Offering Tasting Room Visitors an Experience

By Dr. Kathy Kelley

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog on creating a winery tasting room experience based on the book “The Experience Economy: Work is Theater & Every Business a Stage,” written by Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore.  In that blog, I provided examples from several businesses that incorporated components of the four “E’s” of an experience: education, esthetic/aesthetic, escapism, and entertainment (

Today, I want to provide you with even more examples based on a recent trip to Oslo, Norway, where I visited Himkok, a micro distillery that has received quite a bit of praise from both bloggers and customers.  From the exterior/entrances to the bartenders’ apparel, the concept incorporates all of the four E’s of an experience.

It is all necessary because if a customer does not respond as expected, one component (e.g. employee buy-in and participation, promotions, social media messages) does not support the main concept, or if the level of product quality or customer service is disappointing then the whole experience will likely fail.


HIMKOK: A Complete Tasting Room Experience

Consider the following: you are visiting a city for the first time and you read about Himkok and that they offer several of their own ciders and distilled spirits, and you have seen a few reviews online that convince you to stop in for a drink.  You have the address (and you can locate it on a map app using your smartphone’s GPS) but there are no obvious markings nor is there a sign with the name of the establishment you are trying to find.

After a couple of passes in front of the building, you decided to ask the barista at the coffee chop across the street for help – and she confirms that you are in the right place and that you’ll find the tasting room right behind the wood door at 27 Storgata Street.

I’ll have to admit that this was a little bit puzzling.  Even their website is void of any information other than the address and a contact form (   Most businesses want their customers to find them easily and without any degree of frustration.  So, why would this barely a year-old business be so elusive?  It all has to do with the “theme” of the business: a modern day speakeasy.

Why a theme?  Because a theme can help create a “distinct shopping experience” ( and several wineries, cideries, and distilleries in our region work off a theme to differential themselves from their competition.  Keep in mind that for a theme to be believable and engage consumers, all components need to reinforce it – even those that you feel the customer won’t even notice.  “Every detail of your store should maximize appeal for customers…retail fixtures actually play a large role” (

Whether you enter through the door at 27 Storgata or you enter through the “other” entrance, you are introduced to the theme through the décor, fixtures, lighting, etc.  While both entrances are a “cover” for what is inside – one entrance mimics a small grocery store with jars of food while the other is a full-service barber shop, PelsPels (, with a crew of barbers selected by Lord Jack Knife, “one of the best barbers in the world.”

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We were not the only first-time visitors to be confused by the lack of signage – rather one of the bartenders told us that some customers just walk in because they either mistake it for another type of business or they are just intrigued by the amount of traffic entering and exiting the establishment.

Thus, our experience had just begun.

Whatta ya have to drink?

Aside from gin, rum, vodka, and other distilled spirits, Himkok offers customers drinks made with aquavit.  What is aquavit?  The spirit, which dates back to the 1500s, is Scandinavian and is distilled from grain with caraway seed being “the primary flavor, through fennel, dill, and anise are also common” (  According to one aficionado, it “is much more rounded and approachable to sip straight than vodka” (  There are differences between aquavit that you’ll find in Norway (which is aged in sherry oak cases) compared to what you might drink in Denmark or Sweden.

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Spirits, cider, and other offerings are priced at a premium. The cider I purchased for the evening cost me about $11.00 (cocktails average $14.60 each), but I was willing to pay it considering my surroundings and how the experience made me “feel.”  Charging a price premium for these handcrafted concoctions is not a bad thing – rather lower priced drinks and bottles would work against what is designed to be the best-kept secret in the city.

There is no need for Himkok to compete on price – consumers are willing to pay for quality alcoholic beverages (  In 2015, consumers traded up in terms of prices they were willing to pay for bottles of spirits.  Sales of “High End” spirits (priced between $20 and $30 a bottle) grew 7.1% in volume and “Super Premium” spirits (priced $30 or more) grew 6.5% in volume in 2015.

As you may recall, consumers are also trading up pertaining to the wine they purchase.  Retail prices were up 3.3% in January 2016 and “instead of buying a bottle of wine for $10 [consumers are] buying a bottle of wine for $12; instead of buying it for $15, [they are] buying it for $20” (

Himkok cocktails are on point with 2016 cocktail trends, namely a spin on the classic cocktails (  With “variations on the classic Moscow mule [being] huge right now,” Himkok offers the Oslo mule, for example, and “disco era cocktails,” such as the Old Fashioned and martinis, which are expected to remain popular through 2016 (

They also offer a few signature cocktails (having a signature cocktail on the menu “gives the guest an impression of a ‘complete’ experience” such as the “Beta Cocktail” (made with vodka, carrot, ginger, and ginseng) and “Monkey Butter” (made with bourbon, banana, peanut better, and citrus).  I tried them both and they were surprisingly good.

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Wine cocktails are another trend that deserves attention.  Such cocktails appeal to younger drinkers, according to a Gallo Consumer Wine Trends Survey:

  • 66% of younger drinkers responded that they “mix wine with fruit or fruit juice,”
  • “mix wine with other cocktail mixers like club soda” (

Sangria and mimosa, two more well know wine cocktails, have been on bar and restaurant beverage menus for a number of years, but with a slight change in the fruit, fruit juice, or liquor used – these classic can become something of a signature drink.

Though it may not be feasible for many who read this blog to offer wine cocktails in their establishment, consider:

  • posting wine cocktail recipes on your website and through social media,
  • distributing copies to customers who purchase bottles of corresponding wine, that are the base of the cocktail,
  • hold contests for tasting room customers and offer a prize for the most creative cocktail, most tasty cocktail that uses trendy ingredients (you will find seaweed as an ingredient for Himkok’s “In the Weeds” cocktail,, etc.

But there is more…

While not without a financial investment or the possibility of a wine on tap system having issues that affect the quality of the pour, having wines on tap is a trend that has yet to “peak” as a result of demand.  In fact, it is expected that in 2016 wine on tap will account for “around 1% of total U.S. on-premise wine consumption…[and] will have risen to 5%” by 2020 (

“Wine on tap offers a bit of fun and theatre to the traditional serve” ( and demand has “steadily increased around 7%” because of its appeal among Millennial consumers “over the last four to five years” (  Twenty-eight percent of these consumers seek an “on premise… ‘unique drink experience,’” followed by 19% of members of Generation X and 13% of Baby Boomers (

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Rotating wines available on tap and offering only certain wines are important to keeping the offering “fresh.”  Limiting availability and offering seasonal wines on tap changes the tasting room offering enough to encourage consumers to visit and try the wine only available during the next x weeks or the late fall months.  When you change a portion of the tasting room layout or product offering, you give customer a reason to visit and have a “new” experience.

To learn more about Himkok, access an article written by Hanne Stensvold by clicking this link:

Next month’s blog

I’m sure that by now you have heard or read about La Cité du Vin (City of Wine), located in Bordeaux, and called “a wine theme park for adults” (  I will be visiting the museum in a couple of week and will share my experience when I return.


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