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Dornoch Castle pop-up whisky bar to appear at Japan's Hankyu Department Store

Dornoch Castle's pop-up whisky bar will showcase exclusive Malts, and communicate traditional whisky culture and heritage, to Japanese consumers

Published: September 8, 2015
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The owners of a Highlands Hotel are to fly the flag for the UK – and for Scotch Whisky – at the prestigious British Fair to be held in October in Japan.

Together with their son Philip, Colin and Ros Thompson, who have run Dornoch Castle Hotel since 2000, will fly to Osaka to set up an exclusive pop-up whisky bar in the flagship Hankyu Department store, an expansive, luxury lifestyle shop known as the 'Harrods of Japan'.

For the past few years Dornoch Castle - which is within easy reach of a number of leading whisky distilleries in the North Highlands, such as Balblair, Glenmorangie and Dalmore - has built up an impressive reputation as a Whisky Hotel. Currently the Whiskybase.com Number One International Whisky Hotel and holder of the Scottish Licence Trade News Whisky Bar of the year title, the Hotel is also vying to become the first in the UK to have its own micro distillery. Plans have been lodged to introduce the facility, which will distil whisky, gin and vodka, to the business in 2016.

Philip and Simon have conducted exclusive Whisky events and tastings for hundreds of enthusiasts, connoisseurs and novices over the years. These have included events in Beijing, Shanghai, Holland and Belgium.

Colin Thompson takes up the story: “We are all hugely excited about this forthcoming Trade Show. As Simon is about to become a father very soon he cannot attend the show with Philip, so my wife Ros and I are going to go along to help Philip out and make the representation of Dornoch Castle in Japan a real family affair!”

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“Philip and Simon have really put Dornoch Castle on the map for Whisky, “ added Colin. “We’ve always been lucky with our location and having so many quality distilleries nearby. We were happy to give guests who were very interested in whisky as much information as we could on our national drink, including running themed whisky breaks and stocking up our whisky bar. Over the years we have fostered even closer links with many of the distilleries as well as other whisky collectors.”

“The boys’ online business and expertise at hosting tasting events has really taken this to another level for us, cementing our position as a “whisky hotel” with accolades to match. I really commend them for the success they have made of this business. Now we want to go even further and open our own distillery next year,” said Colin.

Colin explained that in April of this year Philip was interviewed by Hankyu and personally selected to run the pop-up whisky bar at this year’s Hankyu British Fair. Having taken place every since 1970, the Mission showcases around twenty British businesses to Japanese consumers, with demonstrations, sampling, craft events and talk shows.

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Philip will travel to Japan first on 30th September, running the first pop up whisky bar in the Fukuoka Hankyu Department store for four days, with his parents joining him on the 7th Oct to run the pop up shop in the flagship Osaka store. Hankyu are one of the world’s largest high quality department store chains with fifteen stores in Japan plus several others in the Far East. They also operate a large chain of supermarkets, Hotels and Lifestyle stores.

“This trade show is a once in a lifetime opportunity, “ said Philip, “to promote the Hotel, to promote the Highlands, as well as showcase Scotch Whisky, which is such a prized product in the Far East.”

Philip explained that another major aim of the show was to let local people experience the food and drink of the British. Afternoon tea, for example, has been another big draw in recent years.

“We very much look forward to engaging with new customers and discussing the subtleties of Scotland’s finest export to enthusiast and novices alike. As a result of the trip, we expect to see growth in the number of Japanese tourists visiting Dornoch Castle Hotel and the surrounding area,” he added.

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Finished Philip: “We have been told to expect busy crowds with around 100,000 visitors expected to attend. It looks like I really will need my parent’s assistance in making the pop up whisky bar run like clockwork, so I really appreciate them coming out to help me,” he said.

Already enjoying close links between the two businesses, Dornoch Castle is being supported in its trip to the Hankyu British Fair by Balblair Distillery, part of the Inver House distillers group. The family are also currently in discussion with Highland & Islands Enterprise which is also looking to part fund the venture, and is delighted to give its support to a Sutherland based business.

Keith Muir, Head of Business Growth for Highlands & Islands Enterprise said: “The Thompson family at Dornoch Castle have made their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for whisky a vibrant part of their business, which continues to explore new avenues with its plans for the micro distillery.

"They are the perfect business to represent whisky and the Highlands of Scotland at the prestigious Hankyu Trade Mission. We are delighted to support them in this exciting adventure and wish them all the very best at the Show.”

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