PREMIUM spirits took centre stage at hospitality exhibition ScotHot earlier this month, when training firm LA Group presented a two-day programme of events at the show.
Spirits-themed events ranged from whisky tasting and food pairing with chef Tom Lewis of the Monachyle Mhor Hotel to a craft gin-focused seminar delivered by distiller David Wilkinson.
The events took place on LA Group’s Liquid Academy Live stage, supported by SLTN.
Describing the roster of speakers as “world class”, LA Group director Scott Gemmell, founder of the Liquid Academy, said the firm was excited to participate in the conference.
“We saw this show as a way for us to engage with a bigger audience,” Gemmell told SLTN.
“We saw the opportunity to give a rich theatre of speakers to share with the industry and learn from these people.”
As an event attended by operators, buyers and staff from across Scotland’s bars, restaurants and hotels as well as attendees from Scotland’s catering colleges, ScotHot drew a broad spectrum of guests to the LA Group stage.
With tastings hosted by the likes of drinks writer Mark Ridgwell, billed as a seminar aiming to “overcome the prejudice and ignorance that denies too many the pleasure of drinking whiskey”, the Liquid Academy Live stage set about making spirits accessible to a wider audience.
“Our focus was to try and enrich and educate the drinks and food scene,” said Gemmell.
Education is key, according to Gemmell, who highlighted the “challenging time” in which the trade currently operates.
However, he added that tough trading conditions have also brought a “boom in quality” and said operators’ standards must rise to meet the expectations of their customers.
“Across the board what you see is a thirst for experience and quality,” he said.
“People are thinking about what they’re drinking. People’s expectations are increasing every day. So, much more [than before] the experience is what gives operators a unique selling point.”
Quality service at the bar is vital, said Gemmell, adding that it’s front of house staff that can make all the difference both for a venue’s sales and for the popularity of the spirit brands they stock.
“The bartender drives trends and spirits [sales],” said Gemmell.
“The front of house is where a brand is made or broken. The bartender holds all the cards at the start of a brand’s life cycle.”
Looking ahead, Gemmell said the next big task for LA Group and other training firms is to provide training for young people with modules “relevant to the industry”, in order to get their careers off to the right start.
And for the industry as a whole, Gemmell said events like ScotHot are key. Even in the digital age, the Scottish trade should be ambitious when it comes to the scale of such face-to-face events.
“Everyone interconnecting online is great, it’s important, but we can’t forget the importance of experiencing things up front live,” said Gemmell.
“We’ve got to go onwards and upwards. Scotland needs one big week with strong speakers under one roof.”