Whisky ‘Willy Wonkas’ prepare for Stramash

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society issues a rallying call from Calton Hill. Picture: Rob McDougall
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society issues a rallying call from Calton Hill. Picture: Rob McDougall
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Clad in bright yellow rubber suits, gas masks and blue latex gloves, Darroch Ramsay and Scott Martin are hard at it creating eye-catching “bubbles” of liqueur.

The zany invention – thick, sticky, edible spheres of alcohol – is just the latest from the madcap pair, who are to Scotland’s national drink what Willy Wonka is to chocolate.

This sort of wackiness is completely in tune with their Edinburgh Whisky Stramash – which runs on May 24-25 – an event that aims to blend a healthy dose of fun into the traditional dram.

This latest stunt was inspired by the popular Breaking Bad TV series in which a terminally ill chemistry teacher manufactures drugs as a life insurance policy for his family.

“These are our Breaking Bad outfits, except we are breaking Drambuie,” laughs Darroch, who admits he is a huge fan of the show. “We are taking the liqueur and breaking it down to get right into the chemistry of it. We will be creating edible bubbles of Drambuie which are so viscous that you should be able to pick them up and put them in your mouth.”

It comes as Scotland marks Whisky Month as part of Homecoming Scotland 2014 – a celebration of arguably the country’s most famous export after Sean Connery.

The Stramash takes place at the Surgeons’ Hall, in Nicolson Street, where there will be around 300 whiskies to taste and notable attention from big names within the industry. In its first year, just shy of 1800 people attended. Last year it was 2400 and this year it is expected to hit a high of at least 2700.

Once tasting events like this were almost exclusively the province of men of a certain age armed with notepads – the “anoraks” of the whisky world. However, it is fair to say that this event has not been organised with them in mind.

Darroch and Scott’s mission is to bring to the industry a spirit of humour and irreverence, dispelling whisky’s somewhat stuffy image and attract a younger more dynamic crowd.

And if you look at the statistics, the approach seems to be working.

“If you go to most whisky events, 95 per cent of the people there are men over 65,” says Darroch. “But our event is split about 60/40 between men and women – and the average age is about 35,” says Darroch.

“The whole point of the event is to be off-the-wall and madcap. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We wanted to put on a whisky event that we would want to go to ourselves.”

Many of the guests may never have been to a whisky event and know next to nothing about the varieties on offer. And the beauty is they do not need to.

Among the younger female crowd converted to the whisky experience by the Stramash in previous years is 32-year-old Karen Harvey.

A self-confessed “Jack Daniels and Coke girl”, she is now on the road to becoming a whisky connoisseur.

She came to the inaugural event with a group of friends to last year’s events and is also attending this year.

“The crowd wasn’t your stereotypical old men,” she says. “It tended to be people around my age. There were plenty of exhibitors and everyone was really lovely.”

Aside from whisky tasting, other events at the Stramash include a Auchentoshan-sponsored barber’s surgeon who will shave your beard between tipples.

There is also the Black Grouse Blending Bar where drinkers can try their hand at creating their own drink.

But Scott Martin, founding partner of Whisky Stramash, is not giving much more away. “The information we have revealed so far on this year’s event is just a taster of what we’ve got going on,” he says.

This year’s event is on from noon to 4pm, and 5pm to 9pm (Saturday, May 24), and 1pm to 5pm on Sunday, May 25 with only limited tickets now available.

Whisky Month kicked off last week with the popular Spirit of Speyside Festival (May 1-5). It will take in Edinburgh Whisky Stramash and international celebrations around World Whisky Day (May 17), before ending with The Islay Festival Music and Malt (May 23-31).

But there will also be various satellite events going on in the Capital.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is putting ancient clan rivalries aside with the launch of a celebration of “whisky clans”. The Society – which bottles single cask malt whiskies from a huge range of distilleries – has created 12 special whisky clans based on flavour profiles.

As well as opening its doors to non-members throughout May, the Society is hosting a number of events at its Edinburgh venues.

Meanwhile, a Room in the West End and Teuchters Bar, in William Street, are also holding a number of free whisky tastings throughout the month. Representatives from Scottish distilleries will be there to answer any questions from the public.

While the tastings are free, they will be on a first come first served basis and will last as long as the bottle does.

On World Whisky Day, A Room in the West End will also br showcasing an exciting four-course menu with matching single malt whiskies.

* Edinburgh Whisky Stramash runs on May 24-25. Visit www.thewhiskystramash.com/2014 for more details.