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The Dram TeamI spoke at length to the founder of The Dram Team about his journey towards launching this exciting new monthly whisky subscription service. 

For those who are unaware, The Dram Team sell wonderful boxes of whisky containing:

– Five 25ml drams of whisky averaging £50 RRP for 70cl, and up to £80
– The “Sixth Dram”: Our super-special 10ml taster dram at £125+ per 70cl
– A set of deluxe tasting note cards
– A guided tour of the flight, in letter form

The standard subscription pack will be priced at just £25 per month and will officially launch June 7th 2016.

GreatDrams: I guess it would be handy for readers to understand what you’re up to day to day at the minute to make the The Dram Team product happen?

Chris: Well, I mainly lounge around in pyjamas / a tiger-print onesie and fluffy slippers, drinking whisky at inappropriate times of day. Every now and then I put my glad rags on and prance off to a glamorous whisky-based event where I drink for free and rub shoulders with the glitterati of whisky. No, I can’t keep up the pretence – the only true part is the PJs/onesie/slippers bit. Day-to-day it’s a lot of emails and phone calls to business suppliers and whisky brands/distributors, making arrangements for materials, logistics etc and dealing other dull-as-dishwater-but-critically-important things like alcohol licensing, insurance and, most-critically-important-of-all, what font to use on the website.

GreatDrams: The back story around creating The Dram Team product is really interesting, what led you to start The Dram Team?

Chris: Did you ever see that (fairly awful) George Clooney movie “Perfect Storm”? Well, it was a bit like that, but instead of the unprecedented confluence of two powerful weather fronts and a hurricane, it was a unique combination of several fairly disparate factors:

  • A midlife crisis (my third so far) whereby I’d abandoned my management consulting job in London and skipped over to France to chalet host for a ski season
  • Half a year on from that, an entrepreneurial void created by the abandonment of two other impractical business ideas I’d be working on since skiing
  • Eating my Dad’s curry made using a “The Spicery” subscription box and reading about a knitting club that was killing it in the states
  • Fond memories of my own induction to whisky-fandom through a tasting event at Milroy’s of Soho some years earlier

I found myself wondering what I could do that was like the curry club: something that solved a problem for the subscriber. In the case of The Spicery, this problem could be summed up as “I’d like to make delicious curry at home, but I’m too lazy to find a recipe and buy and combine the million different spices I need”.

So they pop several nice little packs of spice blends in a box with a step-by-step recipe, and suddenly even my notorious-for-cooking-glazed-gammon-once-a-year-at-Christmas-only Father is banging out curry-based banquets that knock your socks off once a month.

My first few thoughts were baking, cocktails and whisky. I abandoned baking (no real problem to solve, as ingredients are very standard), undertook a brief feasibility study with cocktails (hard to deliver good value, already being done well by other new businesses), and then settled fairly quickly on whisky. I honestly didn’t think I was a whisky fan myself until I got into it through tasting events, and I still find my favourite way to enjoy and appreciate it is to line up several great drams (tip of the hat) side by side and compare and contrast.

Of course, “I want to try lots of great whiskies without having to buy full bottles or go to any effort whatsoever” isn’t a particularly pressing or profound problem to solve for people (#firstworldproblems), but it’s one that appealed to me a lot personally, and seemed like it would be a hell of a lot of fun to do.

GreatDrams: How have you found taking your idea to market? In terms of sourcing whisky, choosing whisky, creating something compelling etc.?

Chris: It has been an absolute ball. I’m not generally a particularly creative person in the normal sense, but it’s been such fun bouncing ideas off friends, family and whisky-drinkers to define and refine the product concept, to come up with exciting promotions, to design the appearance and copy for the brand and so on. It’s a very tangible product and idea, and everyone I talk to about it – whisky-drinkers or not – contributes really creative suggestions. At first, I lost a lot of sleep because my mind was so on fire with all the possibilities.

Of course, inspiration-based-sleep-deprivation hasn’t been the only issue I’ve faced. Ideas are actually the free-and-easy part of the journey to market – the real slog has been on the practical side of the product, finding and securing suppliers for boxes, labels, bottles and all the other product components. The whisky is actually the easiest part of this, though the big challenge there has been getting brands on board ahead of our launch, as we’re an unproven concept.

However, because everyone easily grasps the product concept and tend towards finding it compelling, the enthusiasm has been great from everyone I’ve worked with.

GreatDrams: How have you found designing and testing packaging for The Dram Team?

Chris: This is the part of the business that has really unleashed the unknown-and-significantly-repressed-inner-creative within me. I’m lucky to have a very creatively-talented little brother (www.timborrow.com) who has been able to translate my, and my business partners’ (another tip of the hat), design-desires into really awesome box graphics. Thanks to him, I feel like I’ve created a personal version of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel – clearly hugely grandiose hyperbole, but it legitimately feels like the creative pinnacle of my life.

Ahead of this recent graphic-design phase, I’ve been working for months with a great, and incredibly patient, team at www.boxmart.co.uk on the physical box construction. Because of changes to our bottle choice and courier issues, the box requirements changes about three or four times (dull-but-critical-details: we had to abandon Royal Mail and our “Large Letter” sized box as RM fly stuff around the country, and the Civil Aviation Authority code prohibits more than 2 containers of spirit-strength alcohol in any one package).

It’s also very challenging to design a box that both displays the product attractively and sufficiently secures it. However, Gary and Jo and their design crew at Boxmart have been fantastic – they have put in literally weeks of effort without charging me a penny. I’m actually looking forward to forking over the money for the first order this week, they’ve sure earned it.

The other aspect we ummed-and-ahhed over significantly was bottles. Initially this was about choosing the size, but ultimately that decision was driven by a combination of three things: giving customers an acceptably sized dram (i.e.volume), putting in really decent whiskies (i.e. price) and the price point we wanted to achieve on the product (i.e. value). We settled respectively on 5 x 25ml, £50 RRP whiskies and £20 sale price initially (later adding a sixth 10ml measure of £125 RRP whisky and shifting to a sale price of £25 after taking a significant cost increase on postage).

Our other concern was glass vs. plastic, but this was an easy decision in the end: everything pointed to a high-quality, food-grade plastic miniature as the best option. They’ve been tested significantly for their effect on spirits (they have no effect whatsoever) and will result in zero breakages during delivery – critically important from Food Safety perspective, amongst other things. They also look great, which I admit was a bit of a surprise.

An unexpectedly tricky one has been labels – you’d think this was simple, right? But EU Scotch Whisky regulations (with compliance monitored by the SWA; the Scotch Whisky Association) have very clearly-defined guidelines on how Scotch must be labelled. After some serious studying-up and one or two very friendly consultations with the lovely folks at the SWA (who are sometimes vilified by whisky fans, but couldn’t be more delightful or helpful), we got there.

Illuminating stuff from Chris there, in part two we will explore his biggest wins, challenges, future plans and a few other bits… until then… 

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