Ah, Dramboree. A truly fantastic event, and one that’s difficult to convey in all its glory within a blog post. (One of the many reasons it’s taken me a little while to get round to this write-up.) For those who don’t know, Dramboree is a whisky weekend held in Scotland in early July that’s simply getting better and better with age. Next year it will be three years old. The requisite age for it to be referred to as the real deal? Well, based on the taste we had this time around, we think it's getting pretty close to perfect already.
The second ever Dramboree was attended by 64 people (that’s about double the number from the first year), most of which first descended upon Glasgow in order to hop aboard the Dramboree coach for
a magical mystery tour the hour or so long journey to the shores of stunning Loch Lomond.
Of course, it would have been rude not to pop into The Pot Still whilst in Glasgow. We even ‘had to’ neck a couple of bottles of Ginger Grouse as we were leaving in order to get some promotional brimmed hats, but failed to find any red paint between there and the coach station to complete a Jason B. Standing fancy dress outfit. (Maybe next year?)
Jason (off of Whisky Squad), along with Jonny McMillan (of the Great Whisky Company) - as well as an ever-growing group of committed helpers - are the fine folk behind Dramboree, which they run to cost for the benefit of all the whisky lovers out there. What they’ve basically done is worked out the kind of event they’d like to attend in the UK (based roughly on the excellent Maltstock in the Netherlands) and then they've gone ahead and created it. Jason and Jonny, we salute you!
Having unsurprisingly found a couple of familiar faces in The Pot Still, including the chaps from The Manchester Whisky Club, we were soon confronted by a small army of other familiar faces at the coach station as well as plenty of new friends yet to be made. Onwards coach driver!
Something like this.
“We are concerned for you to enjoy yourselves, under the limits of British decency…”
I never did get around to chatting to these two though.
Now, before I get further into what we got up to throughout the weekend, here's the short version: It was great. You'd like it. It's well worth doing. [Also, a quick disclaimer - most Dramborees won't take place during a World Cup so feel free to ignore every reference to said World Cup herein...]
Right, back to my 'action-packed' report. I've tried to steer clear of drowning you with a million tasting notes this year - there were some great whiskies, take that as read. Instead, I've tried to concentrate on how much fun everyone had, fun you may wish to be part of in the future.
We would be staying on the far side of the loch from where the coach dropped us off, so the next step was to hop aboard a boat to cross the peaceful water. A perfect start to the trip, complete with the first tasting of the weekend!
All aboard! Over land and sea… well, loch.
Loch Lomond really is lovely too, very picturesque...
...and the drizzle would soon pass.
Not a bad view to spend a weekend with, eh?
Nor is this one, mind.
With the entire Rowardennan Lodge hostel on the banks of the loch set aside for Dramboree, we were soon settling in and then preparing for the headline tasting. All 64 of us were in on this one (for the other tastings we were split, allowing for more intimate sessions), with Stephen Marshall candidly talking us through a number of potential future releases from the John Dewar & Sons distilleries.
This included in-progress samples of Aultmore, Royal Brackla, Deveron and Craigellachie, some of which Stephen really liked, some of which he wasn't so keen on and may require a bit of a rethink. As Global Marketing Manager for Dewar’s, Stephen (who took many of us around Aberfeldy distillery a year earlier) doesn't do a lot of tastings these days and it’s fantastic that people like him are willing to take the time to do a special session for the knowledgeable, fun folk at Dramboree.
The official welcome.
A delightfully familiar sight at Dramboree.
(Also just pictured, Mats Hummels was helping Germany beat France 1-0, which Stephen and I were able to keep tabs on through the wonder of technology.)
(left to right:) 12yo & 21yo Aultmores, a 16yo Royal Brackla, a 25yo Deveron, 13yo & 23yo Craigellachies
The weekend isn’t just about tastings and masterclasses though, as each person attending is also invited to bring a bottle or two along for the communal whisky table!
...there was an embarrassment of riches to explore.
(Some rather nice looking ones on the far right there!)
And so, as Friday came to a close (and Brazil scraped through against the impressive Colombians) we sat around enjoying some delicious whisky as we happily chatted away with the like-minded ladies and gents.
