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.


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