Last year, a whole new whisky festival started up here in the UK. Called Dramboree, it brought together a small group of whisky lovers together in Aberfeldy, home to the distillery of the same name famous mostly for being the heart whisky in Dewar’s. From the 5-7 July, we attended masterclasses, visited the distillery, drank far too many good drams and generally, had a rather lot of fun. I was lucky enough to grab a ticket to that first instalment and it will long live in my memory as a fantastic festival (read my round-up from last year’s event here).
This year’s festival is due to take place on the first weekend of July on an island (I’m hoping we don’t get all Lord of the Flies) and I was keen to speak to founders Jason B Standing [JBS] and Jonny McMillan [JM], two whisky industry members, about how they came up with the idea and what’s in store for attendees heading to this time around.
Together you have created a successful new-style whisky festival here in the UK. Take me back to the beginning: how did it come about?
JBS: Looking in my cupboard I realised I’ve bought several bottles of whisky which I’d been saving “for the right moment” – that moment being having people around who’d appreciate and “get” that whisky. It seemed to make sense to engineer those circumstances, and find a group of likeminded people who maybe had similar whiskies they wanted to share as well. After that, it was just a matter of finding a pretty spot to do it…
JM: I think we’d both be lying if we said that Maltstock wasn’t at least the original inspiration for Dramboree. I remember years ago Jason discussing doing a Maltstock-like event in the UK and eventually we just got our collective finger out, starting scouting for venues and costing things up and suddenly we had Dramboree 2013! I think Dramboree fits well into the UK whisky scene because it takes whisky enjoyment back to what it’s all really about: sitting back with a good dram in good company in the glorious Scottish countryside.
JBS: Yeah, we have a lot of people in the UK who are very passionate about whisky and have a great deal of interest and expertise, so creating this sort of highly-social, collaborative environment for whisky enjoyment seemed almost like a calling. Basically we came up with our idea of an ideal weekend of whisky fun, and seeing that nobody else in the UK was providing it, we did it ourselves!
Looking back with a year’s hindsight, how do you feel the first Dramboree outing went and what did you learn from it?
JM: Surprisingly well! Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and the feedback was great. We took people’s suggestions into account and this year we’ve got a bit of a less hectic schedule with more time to chill out and take advantage of the dram table.
JBS: I don’t think we could have asked for a better weekend last year – as Jonny said, if anything we tried to cram too much into the programme the first time around. I was quite surprised at just how keen people were to bring bottles to share. We suggested people bring one, and some turned up with three or four!
Your second Dramboree festival is nearly here: what are you most looking forward to?
JM: I think the ferry on the way over is going to be epic – this year’s venue is perfect on its own, but the added bonus of a boat trip across Loch Lomond is super awesome. It’s also exciting to see the whisky everyone else brings along, not to mention opening your own bottles, I’ve got shortlist of 6 bottles to bring – still not sure what’ll make the final cut.
JBS: I’ve had a great time chatting in various email conversations with the people coming along, and I’m very much looking forward to spending a chilled out weekend in magnificent surroundings with a bunch of interested and passionate folks.
How are you mixing things up this year?
JBS: One of the features this year will be “Whisky Question Time” – a chaired panel discussion which will bring together industry, retail, bloggerati, clubs/festivals, educators, marketers, enthusiasts and casual whisky fans alike, and I’m really looking forward to what happens there.
JM: It’s an entirely different venue, different tasting structure and double the size, so it should keep us on our toes – we’ve also enlisted/coerced our good friends Joe Clark, Tim Forbes, Angus McRaild and Billy Abbot to help out with the running so hopefully things will run smoothly. Last year’s venue was great, but honestly I think the venue for 2014 will blow everyone’s mind; it’s perfect.
What are some of your main goals for this year’s festival?
