The Real Downton Abbey Is Hosting Virtual Events—With Cocktails

Highclere Castle Gin is rolling out a web series and an online party with the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon

Lord and Lady Carnarvon outside of Highclere Castle, the house also known as 'Downton Abbey.' Highclere Castle Gin
Headshot of Diana Pearl

Key insights:

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has meant that many more doors have closed than opened. But that isn’t the case at Highclere Castle, also known as the aristocratic home that served as the set for the hit PBS series Downton Abbey.

Although Highclere, home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, is closed to in-person visitors, Lord and Lady Carnarvon are virtually opening their doors for the first time to market their four-year-old gin brand, Highclere Castle Gin.

 A seven-part web series that premiered on April 9—which happened to be National Gin and Tonic Day in the U.S.—takes people inside the story of the brand’s creation, and give them a deeper look at at the castle’s own history, with new episodes weekly.

Lord and Lady Carnarvon will also host “Cocktails at the Castle,” a live virtual event where consumers can tune in and interact with the Earl and Countess—broadcasting from the Castle’s famed library. They’ll accept questions during the event on Highclere Castle Gin’s Facebook page on April 17. 

It’s a very modern marketing move for a company that is young in terms of lifespan, but is decidedly old school. The majority of Highclere Castle Gin’s marketing comes in the form of in-person events, particularly at Highclere itself, where cocktails are available for visitors to purchase. Thanks to its Downton Abbey fame, Highclere would be welcoming over 1,200 visitors a day around this time of year.

For now, Cocktails at the Castle will be a one-time event, but Lady Carnarvon told Adweek there’s thoughts of doing more in the future, and with practice, they’ll “hopefully get ever better and more reactive” as they go on. In the meantime, the series of vignettes, which discuss the history of both of the castle and the gin, will go live each week.

Highclere Castle itself is hundreds of years old, with the first iteration of it built 1,200 years ago. The building that stands today was completed in 1679, but the introduction of the Castle’s eponymous gin brand is a relatively recent addition. The idea first came from American entrepreneur Adam von Gootkin, now Highclere Castle Gin’s CEO. After watching an episode of Downton Abbey on PBS, he became a fan and tuned into a documentary about the real-life castle.

He said he was “spellbound” from then on, “taken by the magic of the place” and reached out to the team at Highclere by sending an email to the general inquiry address listed on its website. Within two weeks, he and his wife were on a plane to England to meet Lord and Lady Carnarvon and discuss a potential business venture.

Highclere Castle Gin is the product of those discussions. The gin is made from botanicals found on the estate—all 5,000 acres of it—and is distributed in the U.K., the U.S., France and Switzerland. The idea goes beyond the gin itself—it’s to bottle the history and glamour of Highclere. At the turn of the century, it was a hotspot for Legendary author Evelyn Waugh even popularized the phrase “Very Highclere” to describe something that was done very well.

“The American consumer and really the rest of the world has an insatiable appetite for the magic that is England, and England’s history, traditions and heritage,” said von Gootkin. And these new digital events are a way to bring that magic to the masses.

“You think about the stories, the people that visited the castle and had gin and tonics here for the last hundred years, as they still do today,” von Gootkin said. “That was really something worth bringing to light and telling that story and in a way that everybody could kind of participate in.”

For Cocktails at the Castle, Lady Carnarvon is digging into cocktail recipes from the 1920s and 1930s they have in their archives, just one of the ways they’ll be bringing her family’s legacy to the a greater audience. The virtual event invites people inside a home they may not be able to visit otherwise, and sharing its stories beyond the ones they’ve seen in an episode of Downton Abbey.

“Highclere’s heritage is just spectacular,” she said. “At this moment in particular, I think it acts as an anchor and a place of reassurance in a very uncertain and unsteady world.”

Highclere Castle Gin

It’s also about introducing their “young and fast-growing brand” to a greater audience, particularly as they’ve been expanding to new markets, like the U.S., in recent months, and providing a way to foster human connection in a time when it is sorely needed.

“It’s really important at the moment to savor a way of reaching out and touching people when when we have to stand apart from everyone,” Lady Carnarvon said. “I hope it’ll bring joy and a moment of pleasure as we are all confined in such an unusual situation.”

Cocktails at the Castle will be broadcast on on Highclere Castle Gin’s Facebook page on April 17, at 4 p.m. ET and 9 p.m. GMT.

@dianapearl_ Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.