North Hop founder on Scotland's rising craft beer credentials
Craft beer lover and North Hop festival director Michelle Russell talks Scottish spirits, the USA's beer industry and what to expect for the Aviemore festival
Since starting in 2014, North Hop has expanded its festival locations, leaving its home in Inverness to reach more of Scotland's major cities. The craft beer and spirit festival has travelled to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, taking full advantage of the surrounding breweries and distilleries, which are some of the best in the world.
After noticing the number of large scale food and drink festivals happening across the rest of the UK, founder and director Michelle Russell decided to fill the gap in Scotland with a series of pop up events and festivals. As well as a wide range of beer, ciders and spirits, North Hop offers local street food, a full programme of live music and a chance to meet the brewers and distillers – all in a comfortable, indoor setting.
Keen to firm the Highlands spot on the craft beer map, the North Hop team are introducing a new festival location for 2017. At the end of February, the Macdonald Resort in Aviemore will hold North Hop's first ever festival outside of Scotland's major cities. The area is a popular destination for winter sports, which makes it fitting location for the festival's après ski theme.
We've caught up with Michelle Russell to find out exactly what sparked her interest to set up a Scottish craft beer festival and to find out just what we can expect for North Hop Aviemore...
When did you come up with the idea to start North Hop?
North Hop officially came into the world in February 2014 but the idea started to take root in my mind in late 2013 having noticed the boom of craft breweries and distilleries taking place across Scotland. The original plan was just to hold one annual festival in Inverness, but it soon grew and developed due to demand to bring the festivals right across Scotland.
You went on a five week summer trip around the US to check out festivals and breweries. What would you say they are doing differently over there?
Yes, our summer trip to the USA, Nova Scotia and Canada was an eye opener. It was great to meet so many passionate and forward-thinking folk. The craft beer industry in the USA is booming and the quality of the products and the range of styles on offer from each brewery is impressive. Brewpubs and festivals are commonplace in the States and they are all about pairing up food with drinks, which they do so well. Festival-wise we attended a big one in Portland, Maine, which saw breweries from across the area and beyond show off their products along with a great selection of street food vendors
Would you say Scotland still has some catching up to do in terms of celebrating craft beer?
I can honestly say Scotland is doing a pretty good job of catching up, and I think we have some pretty impressive breweries here; just not the same concentrated numbers in one area. On the gin and spirit side of things however I would say Scotland is well ahead of the game and is leading the way. Over here, we can walk into most bars and find a selection of good quality Scottish gins on offer, along with the relevant garnishes and mixers, but in the USA we really struggled to find this unless we went on the hunt for one.
So far you have organised festivals in Inverness, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Aviemore. Do you have plans to go UK-wide or are you completely Scotland-focused?
With such an amazing range of food and drink businesses here in Scotland, it would be a shame for us not to take the North Hop buzz elsewhere! I can't say too much at the moment but we will be looking at taking North Hop further south in 2018.
What inspired you to hold North Hop in Aviemore?
Up until making the decision to host North Hop in Aviemore we had focused on the main cities in Scotland. But we felt Aviemore had great potential. It's so accessible from the rest of Scotland and there's a year-round buzz from locals and visitors alike. The renowned winter sports scene is a perennial attraction too. After meeting with the folks at Macdonald Aviemore Resort, and viewing the Osprey Arena, we knew it was a go-er. As with all our festivals we did put the feelers out via social media channels before confirming anything to see what reaction was like. The response was immediate and very positive.
What can those heading to North Hop Aviemore expect?
We are absolutely delighted with the selection of food and drink vendors and local music acts we have got lined up for North Hop Aviemore. The après ski theme will also help to add to the winter buzz Aviemore is already famous for. We've also got a Beer Hall and Cocktail Lounge with a whole range of products on offer including our special Festival Brew, Festival Gin and Festival Cider. Those visiting for the weekend can get involved with the official launch event on the Friday night at the resort's Spey Burger, and a whole host of other activities geared around the festival are due to be promoted shortly.
Which Scottish craft beer would you say you drink the most of?
This is a tricky one as I am always on the look out for new products to try so wouldn't say I particularly drink one specific one on a regular basis. Style-wise, I am particularly fond of sour beers at the moment and also good porters; which is something a lot of Scottish breweries seem to be knocking out of the ballpark right now!
Do you have plans for any other food and drink related events?
As well as the festivals we also run a selection of taster and pop-up events throughout the year via North Hop to try and keep folk up to date on all the latest releases and trends. Our next one coming up is a Mad Hatter's Gin Tea Party in Inverness in March which should be fun!
North Hop Aviemore takes place on Sat 25 Feb at the Macdonald Aviemore Hotel.