Courvoisier Institute of Grand Cocktails

I’ve been laid low by a viral bug/cough/cold thing that just zapped my energy levels in a kryptonite way, this is the first time in days I’ve felt relatively well. The thing is, when you are ill people like to tell you how they are sick also, when really all you want to hear is a sympathetic word or two, not “Oooh I had that and coughed up a lung”.

Clearly, I did not drink enough brandy when I attended the Courvoisier Institute of Grand Cocktails. My friend drinks tons of the stuff and is never sick, possibly because the germs are too tipsy to attack her body.

I’ve written a lot on experiential marketing in the food industry and therefore attended many an event where a brand attempts to encourage loyalty and sales by staging some sort of interactive production.

Memorable moments include having fake blood tears painted on my face and chased around a church by an actor in 1960s costume for a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, courtesy of Jameson whiskey for its cult film club.

Courvoisier is another drinks brand that uses its large marketing budget to create an event rather than just sampling miserable commuters in train stations. On Friday the 13th it opened the doors of Bloomsbury’s Heritage Rooms for its latest installation.

The concept, as always, is to communicate the history and heritage of the brand, while giving people ideas for how to mix the drink for a modern taste.

As ever, the settings and costumes were fantastic. It is the script and acting quality that was highly hit and miss. I am inclined to think they just get whoever is interning that day to knock up a few lines. We were greeted by what one assumes was meant to be a bored secretary but the girl in the glasses just could not pull it off and it didn’t seem to fit the theme at all.

When we entered the punch room, set up as a sort of greengrocers, the chap who played the produce trader was totally in character and had a nice line in banter. However, there was no explanation of why we were there or the relevance of bushel boxes of fruit to the cocktail. Although I did like the idea of drinking out of jam jars.

Jam jars for drinkies

The spice room was another disappointment – the guy, whom I assume was meant to be some sort of Arabic spice trader, was comical but not in a good way. He kept mumbling something like “listen to the poet” over and over again and failed to mention anything about the spices. Another missed opportunity for informative entertainment.

“This way to the bad acting folks…”

Then there was the bit where two drama students did some very stilted, ham acting. It  actually made me wince, how awful to have spent three years and £30,000 to end up wearing a cravat and describing how brandy is aged in a very unconvincing way.

The room that really pulled it all together was the decadent dinner party. The set was exquisite, a dinning table laid out Miss Haversham style around which beautifully dressed characters danced and flirted. There was no need to explain this room at all, we’ve seen enough BBC dramas to know that at some point there’s an affair, someone gets shot and another undergoes a moral journey. But they all enjoy a few tipples in the meantime.

Miss Haversham style

Moving upstairs to the prohibition speakeasy, complete with a jazz band and mad scientists apparently conducting experiments with alcohol. Actually, these two were by far the most fun and it would have been fantastic for them to have had their own lab-like room to play in. They could have kicked the drama students out of their area and used the bunsen burners to set their cravats on fire.

I do think these experiences are very entertaining and according to Courvoisier they do translate into increased sales, so people are obviously enjoying them. I just wish they would hire in a decent director and script-writer.

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