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Ooshka! - A Festival Here to Stay

Ooshka, a new festival devoted to foods and alcoholic drinks from Scotland (not just whiskies) had its premiere in Glasgow mid-September. The event was the brainchild of Jo Graham who, with business partner Sue Beatt, runs The Whisky Ambassador training courses for bar personnel in Scotland and overseas.

They partnered with one of Glasgow’s best whisky bars, The Pot Still, to organise the show. A real coup was holding the event in Glasgow’s historic sailing ship, The Tall Ship, moored on the River Clyde as that river was so important to Scotland’s whisky industry. Indeed, it’s not too far from where a new Glasgow distillery is planned.

On the day, the drinks stands were below deck and included gins, whiskies, vodkas, beers and more (is there more?!). Amongst those testing the waters in this new festival, planned to be an annual event, were representatives from Auchentoshan, Bruichladdich, William Grant’s (Glendfiddich and Balvenie), Isle of Arran, Eden Mill, Diageo with some of its coastal malts and Highland Park - whose smoke dome added a little too much to the atmosphere round about it from time to time... I tasted a couple of Eden Mill’s gins for the first time and a pleasant and interesting experience it was.

The food was supplied by local delis and featured traditional dishes like cullen skink. There were talks and interactive sessions on the lower deck featuring Highland Park cocktail-making (no smoke here, just a crackingly good Old Fashioned and dinky little cocktail kit to take away); a session on Japanese and Indian whiskies and how they were influenced by Scotch; gin tasting; coopering demos; matching beer with whisky chasers and more. Each two and a half hour slot had different short education talks and discussions.

Admittance was split over three timed slots with a separate evening ceilidh on board. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a Scottish country dance evening - same kind of thing as a square dance.

Jo tells me that they actually had over 500 people during the whole day, having expected maybe 100 people for their first attempt at this. It looked to me like 100 people for the morning slot alone once all arrived. Hardly surprising, then, that more are planned in future and the food involvement will be bigger.

Not content with Glasgow, they’re now thinking of branching out to Sydney, Australia for 2016 as well. Why Sydney? Jo advises it’s because they know people out there who can help with the organisation; whiskies and other Scottish-produced drinks are becoming ever more popular there and there’s a large Scottish ex-pat community, never mind other Aussies. There may also be the small matter of relatives and friends to visit! Given that they want to help showcase smaller brands/companies without the big boys’ financial clout, there will be some budgetary challenges, never mind the transportation costs and distance but they’re up for the challenge.

When these ladies have an idea they go for it big and much credit to them and their fellow organisers for this first success.  If they ever venture Stateside I can think of a great venue for it but keeping that a secret for now. If you’re thinking of visiting Glasgow next year, check out the dates for Ooshka 2016.

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