There are precious few weekends when I genuinely plan to do absolutely nothing but sit, play with the cats and scrawl business ideas on Post-It's to refocus the mind.
There are even fewer weekends where I’m happy to change this relaxing plan for one of muddy activities far from home. Cue my invite to Ardbeg Day 2014 and my immediate change of plan.
I’ve been a blogger long enough to know that when one of your absolute favourite brands, let alone whiskies, out of nowhere invites you on an expenses paid trip to Edinburgh to celebrate with them on their dedicated day, you don’t say no.
In fact you reply, like I did, with:
“Oh wow, yes, a thousand times yes, thank you! What do I need to know and what’s the plan?”
The response, as seen in the image below, was incredibly detailed. To summarise, I was joining their brand team, marketing team, a couple of journalists, bloggers and representatives from the Ardbeg Embassies to:
- Be flown to Edinburgh and put up in a design-led hotel
- Play peat football and compete for the Peat Football World Cup
- Enjoy guided tastings of their entre range throughout the day with Dr Bill Lumsden, Head of Distilling and Whisky Creation for Ardbeg
- Sample the best of edinburgh’s street food
- Get very muddy
- Be hosted at an Embassey dinner at the Whiski Rooms in Edinburgh
- Chat to and interview some of the great people behind these great products
Sounds pretty tough doesn’t it?
Having waved my fiancé off to see her parents I began packing, but what the hell do you pack for peat football?
Google was uncharacteristically no help, was warned that I would get v muddy and temperatures were looking warm so I packed literally everything from shorts to trackies to jeans to a waterproof. I always overpack anyway but this was a bit much. Bear in mind I also had to ensure I had a nice change of clothes for the evening’s dinner. All very exciting.
Almost too exciting as I struggled to sleep the night before, waking to the birds tweeting long before I got a chance to tweet at around 4am. After about an hour’s snooze it made sense to just get up and wake up so I got ready, made a healthy granola and yoghurt breakfast (out of character in truth as I prefer a fry up pre-flight but knew I would be compiling a lot so played it safe).
The cab arrived around 7am and off I went to Heathrow to meet the very welcoming Serena, Ardbeg’s PR & Communications manager, who had the unenviable task of ensuring all who were supposed to be there arrived on time and got on the flight. Within minutes we were chatting about both of our impending weddings and how her other half had proposed under the Northern Lights, and also discovered that I had met the brother of one of the other attendees who happened to be a Barman in my favourite bar in Reykjavik, Dillon’s Whiskey Bar. Small world.
Having not flown Virgin Red before I was intrigued as to whether it would be code shared with some random budget airline or if we would get the full Virgin experience. Turns out it is a Virgin service, fully branded in their style and house colours but operated by AerLingus.
Reading about the journey is all well and good but I’m sure you’re keen to know how Ardbeg day unfolded?
Once off the plane we raced through the airport, nabbing a cheeky sample of something aged 21 years on the way. Rude not to really. Then after a brief delay whilst we collected checked bags we were ushered into the coach and off to the hotel for a very speedy check-in, bag drop, change into shorts and expendable polo short then into the lobby to collect our Ardbeg scarves, dram tokens and to meet my team.
Having established contact and given each other a look of both fear and excitement, we were back on the coach to the game.
Readers of GreatDrams’ sister site, Strat-Talking, will know that almost a year ago to the day I played my debut game at Liverpool’s Anfield which ended in both extreme fatigue and victory in the supporters’ tournament.
This trip had much the same excitement, heightened as the massive Ardbeg signage emerged when we neared St. Andrew’s Square Gardens, followed by a sudden realisation as to what peat football (known as swamp soccer, as I found out in the airport on the way home) really was.
We walked off the coach to high fives and trepidation and immediately headed to take some pre-tournament photos and to warm up as only a whisky enthusiast could, with a couple of drams of The Ultimate Islay Whisly, the peatiness of them all, Ardbeg.
Without further adieu Dr. Bill Lumsden welcomed us all, guided us through the ever-brilliant Ardbeg 10 year old before making the draw to decide which teams will be squaring up against each other.
On my team, the media team known as The Beasties, were:
- Michael, sports journalist for the Glasgow Record
- Becky, managing editor of The Spirits Business
- Laura Foster, Imbibe
- As well as Connor for one game and Ardbeg’s David for the rest of the afternoon.
Our first match was tough, very tough, it is not until you are on the ‘pitch’ that you realise just how incredibly hard it is to even stand up. Just four seconds into the match I face planted the peat, no tackle, no foul, just trying to run. We battled with honour, leading one-nil within seconds but eventually succumbed to a heavy defeat at the heads of the eventual third-placers.
After about seven minutes both myself and Michael were struggling just to breathe, it was virtually impossible to get any level of run on but, it turned out, this is fantastic exercise.
Heroic efforts all-round were rewarded with more of Ardbeg’s delightful single malt as we licked our wounds, lost a player, recruited a replacement and enjoyed a few more drams whilst watching the other games unfold.
Dr. Lumsden then guided us all through a tasting of my favourite Ardbeg expression, Corryvreckan whilst the semi finals were in progress.
Word went round that we did not have to play again, that was my cue to bolt to the portaloo to use the incredibly manual foot pumped tap to try and get as much mud off my face and arms as I could before a swift change.
Within minutes we found out that we had been given false information and that we would indeed have to play again. Cue a return to the changing tent to get back into my muddy gear.
This time though we went out there with energy, excitement and no expectations.
We played without fear, slipping, face planting, piling and stacking as we battled on. There was more skill this time, more counter-play but, sadly we were hardly playing like Brazil and no one bent it like Beckham, although I did manage a solitary stepover, something I cannot actually do in normal footballing conditions.
Again I washed off and got changed, then hit the superb Ardbeg Limited Edition, Auriverdes (49.9%). What a dram. Simply gorgeous. Moorish. Nectar.
The final was spirited and a real goal-fest with plenty of aggression, skill and passion on display. The Cambridge Wine Merchants were the winners, and deservedly so. Just when they thought their job was done, however, they were asked to play one last game. Against the Ardbeg staff.
Once the festivities of the day had been brought to a close we meandered back to the coach and on to the hotel in order to hose ourselves down, get changed into our finery and head to The Whiski Rooms for a fantastic three course meal, and of course, more whisky.
In my day job as a brand strategy consultant, I often preach about how important the detail is and how little touchpoints make a big difference to overall customer (and fan) experiences, so to arrive to my room to be greeted by a miniature Ardbeg 10 year old accompanied by a letter of thanks for being a part of Ardbeg Day 2014, I was in customer journey heaven.
Once at The Whiski Rooms, we were welcomed by a cocktail before taking our seats.
I rejoined one of my Beasties team mates, Becki, the chaps from Royal Mile Whiskies and Sian, senior brand manager for Ardbeg.
Through a fantastic meal of fresh prawns, super-tender steak, rough cut chips and arguably the best creme brûlée I’ve ever tasted we spoke all things brand to wedding to squash to whisky. Great fun.
After the presentation of awards for best chant, best goal, best celebration and the winners we all headed off to a cocktail bar before a long walk back to the hotel to fall asleep with the looming early start.
Whilst Sunday was not as painful as I thought it would be, I even managed a whisky in the airport and a beer on the plane, Monday slapped me round the face with the scream of a hundred muscles not used to having to work that hard in their daily lives. Intense aching like I’ve never felt before.
It was totally worth it though.
I would like to extend my thanks Serena, Sian and Eduardo and Sarah for putting on something truly special that I and the other Ardbeggians who attended will never forget and that brought together some really great people to have fun in the name of peat.
Maybe again one day…