2016 Control State Best Practices Winner: Best On-Premise Innovation
Small distilleries across the country are experiencing a “boom” of sorts. In fact, Maine’s small distilleries are experiencing such significant growth in recent years that the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations (BABLO) decided to embrace a unique way of showcasing Maine’s small distilleries. It was this creativity that earned BABLO the Best On-Premise Innovation award for 2016.
Here’s how it worked: In April and May of 2015, eight of Maine’s small distillers partnered with BABLO and DownEast Magazine to promote Maine-made products in a bartending competition called the “Splashed Challenge.”
Reminiscent of certain reality-style cooking shows, whereby contestants compete to create the best concoctions using provided ingredients, 24 Maine bartenders were each provided with a “Cratefull of Maine” — a container featuring a product from each Maine distillery. Each container had the same products, with one mystery product in each crate that was different. Using the ingredients from the Cratefull of Maine and standard bar ingredients, bartenders were challenged to create a cocktail to be judged by representatives from the distillery. In each round of challenges, specific ingredients were required (i.e. rum, gin, vodka), with the individual choosing other ingredients to add. The challenges took place in April, with a limited number of VIP attendees and judges.
The final event, called the “Splashed Bash,” was open to the public and took place at the Portland House of Music & Events, where the creative cocktails from the “Splashed Challenge” were featured, along with live music.
According to Sheila Gibbons, director of spirits at Maine Spirits, the reason for the promotion was to increase awareness and brand recognition of the 13 distilleries operating in the state of Maine, which are producing an array of exceptional, unique and creative products.
“The goal was to engage and educate both consumers and service industry professionals — including bar managers, owners, bartenders and waitstaff — about the many exceptional local spirits being created by Maine distilleries,” Gibbons says. “It was to further showcase the increasingly popular craft cocktail culture, through the use of spirits created and distilled in Maine, alongside the use of an array of other Maine-made products used in cocktail recipes including bitters, syrups, sodas and shrubs.”
While the actual competition was one day, The Splashed promotion lasted for approximately eight weeks, with extensive and sustained promotion via specially created video series, social media, print and live events. Down East Magazine and Dispatch Magazine and their digital assets were the primary media vehicles.
“The distilleries and their products were the primary focus of the entire promotion,” Gibbons says. “Each distillery was featured in all print media, each had their own video featuring a cocktail created by two prominent bartenders—both named John Myers—and each had dedicated social media posts and interviews. Finally, each distillery had a team of three bartenders that competed in the Splashed Competition.”
As Gibbons explains, the judges were the distillers themselves along with members of their staff. It was decided early on that to maintain a fun, friendly environment, the competition would be focused on the creative use of the spirits and local ingredients – not a “winners and losers” template. While there was no cost for attendees of the competition itself, the cost for the public to attend the Splashed Celebration Party was $7.
“The distilleries were extremely satisfied and grateful for the event, which succeeded in resonating with both the public and consumers and industry professionals,” Gibbons says. “Knowledge of the distilleries themselves, as well as their products, increased exponentially among the primary communication targets. Each participating distillery sent effusive thanks to Maine Spirits and our media partners at Down East & Dispatch magazines. They have continued to build on the buzz generated by the promotion.”