A couple of weeks ago I was sent a link by my father-in-law-to-be, Tom, titled ‘this might be of interest to you’. Obviously I was intrigued, especially as Tom would not send me an email like that unless it actually was going to be interesting. As soon as I clicked onto the Kickstarter page and started to read about the Higham Whiskyboard, I knew I was reading about something that will be a huge success.
It took just a couple of paragraphs for me to be captivated by the story of how Chris, the founder, designer and creator of the Whiskyboard started his incredible journey.
The Whiskyboard product itself was initially created as a one off for his father’s sixtieth birthday as a way for them to explore and enjoy different malts on a whisky journey together.
They shared an after dinner tradition of comparing malts from Scotland’s different whisky regions. It was about spending time together, sharing knowledge of the malts, listening, learning and trying to notice the subtle, or not so subtle, differences between these drinks from different glens. The Whiskyboard® was a way to enhance this social experience. Long forgotten malts from different regions are dug out from the cabinet, placed on the board and compared in turn.
The more I read, the more I a) wanted one and b) fell in love both with the romance of how it all started and how fun it would be as a product. With that, I committed to my very first Kickstarter pledge to support the campaign, choosing the tier of pledge that was rewarded with one of the first products from the Original design. Chris is also creating a Traveller version for those who enjoy tasting Scotland on the move.
What happened next? I emailed Chris to see if he fancied talking to GreatDrams about the project, and wow was he excited to chat so we set a time a couple of days later, as Chris was casually driving over a thousand kilometres through Sweden for his day job.
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 Whiskyboard product happen?
This month it is mostly about keeping up with the Kickstarter campaign. It has become almost a day job in itself, so it is great to speak to people like yourself who can help get the message out. All the sampling and negotiations with suppliers and retail has been done as we have been working on it for a couple of years so most of the logistics are in place and ready to go. This is phase two, raising the cash to get production going.
At the minute I am doing pretty much everything but I hope that of all goes to plan I can bring people in to help with business functions and PR activities.
GreatDrams: The back story around creating the original for your dad’s 60th is fantastic, really was nice to read, what led you to start producing the boards commercially?
We have really enjoyed using the Whiskyboard to expand the enjoyment of our mutual passion as well as being a conversation piece. I must say, he is pretty chuffed at seeing it go further and going to market.
I had a similar experience to you with GreatDrams in that friends who previously didn’t enjoy or know whisky would start asking about it so when it is on the table it is a good social product and allows us to go on a journey together.
People do dismiss the regions as not mattering really but it is a way to understand the different contexts in which whisky can be produced and savoured.
The thought behind the Traveller version is that when people visit Edinburgh they will be able to take it home with them or buy it in duty free so it will continue their exploration when they return home.
GreatDrams: How have you found taking your idea to market? In terms of sourcing materials, getting into retail, scaling production etc.?
That has taken a couple of years, 2011 was when I made the original for my dad, the wood alone was about £200 and I did all the machining myself. It seemed kind of unrealistic to make it as a product in terms of machining etc. so together we explored various options including locally sourced labour and materials.
We have landed on a product that is at around the £100 price point, the Original will be £99, and theTraveller will be around £85, we really want it to be affordable to a point but you have to bear in mind that all materials are of very high quality and it is a labour intensive product.
To get to a product that we are happy with and that buyers will love, we experimented with different oil finishes, different types of wood, lots of variables to ensure it lasts
I’m not interested in making product that only last a couple of months, I want it to last a lifetime and to always look good. The artistic side is very important to me.
I want to create something lovely that you’d be happy to hang on the wall and that uses the same wood casks are made from. I want to try working with other woods in the future to see about variances.
GreatDrams: The comments you made about auditing whisky packaging to get the exact look and feel you wanted for the product were interesting, what was your criteria for getting it right?
That was a very hard one to solve, it took about six months to find a factory willing to make whisky style packaging that size that I had fallen in love with. Detailing like gold print, textured packaging, I love it and hope others do as well.
Packaging is a massive part of the product with whisky, you pick it up, you look at it and it gives you a good feeling, generally I keep the packaging.
Shop owners sell a lot of whiskies with the pretty packaging, people look for something that appeals to the eye when they buy gifts.
GreatDrams: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Trying to make the wood stay in one place when working with it. We experimented a lot with two sheets of solid oak at 90 degrees to each other but think that needs a bit more testing to make it to production.
The most recent challenge for me has been turning from designer into salesman through PR etc. and it is hard to get an idea out into the world and get interest. That’s what I love about Kickstarter, the people are getting involved and backing it are likely whisky enthusiasts who should get enjoyment out of it vs. private investment that are in it a bit more for the cash. I’m humbled by all the support and kinds words we have had, really does mean a lot.
GreatDrams: Any other products in the pipeline?
It will kind of evolve naturally, we are listening to all the ideas, the path we will go down is still quite open so we shall see, watch this space…
GreatDrams: What did you do before the Whiskyboard?
I studied product design in Edinburgh, I also did film studies, have done a lot of working in film which is my day job but I’m more excited than ever to be starting my own venture.
The Whiskyboard® is a social product made for Scotch whisky lovers.Beautifully crafted from solid oak, it features an engraved map of Scotland across its top surface. Within that map are place markings for a bottle from each whisky region to be laid. It’s about spending time with family and friends, sharing knowledge of the malts, listening, learning and exploring the story behind the dram in your hands.The Whiskyboard® is a way to encourage and enhance this social experience.Long forgotten about malts, dug out from the cabinet, placed upon the board and then very slowly compared in turn.Each and every Whiskyboard® is made from high-grade European white oak; the same wood whisky barrels are made from. All of our wood comes from sustainable forestry practices and is PEFC certified. The luxurious whisky-style packaging is an extension of the product itself and was built to last. It is our strong intention to contribute as little disposable packaging to this world as possible.Chris Higham is the driving force behind the Whiskyboard®. He grew up in Aberdeen, later moving to Edinburgh where he studied Integrated Product Design at Heriot Watt University and Edinburgh College of Art. Graduating with 1st class honours and twice winner of the engineering award, Chris was named one of Scotland’s top design graduates.All of our products contribute towards 1% For The Planet; an incredible foundation that helps protect the natural world with every company that signs up. We are committed to showing our support from the first penny we make, including seed money raised on Kickstarter.