quid for sweating long hours, over a tiny germ of an idea,. Like Brown Porter day over the Irish sea (and increasingly all over the World when ‘Arthur’ sells his stuff on his Birthday), a win-win-win-win situation.

Blair is a bit ‘green’ and you could say he’s made a few mistakes in getting his idea off the ground. He’s also a HUGE whisky lover and someone who has second-guessed a lot of developments by bothering his arse to learn Mandarin Chinese and THINK BIG!!

I personally have NO links to this day (whatever it’s going to be called) but if all the clever folk above don’t meet, call, or get Blair’s side of the story, then they are being daft. We have a drink that’s in every bar on Planet Earth and unless one of the big boys ‘own’ it, whisky day will NOT happen purely on a ‘volunteer’ basis because it needs the oxygen of publicity outwith the whisky blogs. IF one of the big brands decides to go for it and take it over, then they really will ‘rip the ass out of it’ and you’ll then get to see how ‘commercialism’ works and how things might be exploited..

Whisky needs a lot more unity, a lot less beards and a lot more FUN!!!!

I think EVERYONE is in agreement that a ‘Day’ is something we all want, need and would have fun enjoying. Let’s get it out of the traps first. Blair’s young, clever and certainly capable of standing up for himself but I thought I’d show that the big opportunity here is not for us lot, who know and like whisky and drink it a fair bit. It’s in convincing others ‘out there’ who don’t, at the moment. Feel free to contact me direct if you don’t agree! [email protected]

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Oliver Klimek February 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Thanks for your comment, Victor. I wrote in my article that a commercial approach to WWD alone would NOT have bothered me too much. In this way your Diageo/St. Patrick’s Day example is not quite fitting the subject. It was the hijacking of a charity initiative that go so many people angry. This was Blair’s key mistake. Call it green, naive or something else, but by doing that he killed his own brilliant idea before it could take off.

You mentioned the lack of industry response. This does not surprise me at all. Michael Jackson was VERY well regarded in the whisky industry and he had many personal friends there. The reason why they don’t bother about WWD certainly is not that a pesky blogger like me is less than enthsusiastic about how this has been done or because Blair got grilled last summer on the Malt Maniacs Facebook page. No, it is because they don’t like MJ being used as a vehicle for a personal commercial venture.

I’ll raise a few drams on 27th March. But I am going to raise them to Mr. Jackson, not to Mr. Bowman nor to anybody else. I don’t need a planetary event for that.

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Tim F February 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Interestingly, it loks liek there is a Facebook page for International Whisky Day on 27th March – which just seems to be a celebration of Michael, without anyone trying to make a buck out of it;

http://www.facebook.com/InternationalWhiskyDay

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Mark Connelly February 24, 2013 at 2:22 pm

And now a website. Purely a way to toast Michael and hopefully raise awareness of Parkinsons.

http://www.internationalwhiskyday.org

The .org was chose for two reasons: the first is that this is a non-profit movement – no matter how many hours anyone puts into there’s nobody making any money. Secondly Blair bought internationalwhiskyday.com, continuing his selfish, unscrupulous trend…

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Ian Buxton February 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Exactly how is calling people who raised some legitimate and deeply-held concerns “clever folk” who are being “daft” going to help? It seems an odd way to generate the “unity” that Victor says he wants to see.

Some detailed and specific answers, rather than pejorative name-calling would seem preferable.

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Victor Brierley February 15, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Wasn’t referring to anyone personally but Ian assumes he’s clever and having read his best selling book, I can officially declare he is! In fact, it’s the book I recommend on Glasgow Whisky Tours and it’s the book we’ll be recommending on The Whisky Ambassador, the UK wide whisky training scheme I am launching in March. So, yes I also have MORE than a vested interest in spreading a bit of ‘Whisky love’ (Ian, I’ll speak to you about this as an aside, might want to sell your books on our new site)

A Whisky Day! It’s quite exciting and I’m more than happy to help out, to meet either side. to scope out the strategy and see how we could PROPERLY fund this ‘day’ and sort out the barriers. It doesn’t seem to be a huge process to get everyone to agree.. Again, I agree with Mr Buxton, it’s GOT to be funded properly though or it will wither. It may be our own dear VisitScotland/Scottish Government should be getting involved? They have an Events arm and surely this would be a good starting point?

Apologies for suggesting people are ‘daft’ but this initiative is something that could be brilliant and as I work as a consultant helping people launch new ideas, I have to speak to a number of cold-water-pourers, so am perhaps unduly cynical. I’d love to see this idea fly, under one guise or another. So Ian, I’d sell more tours, you’d sell more books, more people would love whisky,

It’s too good an idea not to happen but as Serge Valentin mentioned in one of his blogs, it’s an idea that’s been kicking about for ages, so let’s ‘MAKE IT SO’.

PS, Had to look up ‘pejorative’.

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Ian Buxton February 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Well, it just goes to show how this discussion is generating rather more heat than light and a few misplaced words can be open to all kinds of interpretation. Glad to know I’m not one of the ‘dafties’ anyway.
Yes, conceptually this could be brilliant but it is a huge undertaking that needs time, lots of money and a team to get it off the ground, not one person (however talented and energtic) working part time. Though I quite see that someone, somewhere has to make a start.
Good luck with the Scottish public sector agencies though.
Love to sell more books – give the publishers a call and they’ll be all over you!
Do we need another ‘whisky training scheme’? On top of what individual distillers do, I thought that was what ScotlandWhisky was supposed to be delivering.
It all goes to show, this is complex stuff and avoiding ‘turf wars’ won’t be easy.

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bacchus March 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I’m very happy to see some people stand here to restore the truth.
Today I googled around to see if somebody was remembering that 27th March is the international whisk(e)y day, and was displeased to find out articles and websites claiming that a certain student had started it all by himself this year, and chosen the 27th March as anniversary of his first dram.

Every year since the first call in 2009, on that day, I have a dram for breakfast (skalk!), for lunch and for dinner in memory of Michael Jackson. And I encourage all my whisky-addicted friends to do so.

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Drew March 28, 2012 at 5:26 pm

What’s wrong with beards?

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Oliver Klimek March 28, 2012 at 5:50 pm

World Whisky Day 2012 is history. In case you haven’t done so yet, you can read my summary here:

http://www.dramming.com/2012/03/28/world-whisky-day-how-hedonism-and-opportunism-killed-an-idea/

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