JBS: This is a weekend genuinely geared for enthusiasts – rather than many of the festivals going on around the country where the brands are hoping to bring in a new customer base, we’re putting on a weekend pitched at people who want to know a little more. I think we’ve already achieved the goals before we even start by offering a choice of tasting workshops to suit peoples’ interests, as well as being able to taste what looks like a stellar lineup of drams.
JM: To be honest selling 60 tickets to an event organised and run by a pair of half wits was a huge goal to start with, and I’m super chuffed they sold so easily. Otherwise, I just hope everyone has a good time and enjoys eachother’s company… and eachother’s whisky!
You’ve kept the numbers quite small again for year two – do you envisage that growing as you move forward? If you keep it small, would you look to do more than one a year?
JM: Not sure how Jason feels about this, but I think 60 is a good number – large enough that you’ll never be short of someone new to talk to, but still small enough to feel like a coherent group. Also I’m not sure if there are any venues in Scotland that would be large enough to host a bigger Dramboree. I suppose we need to see how it goes this year with 60 and make a call.
JBS: We’re definitely tied by available venues, and we hope to continue the idea in future of visiting a nearby distillery – larger numbers would make that unwieldy too.
JM: Regarding two in a year – I’m not sure my blood pressure could take it! Standing and I do this in our spare time and don’t make any cash out of it, so I’m not sure doing more would be conducive to good mental health.
What do you enjoy most about doing this?
JM: Doing interviews for blogs [MW: *rolls eyes*]. Seeing everyone kicking back and enjoying whisky the way it should be enjoyed. I really feel strongly that whisky tasting isn’t about trading samples on Twitter or downing hundreds of tiny samples sat alone in your basement – it’s about relaxing and havering [MW: babbling, for non-Scots readers] nonsense with friends.
JBS: Being able to go to an event this awesome. I love that it’s an idea that’s gaining traction in the whisky world, too – we were very excited to see our group photo turn up in The Malt Whisky Yearbook, and I’m so chuffed that this year in partnership with The Whisky Exchange we’re going to have a Dramboree exclusive bottling!
What are some of the biggest challenges?
JM: Doing interviews for blogs [MW: *rolls eyes again*]. I suppose last year we were worried that some people might ‘overindulge’ but thankfully that wasn’t an issue. Finding tastings that people will find interesting is a challenge; also, finding the right venue in the first place was no small problem!
JBS: Putting together a programme that isn’t overstacked is quite a challenge, because we’re so into whisky it’s easy to over-egg it.
If you could get anyone in the whisky world to come as a guest speaker, who would it be and why?
JM: Jill Bumsden or perhaps Giuseppe Linguini [MW: this is a reference to the Whisky Sponge site, in case you haven’t seen it; Google it].
JBS: We’re incredibly lucky to have Stephen Marshall, Mike Lord, Angus MacRaild, Annabel Meikle and Daryl Haldane as speakers this year: you couldn’t really hope for a better lineup than that! Next year it would be marvellous to have Jim McEwan along, or perhaps Jim Beveridge or Rachel Barrie – although it’s not just about big names. Last year Jonny played an absolute blinder by having Frances Cuthbert from Daftmill along, and it was one of the best tastings of the weekend!
Dramboree Island Drams: you’re stranded on Dramboree Island for an extra month – what three whiskies would you want to have with you?
JM: Ever changing, ideally something I’ve never had before – something from Springbank would be nice, as would an old Laphroaig… but if Jason is on the Island too I’m sure he’ll have something decent to drink!
JBS: I think I’d have to take along an Aberfeldy 21 (which is one of my “happy place” whiskies), a Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 2 (just in case I didn’t get rescued, that’d be a great note to go out on), and probably an Old Malt Cask 1982 Port Ellen 21yo – because the minute I cracked it open some nerds would come along in a boat and tell me that it isn’t as good as the 21yo Silver Seal from 1980, and I’d be rescued.
For more information on Dramboree, head to: www.dramboree.co.uk
Didn’t get tickets? Want to come next year? Tickets tend to go on sale in January/February so stay tuned!