GreatDrams: I guess it would be handy for readers to understand what you're up to day to day at the minute with The Whisky Blender?
Andy: Not a lot! Both Drew and I work full time, I’ve got a lot on my plate combined with a fair bit of travel, whilst Drew has got two young kids that keep him busy when he’s not travelling with work! We set up Whisky Blender to be self-sufficient, in that sense, we’re not required to be there (in the lab) on a daily basis nor do we have any paperwork etc to worry about. However, when it comes to driving business, getting the word out and implanting new ideas – the lack of opportunity to devote time to the project does show through. We’re working on this, hopefully we’ll be able to commit more time to the site in 2016!
GreatDrams: What led you to start The Whisky Blender?
Andy: Drew and I have been keen whisky drinkers pretty much all our adult life. We both got into whisky when we were teenagers and very quickly immersed ourselves in it, to learn as much as we could as quickly as we could. Fast forward to around 2010 and we were at one of the annual whisky festivals, ‘Whisky n’ aw That’ in Ayr, an excellent show organised by our good friend Robin from Robbies Drams. It’s always a full day, travelling on the train in the late morning, attending the show in the early afternoon, then dinner and pub crawl in Ayr. On this occasion we caught the last train, fubar, and had a nap. When we pulled into Central Station we had suddenly sobered up and felt recharged – so we went to another bar for a couple beers.
In the Solid Rock Café, we started discussing things that had not yet been done in the world of whisky, and we stumbled on the idea of letting people blend their own Scotch Whisky online. A guy sitting across from us piped up and told us it was a great idea and with that we decided we had best explore it further. We did a lot of fact finding and established the format under which the whole idea would operate.
Then we binned it and got on with our jobs. It lay forgotten until late 2011 when we decided to make it happen. We had registered the domain etc back in 2010 and essential had the plan in place so it really was just kicking it all into action. Drew is an illustrator and designer to trade so he had done lots of rough work, which we took to our excellent developer Ian from Kupio Ltd and together they brought the website to life. For my part I was able to facilitate the sharp end, whisky, blending/bottling facilities, logistics etc.
Then in November 2011 we launched. In the end, we did it just because we wanted to be the first to do it. We had not great ambitions, but we knew it was a good idea because it was something we as whisky drinkers wanted. The whole format is meant to be novel and fun, but at the same time the whisky has to taste good!
GreatDrams: How did you find taking your idea to market? In terms of sourcing whisky, choosing whisky, creating something compelling etc.?
However, we just struck a deal with a design agency who are going to be working with us – so watch this space we’ll hopefully have some new and exciting stuff happening in the coming weeks!Its’s also worth noting that every year we have ‘big things’ happen that make us feel like we’ve achieved something meaningful, and in 2015 it was launching RumBlender. We were approached by a seriously impressive Rum company who like our format so much (having bought from us in the past) they asked if we could partner up to offer a Rum blending lab. We were super enthused and obviously couldn’t wait to trial it. It’s been amazing to work with their master blender to select the rum components from all over the Caribbean.
GreatDrams: How did you find designing and testing packaging for The Whisky Blender?
Andy: Sourcing the components for the bottle wasn’t too difficult, I have plenty of experience in packaging development, thankfully, and Drew was more than capable of developing the artwork. Once we had sourced everything, including the custom shipping carton, we figured the easiest way to test it was to literally kick it around. We had such a good time doing it we decided to film it to prove ‘how hard is WhiskyBlender’ https://vimeo.
GreatDrams: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Andy: By far the biggest challenge has been driving traffic to the site and making people aware of us in the first place. We get the fact that we are a novel whisky gift which is hard to pigeon hole. That doesn’t make it easy for us to get in front of people when there hundreds if not thousands of people online selling the ideal ‘whisky gifts’.
GreatDrams: And the biggest win?
Andy: Oops, yeah, so it’s live!
GreatDrams: What did you do before The Whisky Blender?
Andy: As little as possible as often as I could.
GreatDrams: What other whisky startups intrigue you at the minute? Any you’ve ben keeping an eye on?
Andy: Hmm, because I work at Glencairn I’ve been following The Norland with interest. New whisky glasses seem to be popping up more often, which is great, but The Norlan has gotten a huge amount of cash as a kickstarter campaign for what is a just double walled soda lime tumbler, awesome marketing. I guess as a whisky drinker, the ‘fins’ for aeration are what is intriguing me the most, I’m super keen to try one for myself.