Stacy Hurley, Founder Northern Spirit, Kendal Food Festival

Creative expert, and founder and organiser of new drinks Festival Northern Spirit, part of the Kendal Festival of Food

 Stacy Hurley
Stacy Hurley

Hi Stacy, for people that may not know you yet, tell us a little more about yourself?

I’m a mother of two little crazy people, I’ve lived in Kendal all my life, love the Lakes and all this area has to offer. I love travel and spend most summer weekends (and a few chilly winter ones) with the family touring around in our campervan. Any spare time is usually spent walking, biking and finding lovely places to stop to eat and drink.

How did you come to work within the food/spirits industry?

I’m an event organiser by trade and have run my own events business for the last 9 years. As a family we really enjoy our food and drink (probably a little too much) and I’m a real lover of promoting local produce and artisans.

I’m hugely proud of what our region has to offer from a food and drink point of view and so when the opportunity came up to take on Kendal Festival of Food, I was thrilled to come together with a colleague of mine, Cath Dutton and develop the event into what it is today.

As for the spirits side of things? Gin is my tipple really but we listen to visitor feedback and Northern Spirit was born from requests from our loyal attendees.

What is a typical day like for you?

I’m not sure the word ‘typical’ really exists does it when it comes to being a working mum? After  the complete mania that is the school run,

I tend to sit with a coffee and plan the day, I’m lucky that although I work from home I’m always out and about meeting lots of lovely people, most of which involve a very picturesque drive into the Lakes and generally a coffee/lunch stop somewhere on route (purely for research purposes obviously).

Then it’s school pick up and the usual teatime, bathtime, bedtime routine before slumping with a glass of something and picking up the laptop again.

What do you enjoy the most about your role?

The diversity – no two days are the same. And the people – I love learning more about all the wonderful businesses we have on our doorstep and when we’re able to all work together and promote each other, it’s just the icing on the cake.

Tell us about the Kendal Food Festival?

It’s now in it’s 7th year and has become a really well respected event on the UK annual food and drink calendar. It has three main festival theatres, the Best of Cumbria Demonstration Stage, the Talks and Tastings Theatre and the Edible Garden Theatre.

A weekend wristband allows visitors a choice of 30 events this year so there is plenty for all kinds of tastes. We’re extremely proud of our Family Festival Village too which is essentially a festival of own and is packed full of fun for our little foodies.

There are heaps of drop-in activities as well as cookery classes and timed events. And with the Bring a Bake Competition, the street theatre and live music, Northern Spirit and the beer festival, Kendal Festival of Food really has it all. It takes over the whole of Kendal town centre and at its heart is England’s North Country Food and Drink market, a very lively place to explore the top artisan producers that this region is so lucky to have.

Tell us about Northern Spirit?

It’s centred around a regionally stocked bar with live music and amazing local food platters which is a great place to hang out for the evening and relax.

However, for those coming to learn there are 9 spirit tasting masterclasses going on across the evening that attendees can book on to at the start of the night.

Although it may be an obvious next step to some, why the addition of a drinks festival?

As I said, it’s really come from the visitors. Each year we ask for feedback and each year we try to build the ideas we receive into the plan.

It’s also great to be able to extend the festival on into the evening and give visitors a good reason to stay over and enjoy Kendal for longer than just a day.

What makes the Northern Spirit Festival an unmissable event? 

I think it’s the vast amount of knowledge that we have at the event in the shape of our industry experts. It’s great that we have unbiased, experienced people doing the tastings rather than having tastings of individual brands from their own distillers.

It’s also an incredible opportunity to celebrate the North and the superb drinks that we’re producing, many of which are now becoming globally recognised brands.

Northern Sprit is celebrating Whisky, Gin and Vodka in particular, why those spirits? 

We had to start somewhere is the honest answer. Again feedback showed us those 3 are of most interest to our visitors at this time There are plenty of really great Gin and Vodka producers in the region that are worthy of recognition and we only have to go over the boarder into Scotland before we have a whole raft of exquisite whisky distillers to celebrate.

There are several masterclasses taking place throughout the evening, tell us about them?

There are 9 in total, held in 3 different theatres within Northern Spirit. Each is led by industry experts like yourselves for the exciting whisky sessions and for vodka and gin we have Ewan Lacey, TV presenter and drinks journalist and Dave Marsland, journalist, taster and reviewer.

We also have a cocktail masterclasses with Kendal’s newest bar ‘Slate’ and Lakes Distillery’s Katie Read. Each session features something different from spirit pairing (with plenty of surprises) to mixers and flavoured spirits, cocktails and straight comparison tastings. They all promise to be fun, knowledgeable, snob free and full of exceptional tastings.

There is loads more information on the website.

What is the one “must see” event of the festival?

Ooooh that’s a tough one! They’re all very different so it’s difficult to say but for me it would have to be the pairing masterclasses.

Your whisky and chocolate really captured my tastebuds’ attention as does Ewan’s vodka and gin food pairing ones.  And looking at his shopping list that is going be to decidedly different! (I’m giving nothing away).

Are there still tickets available?

Tickets are limited but yes there are still some left. They’re £20 and include a tasty sharing platter, live music and a choice of masterclasses. All samples included too.

What has been the most challenging aspect of bringing this drinks festival to life?

I think it was creating the concept and then communicating that to all involved. The idea in the format we have developed is fairly unique so getting it right took a bit of development time. What has been easy, however, was getting people excited about it! So that’s when we know we got it right I guess!

Is this going to become a regular event, just as the hugely successful Kendal Food Festival?

We really hope so as we always planned for this to be a pilot event but we’ll just see how well it is received on the night.

We already have lots of ideas to develop it further and new people wanting to get involved in the ‘next one’ so you’ll just have to watch this space!

What advice would you give to somebody organising a drinks festival? 

Keep it simple and keep testing the formula on your target audience until you get it just right.  Oh and don’t try to sample all drinks in advance. VERY bad idea!

What are you looking forward to the most about the event?

I think just seeing how well it’s received will be my highlight as it’s been something I’ve been working on for a long time so to see it happening and people enjoying it will be the icing on the cake!

How can people get involved and keep up to date with what’s happening at the festival?

3 easy ways:

Join our mailing list online here.

Twitter – @kendalfoodfest

Facebook – Facebook.com/kendalfoodfest

How important is this event to the local area?

It’s hugely important, this year in particular as we are constantly needing to remind people that Cumbria is back up and running following the devastating floods.

Although many areas of the county were largely unaffected, sadly the impact of the media has everyone hit hard.

Last year’s Kendal Festival of Food brought in 23,000 visitors across the weekend and contributed over £1.5 million to the economy. It is hoped that the event will benefit the area even more this year.

How many people do you expect to visit the festival over the weekend?

Well in 2014 we saw 18,000 visitors, last year that raised significantly to 23,000 so our hope is that it will continue to rise in this way year on year.

What next for Kendal Festival of Food and Northern Spirit?

Oh we have lots of ideas in the pot and we will continue to challenge ourselves to deliver what our visitors want.

We know now we have a winning formula so we will continue to offer a festival that bring together top quality food and drink producers and chefs from across the region and showcases what the North of England has to offer to the rest of the world.

Thanks so much for speaking to us Stacy.  You can keep up to date with the most recent festival news on Twitter  and Facebook, we look forward to seeing as many as possible of you there.

Kirsty Clarke (@kirstyclarke29)

Everybody needs a Whisky Corner in their life.

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