Our 2019 Highland Park bartender programme ‘A Tribe in the Wild’ was a cracking success, so the plan for 2020 was to develop the programme and make it bigger and better! As YOURgb started the planning phase, the COVID -19 pandemic hit, and we all know what happened there. We continued to plan and were delighted when the launch date was officially confirmed, and A Tribe in the Wild 2021 was underway!
It’s June 2021, and #atribeinthewild 2021 launched with a bang! In light of the impact that COVID-19 had on our bartending community, Stage 1 of this year’s competition focussed solely on the bartenders. With Edrington UK, we encouraged key bars across the UK to recommend a ‘Legend of The Tribe’ to be of this year’s programme – someone who had gone above and beyond during the pandemic to help their bar, their peers or their community. The nominated bartenders were invited to join a Whisky Ambassador Training Day in one of four UK Tribes; Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, and Birmingham. This year was all about celebrating bartenders and the work they have done over the last year – a welcome boost in an otherwise difficult year.
At each training day, all bartenders were put through their paces in a fully immersive whisky training day. All were successful in gaining their BIIAB approved Whisky Ambassadors qualification, which only made the next part even harder! Bartenders were invited to submit a short video of themselves making their signature Highland Park cocktail and of those, two of them would be selected to join us in Orkney, the home of Highland Park. Videos were scored based on a variety of criteria and when paired with the Whisky Ambassador test score, the group was whittled down to just 2 from each Tribe.
There was too much choice though, and this year, we were delighted to offer 4 wildcard places to make up our 12 strong Tribe. With their Highland Park 18-Year-Old and Bear Grylls Thermos Flask in hand, our Tribe excitedly looked ahead to a 3 day Whisky & Survival Experience on Orkney.
Four training days later, the Tribe was selected, the whisky was prepared and all that we needed next was some kind weather and Stage 3 of A Tribe in the Wild 2021 would be underway.
Tuesday 27th of September
Fly day was finally here, and we were all through security at Edinburgh airport and awaiting to travel onto Orkney! It was all smooth sailing for our bartenders (apart from one missed connection…. but they made it!) and the weather was on our side.
Spirits were high, and any bartender nerves were calmed with the Edinburgh airport pub on hand to supply each bartender a pint while they awaited jumping on the double propeller Loganair plane which would carry them the short journey to the home of Highland Park.
The flight was quick and smooth, and with 100mph tail winds giving us an extra oomph, we made it to Kirkwall airport in record breaking time! We all know that Scotland is a small world, and this became abundantly apparent when our Pilot noticed the YOURgb logo on our bags, and announced that he was none other than Robbie Cockburn, professional comedian, magician and juggler (and pilot…), who has actually previously performed at YOURgb events! It was great to see him again, and brilliant to know that during the flight we were in very safe hands with him in the cockpit!
Upon landing, the bartenders were ushered into the Highland Park minibus and taken to their lodgings for the next 2 days, the lovely Albert Hotel.
Ready and waiting for them on their arrival were welcome packs that Emma from YOURgb was able to set up and organise, as she was our event secret weapon, and was able to be in Orkney a couple days before while staying with family. The bartenders were delighted with their welcome packs which contained, Highland Park hunter hipflasks, fully branded premium Highland Park and Bear Grylls Survival Academy waterproof jacket and trousers, a large bottle of water and of course, Irn Bru for any sore heads during the trip!
Once unpacked, and refreshed, it was off to dinner at the aptly themed Highland Park bar at the Kirkwall Hotel. The bartenders were welcomed by a Highland Park old-fashioned cocktail, and settled in for an evening of food, whisky, and quality chat. During the dram debating of who selected the best nip, the Bear Grylls Survival Academy instructors joined us to say hello and give the bartenders a quick introduction to them and what they would expect from tomorrow’s survival experience.
With little known about the Bear Grylls Survival Experience, eyes and ears were on them. The excited bartenders were prepared and ready, but also desperately trying to hydrate themselves as they knew some of tomorrow would not be so fun, whilst enduring a splitting headache.
And with this, day 1 was over, and everyone retreated for a much-needed rest!
Wednesday 28th of September
A day where the weather was truly on our side.
After a few rounds of chapping doors by Vikki, Finlay and Emma, all 12 bartenders were up and ready for a short wander to the Highland Park Store for their Bear Grylls Survival Academy briefing.
After a spot of shopping, they went upstairs where Nick, Sean and Jake from the Bear Grylls Survival Academy were set up and ready to give a full briefing to the A Tribe in the Wild winners of 2021.
Warmed up with a tea and coffee and prepared for the day, the bartenders went outside where they had orange war paint applied to their faces, and then sent back on the Highland Park bus to be taken to their first survival location!
Hearing from the bartenders themselves, the survival experience was an incredible day packed with brilliant activities and challenges, which was blessed by incredibly favourable weather.
They started with a navigation session, and then went onto building their own spears and learning to spear and prepare fish, building a safe fire and then cooking and eating in the wild!
It was then onto all things knots, before setting off to safely scale down the side of a ravine using rope climbing gear. All the while, being watched by the friendly and curious family of seals, bobbing about in the sea next to them!
When they were all safely at the bottom, they were taught about creating a shelter, before then heading back up the other side using the rope climbing kit, under the watchful eyes of the Bear Grylls Survival Academy team.
Once up, it was time for the highly anticipated zipline, and from there they learnt about how to make a stretcher out of rope and as a team, carry a person to safety.
At the finishing line of this big day of activities, they were awarded with a hot meal and toddies around the campfire. To top it all off, their hunter hipflasks were waiting for them fully filled and Teddy Joseph, the on site Highland Park whisky specialist, treated the bartenders for the first whisky tasting on Orkney of the new Highland Park 15 year old.
Needless to say, as the sun set over the sea, bellies full, and whisky in hand, The Tribe of the Wild 2021 were a happy bunch.
As the night crept in, the bartenders hopped back onto the bus for a quick change, before settling in for an evening of cocktail making! It was the moment they have been waiting for – to make their winning cocktail for the other bartenders to taste.
The relaxed showing of their work was met with cheers and plenty of laughs throughout.
Once the bar had closed it was then time for bed (for some of them)…..
Thursday 29th of September
The last day was spent in the heart of Highland Park, as the bartenders were welcomed onto a VIP tour of all areas of the famous distillery, to learn about the rich history of the brand and enjoy a special tasting with a premium selection of different Highland Park whiskies.
After the tour was over, the bartenders were taken to the Sound Archive in Kirkwall, where they enjoyed their lunch and had the opportunity to watch all their cocktail videos that they had submitted to earn themselves a spot in the Tribe
Before heading off, Teddy awarded them all with a special goodie bag, which contained Highland Park branded whisky glasses, a framed certificate from the distillery and a book on the history of Highland Park.
And with that, we then packed up and went to the airport.
Safe to say the bartenders loved every part of the experience. They learnt new skills, made friends for life and were embraced by Highland Park after a difficult year.
Here at YOURgb, we are toasting to the next one – see you in 2022!