Health campaigners have hit out over plans to give away tens of thousands of free drams to revellers at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations for the first time.
Every ticket-holder for the annual party on Princes Street will be able to get a sample of Johnnie Walker under a new sponsorship deal with whisky giant Diageo.
The 60,000-capacity event has also been renamed the “Street Party hosted by Johnnie Walker” under a deal with event producers Underbelly.
The firm - which says it will be encouraging “responsible drinking” and urging revellers not to drink and drive - will be the event’s first title sponsor for more than a decade, since RBS was.
Johnnie Walker will also be running a pop-up bar for the festive season on The Mound from mid-November under its partnership with Underbelly, the value of which has not been disclosed.
Dedicated Johnnie Walker stalls will be set up along Princes Street for the distribution of the drams on Hogmanay, which revellers will be able to get on presentation of their event wristband.
Ticketholders who look under 25 will be asked to provide proof of ID before being handed the samples, which will be in 25 ml bottles.
However campaign group Alcohol Focus Scotland said said the sponsorship deal would “reinforce the idea that drinking is normal, everyday and essential to celebrating.”
Chief executive Alison Douglas said: “The alcohol industry spend hundreds of millions of pounds every year promoting their products, including through event sponsorship. It’s a pity to see that Edinburgh’s world famous Street Party will now be ‘hosted’ by Johnnie Walker. While the whisky itself will only be available to those over 18, the event is open to over 12s, who will be exposed to extensive brand marketing.
Dr Eric Carlin, director of Scottish Health Action On Alcohol Problems, said: “It’s interesting but not surprising that Diageo, the manufacturers of Johnnie Walker, have seized on the opportunity to promote their products at Hogmanay in Edinburgh.
“It is disingenuous for them to package this up as some kind of health-supporting measure. They are simply marketing their products, including giving people who may already have had too much to drink free samples.”
A spokeswoman for Johnnie Walker, which last year unveiled a major Edinburgh Trams sponsorship deal, said: “We do a lot of sampling at other events like Formula One races and it is handled in a responsible way. “We will have sampling stations set up along Princes Street we will be trying to ensure that everyone get access to a free dram. We will be using sensible drinking messaging throughout the event. It is obviously a celebration, but we want people to celebrate in moderation.” “People will be asked for ID at the sampling stations in the same way they would at one of the bars.” Hogmanay revellers are already able to take up to plastic bottles each containing up to 500 ml of alcohol into the street party arena, which also has its own bars.
Underbelly director Charlie Wood said the whisky giveaway was "entirely responsible."
He said: "It will give people a proper Scottish welcome. It's a great thing for Johnnie Walker to do and will extend the hand of friendship.
"It will be fun, it will be responsible and will be totally in keeping with Hogmanay."
Mr Wood said although the lower age limit for entry to the event was 12 special measures would be in place to ensure no-one under the age of 18 was served with free whisky.
He added: "People have been able to bring bottles of alcohol of up to 500 ml each throughout the history of the event. We operate a 'Challenge 25' policy which means that if someone is challenged at the gate doesn't have ID then they have to throw their alcohol away.
"People will have to show their wristband at one of the special units to get their Johnnie Walker sample. There is no way of getting more than one. Like any bar, if the staff think they are under 25 they will be asked to show ID. If they don't have any ID they won't get one.
Donald Wilson, the council's culture convener, said the local authority and the policy had already discussed the giveaway with the event organisers.
He added: "If you can't associate a dram with Hogmanay I don't know what you can associate a dram with. It's a relative no-brainer."
A spokeswoman for Johnnie Walker, which last year unveiled a major Edinburgh Trams sponsorship deal, said: "We do a lot of sampling at other events like Formula One races and it is already handled in a responsible way.
"We will have sampling stations set up along Princes Street we will be trying to ensure that everyone get access to a free dram. We will be using sensible drinking messaging throughout the event. It is obviously a celebration, but we want people to celebrate in moderation."
"People will be asked for ID at the sampling stations in the same way they would at one of the bars."
David Cutter, chairman of Diageo in Scotland, said: “Johnnie Walker and Hogmanay go hand in hand – whisky has always been synonymous with New Year, so what better way to party at the world’s favourite New Year celebrations, by raising a dram of the world’s favourite Scotch, surrounded by family and friends to toast the year ahead.
“We're thrilled to be working with Underbelly to deliver the best New Year party the city has ever seen and we’re also delighted to be a central part of Edinburgh Christmas, putting Scotland’s national drink at the heart of the festive season.”