The timetable for Saturday’s activities began with a loony dook, which consisted of launching one’s self into the ‘refreshingly’ cool waters of the loch. Jonny told us that this was entirely optional, of course, but that he’d think less of anyone who didn’t take part. Look, I’m sorry Jonny, really I am. I was just very, very, very asleep. Again, maybe next year? (Please don’t make me do it next year.)
Crackers the lot of ‘em.
After breakfast it was time for the distillery visit. Last year, as mentioned, we visited Aberfeldy. This year we were heading to (no, not Loch Lomond) Glengoyne! The distillery didn’t exactly put on anything ‘special’ unfortunately, a reflection on them rather than our marvellous trip organisers, it must be said.
Although, they can at least park their 4x4 correctly...
The tour guides even decided against changing their usual introductory spiel about “Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky” despite being aware of their audience. (5 minutes (or more?) of “Highland means… Single means… Malt means… Scotch means… Whisky means…” Erm yes, quite.) It is a very pretty distillery though and I’m sure we did all learn something throughout the tour, which is run by friendly and enthusiastic guides. For example, did you know that the main road outside the distillery lies on the Highland/Lowland divide? This means that the car park and the dunnage warehouses where the whisky matures actually lie in the Lowlands.
The guides have to wear kilts at all times. Obviously.
We did also still have the opportunity to try a couple of whiskies, including the new batch of The Teapot Dram; quite young, first-fill Sherry cask, cask strength, no chill filtration, no artificial colouring.
The story goes that for around 150 years workers at Glengoyne were allowed three measures of whisky throughout the day. A measure in this case being three fingers in a tumbler! Perhaps unsurprisingly, not all of them (especially some of the younger lads) were regularly finishing 9 fingers of whisky every working day, so they popped any leftovers in a teapot that the others could continue to top up from.
I suppose in a way, working for Glengoyne in the good ol' days was a bit like being at Dramboree. There's absolutely no shortage of delicious whisky, but you're certainly only encouraged to drink the amount you'd like and at your own pace.
Also, a shout out too to the members of the Ostergotland Jazz and Whisky Club (i.e. JAWS), who appear to have taken the time to not only have a JAWS plaque put up at the distillery, but also a JAWS 2 one. Outstanding.
(Only seventeen more to go...)
Upon returning from the morning's excursion, we all congregated on the decking to soak up some afternoon sun, whisky in hand. Teesh caught the moment:
“Dramboree in one photo!”
Although, with all this Jaws talk, what were we thinking?! Not that you get sharks in lochs...
I think this was also when Georgia, our Wholesale and Export Dispatch Manager, looked far across the water, deep in thought, before turning to say “which loch is it that the Loch Ness monster lives in?”.
In her defence, the lack of evidence that a plesiosaur-like creature lives in Loch Ness does actually suggest that it probably moved house/loch ages ago. Not so silly, eh? Perhaps Jon Beach has simply been concealing the truth for years... (That said, Loch Ness on Apple maps caused a bit of a stir back in April.)
Later that afternoon, we were all booked onto two of four tastings, with the first of my two being "Absorbing Vintage Whisky" with Angus Macraild from Whisky Online Auctions. Angus’ tasting the year before, which featured eight old and rare single malts from the ‘60s and ‘70s, had been one of the highlights of the previous Dramboree for me so I was really looking forward to this. It didn’t disappoint. If anything, it was even better, and not just because we were confronted with nine whiskies on this occasion!
The line up for Angus' tasting
At first he kept the line up a secret, making us taste the first two side by side and asking for our opinions. They were certainly different but had some similarities in character. I half expected Angus to reveal that he’d found a hitherto unappreciated link between two totally unrelated whiskies, but instead the two bottlings were both Glenmorangie 10 year olds, one from the 1970s and one from today (picked up at service station en route, I believe).
We could then concentrate on the differences, whether this was due to changes in the bottle or whether, as Angus believes, much of it is due to the kinds of changes in production techniques that have led to a ‘modern’ style at many distilleries today that doesn’t suit his tastes.
Some of the blends he brought, including an old bottle of Teacher’s and one with a simple ‘corner shop’ label (possibly my favourite), were superb, the old Talisker was tremendous, and he even brought an old Caol Ila along which always makes me happy - not that I needed cheering up in the slightest!
Some really good stuff here.
