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I spoke at length to the founder of The Dram Team about his journey towards launching this exciting new monthly whisky subscription service. This is part two, you can read part one here. 

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: What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Chris: Undoubtedly the sheer amount and complexity of the legislation around both alcohol in general (licensing, child protection, postage etc) and specifically around Scotch (as referenced above, due to its geographically indicated status within the EU, and all the accompanying rules). You can’t just start bottling whiskies at home and pop them in the post. Well…technically you could, and you’d probably get away with it for a while, providing no-one finds out, and given that the SWA have bigger fish to fry (like large-scale fake-Scotch bootleggers outside the EU). However, we wanted to be legitimate from the get-go and have a great reputation within the industry, so we did everything by-the-book and above-board.

It turns out that both the Scotch Whisky regs. and alcohol legislation in general aren’t set up to cater for a business like ours (online retail, re-bottling duty paid Scotch, small scale operation etc). We somewhat fall between the cracks, while getting managing to get completely snared in the trap at the same time (mixing metaphors with abandon there).

Ultimately, in practical terms this meant two big things: Finding a HMRC-verified (i.e. SWA compliant) bottler to handle our production in Scotland, and leaving no stone un-turned when it came to compliance with the law. The latter means high-spec. courier service, age-gating on our website, fully alcohol licensed storage premises and a number of other rigorous behind-the-scenes measures – getting an alcohol premises license alone requires approval from no less than nine separate government/council bodies (police, fire, child protection, food safety etc).

Mostly, building the business has been an utter ball, but this part definitely merits the addition of “ache”!

GreatDrams: And the biggest win?

Chris: Oh man, a lot of things felt like big wins. I’ll give three if you’ll allow me to indulge.

Firstly: Finding the bottler in Scotland – this resulted in genuine and significant dancing around my office/bedroom. Our initial supplier for this went quiet on us, and I ended up literally phoning nearly every verified bottler in Scotland before finding one that could do it for us – our bottles aren’t suitable for machine fill, and the scale is too small for most people (most bottling facilities are churning out INSANE numbers of 70cl bottles on the daily). Talking to David at the Premier Bond Co., nearly hanging up disappointed, then hearing him say “Oh, hand fill you say? Oh we can do that for you” was definitely a defining moment.

Secondly: Getting our first brand on board (and every single one since!). This hasn’t stopped delighting me. We haven’t approached LOADs of brands to date, as we know this will be much easier after launch when we have customer figures and social media stats to wow people with (and there are only so many in-person conversations you can have at whisky festivals). This meant that getting the few brands we HAVE spoken to on-board was critical for planning our launch packs (Month 1 and 2). As a small and unproven business, we’re no-one’s top priority, and these are very busy people on the brand side.

So when Luke of Maxxium got back to me and said they’d like to be involved, a lot of fist-pumping was done. Same with Scott of Loch Lomond Group (rounding out our inaugural Scotch Regions pack). This has continued with every single brand that replied positively, as each one represents a number of great whiskies, and it’s absolutely thrilling to know we can now look forward to putting them in front of our customers.

Thirdly and lastly: All the people I get to work with! My initial business partner is James Glen, one of my oldest and closest friends, so obviously that’s fantastic. But from day one with this business, everyone in the whisky world has been incredibly kind and generous. Their passion and inclusivity is incredible. Obviously it’s a been a complete pleasure to work with Greg (of GreatDrams) and your amazing beard (tip of the hat to John McCheyne of the SMWS for introducing us – legendary man, try to meet him if you can), and I’ve met numerous other people I’m looking forward to working with one way or another. It’s a whole side to things I didn’t expect, but a massive, massive win.

GreatDrams: Any other products in the pipeline?

Chris: Interesting question! This is a really exciting part of the business – so much potential for fun things we can do that compliment or extend our core product. We’ll fairly quickly look to introduce both a double-measures version and a premium version (whiskies at around £75 RRP) of the core product, as we think this will really appeal to our customers, and isn’t logistically challenging to execute. We’re also looking at some fun stuff for one-off purchases:

  • An educational and highly practical “learn your way through whisky in 20 drams” product, as a “training course” of sorts for newbies
  • Gift sets like chocolate-paired flights of whisky, tasting sets of glasses and so on
  • Our own take on a whisky advent product for Christmas

One thing I am super-keen to try, largely because I personally believe it would be AWESOME, is what I am coining as “Dream Dram Micro-Crowdfunding”. This would consist of curating a flight of incredibly rare and unusual whiskies, offering it for pre-order on the website, and then only producing it once enough people (typically this would mean 28 people) have paid for it. This would take our company mission (helping people taste a big range of great whiskies) to a whole new level – instead of forking out hundreds or thousands of pounds for a full bottle yourself, you can fork out a fraction of the money and tick 6 nearly-unobtainable whiskies off your bucket list. I plan to trial this idea as soon as we get going and regular business has settled down.

GreatDrams: What did you do before The Dram Team?

Chris: Now this is a dull – I once trialled self-employment in a previous life as a personal trainer, before moving on to greener pastures in London as a management consultant in the supply chain/procurement niche, which I did for six years. There was a brief sojourn into chalet hosting during my ski season (thoroughly recommend this as a career choice!).

Having said that it was dull, I have to say that I am realising more and more that the things I learnt during my corporate job as a management consultant have prepared me incredibly well to set up my own business. It’s essentially like running a huge and multi-faceted problem-solving project, which is basically what I practiced for six years. Hard skills I acquired with spreadsheets have enabled me to be really on top of our costs and pricing, and years of writing slides for clients has meant I’ve been able to communicate and sell our plans clearly to brands. I literally couldn’t have done this six years ago. It sounds corny, but it’s nice to look back and realise that everything you did before was a stepping-stone of sorts to where you are now.

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