There was enough time between the tastings for a little rest, a return to the whisky table or even a
sobering refreshing bottle of local ale. I believe this was also when the spontaneous football match took place. (All that World Cup action was infectious!) Many took part, some watched, others spent their time taking in the views by the edge of the loch or else from indoors. Importantly, everyone seemed to be having a great time - and that's what it's all about.
Something like this.
Destined for the top corner that one. (Probably.)
With the footballers having sufficiently over-exerted ourselves it was soon time for the second tasting, where I was booked onto "T in the Highland Park" with the Orkney distillery's Global Brand Advocate Daryl Haldane. He brought along the Highland Park 15yo, 21yo (as they use a significant proportion of American oak Sherry casks and many miss these in favour of the predominantly European oak 12yo and 18yo), the young Drakkar (unusual for Highland Park) and the new Dark Origins that we tasted back in July at the launch (and has been flying off the shelves since it came in!).
Highland Park tasting
Although we only tasted four whiskies, Daryl's informal yet informative presentation made it a memorable session, with the tone spot on for Dramboree. He's a cool guy who again had taken the time out of his busy schedule to come down - I believe the Dark Origins was new to everyone else in the room too (whilst I'd never actually tried the Drakkar* before). (The other two tastings, incidentally, were run by Mike Lord and Annabel Meikle and also sounded like great fun.)
Daryl talks us through the whiskies, as well as more general issues and topics such as cask use throughout the industry.
Next on the programme? The Master of Malt Barbecue! Yep, Ben (Master of Meat) had outdone himself once again by preparing a feast that Cat, Teesh and Georgia transported and cooked (with help from Miss Alwynne Whisky) for almost all to enjoy (Ben did also prepared a bag labelled "all of the beans" for yours truly, and maybe one or two others).
The cooks at work.
FTAOD: Quite clearly not fucking about.
(Yes, that really is Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 Year Old Rye Old Fashioned (cocktail) BBQ Sauce. Epic.
A Punk IPA syrup rib sauce was also involved, along with home-made pickled things and other excitement.)
= Happy Dramboreers.
Full of whisky and full of barbecue (and with a bit of drizzle outside) we all retired to the sort of lounge room (home of the whisky table) for a well earned sit down (and maybe a couple more leisurely whiskies... "Have you tried this one yet?"). This coincided nicely with the Netherlands' dramatic knock out match with Costa Rica - and before you think it's just me who's football mad, I should explain there were a number of Dutch whisky fans at Dramboree who were more than interested in the result of this one, including Maltstock founders Teun and Bob. (6 nationalities were represented in all.)
None of this stopped Angus from screaming the following whilst pulling the snarly face of a man who'd take pleasure in biting into a child's football down the park just to watch them cry as it slowly deflated: "Why'd yer wanna watch a bunch of overpaid prima donna multi-millionaires chase a sheep's bladder around a rectangle of grass for?!?!" He made a solid point that many of you may agree with (although the ball is actually made of thermally bonded polyurethane), but I still don't think he should have put that Dutch chap in a headlock...
There's always something else to try on the table.
Meanwhile, the football was thoroughly absorbing.
The match turned out to be rather good though, with one of the most entertaining penalty shoot-outs ever. (The Netherlands won so everyone was happy!) Although we did miss what would have undoubtedly been an interesting Whisky Question Time with an expert panel, we continued to discuss the stuff between footballing incidents. Some others chose not to attend the Question Time after a busy day and happily gathered in the lounge despite not having any particular interest in the footy - like Maltstock, this is a relaxed whisky weekend after all! But when there's 60+ people able to choose what they'd each like to do, it all still works.
Sadly in the morning we had to pack our bags and head home again but Dramboree 2014 had been great success. Those who'd managed to get more sleep than others over the weekend were looking considerably fresher by this point, but we'd all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Farewell Rowardennan Lodge!
(Click on any of these images to view larger versions.)
Across the loch once more we went, taking in the views...
...if we weren't too tuckered out, that is.
And back on the coach, to take in yet more views...
...if we weren't too tuckered out, that is.
So there you have it. It really was very good, and we'd definitely recommend it. Keep an eye on the Dramboree website, twitter and/or facebook for details about next year as they emerge, and tickets going on sale too. As ever we'll try to keep you updated on the blog as well. Perhaps we'll see you there next year?
* Which is Norse for ‘dragon', or is that 'drake'? Or possibly 'wyvern'?! Oh man, I'm not getting into this one again!