Whisky Stramash returns for second year

Scott Martin and Darroch Ramsay get in the spirit of things. Picture: Contributed
Scott Martin and Darroch Ramsay get in the spirit of things. Picture: Contributed
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IT may look like an innocent pharmacy from the outside, but when you peel back the faux facade, you will be transported back in time to 1920s New York.

You will be greeted by Lindy Hoppers dancing as though their lives depend on it, musicians plucking away on the double bass, and illicit Manhattans being served as quick as the bartenders can mix them.

The only thing missing from this scene straight from an episode of Boardwalk Empire will be Treasurer of Atlantic County himself, Nucky Thompson.

Welcome to the Woodford Reserve Speakeasy – one of the highlights of this year’s Edinburgh Whisky Stramash.

The Stramash is returning to the Capital on May 25 and 26 after a successful inaugural event last year, which saw more than 2000 people attend, ranging from hardcore whisky drinkers to those just out to soak up the atmosphere.

This year’s event – in The Surgeon’s Hall – is intended to give visitors a host of interactive experiences, from drinking in the illicit speakeasy to having a virtual tour around a distillery.

Co-founder Darroch Ramsay, 27, explains that the event is not a traditional whisky festival for hardened fans of the tipple – it’s a weekend of fun where people can experiment with whiskies and broaden their horizons and knowledge.

“If you go to a whisky festival it’s invariably quite trainspotter-ish, consisting of guys over 60 with wee black books and it’s almost to the point of taking all the fun out of it,” he says.

“We wanted to put on an event that was about challenging people’s perceptions.

“Quite a lot of people are interested in whisky but don’t know enough about it. We wanted to have an event that was more about letting people come along and try it and not be flustered by it.”

All of the rooms in The Surgeon’s Hall will be transformed for the event, with visitors getting to experience everything from replica distilleries to Heston Blumenthal-inspired concoctions.

This year’s event is expected to attract around 2500 people, and organisers Darroch and his friend Scott Martin – who have both worked in the whisky trade for years – believe there is something to suit everyone.

“Crazy scientist” – AKA bartender Martin Duffy – will be infusing Big Peat whisky with bacon and making mini cocktails served with caviar created from HP Sauce.

Visitors will also be transported back in time thanks to Deanston Malt Whisky’s time machine, which features a vintage photo wall and the chance to dress up as distillery workers from days of old.

With every element of the event designed to showcase whisky in a modern light, even the decor and music will have a contemporary twist, with an oversized graffiti installation and tunes from street act The Big Peat Band, who will perform at the front of Surgeon’s Hall.

“You will feel like you have been transported back in time. This year’s event is a lot more about taking people on journeys,” says Darroch. “It will take people back to Boardwalk Empire. You will walk into a room that has been totally transformed into a speakeasy bar.

“From the outside, it will look like a pharmacy – people will walk in and have Lindy Hoppers dancing. The idea is that they will get to taste some spirit from prohibition.

“We have also tried to recreate a whisky warehouse as far as possible. The front doors are vinyl covers of what the warehouse looks like at Glenfiddich. They have 46 warehouses there, so this will be the 47th.

“You walk in to what looks like rows of cases much like in a distillery warehouse.

“Visitors will get a chance to try 12, 15 and 18-year-old whiskies.

“It’s like a mini distillery tour – it encapsulates what Glenfiddich distillery is all about without actually going to it.”

Unlike a lot of food and drinks festivals in the Capital, the whisky samples visitors will get to taste are all included in the ticket price – something which is very important to Darroch and Scott.

“There are quite a lot of events out there which get you in the door then make you pay for all the extras once you’re in. That’s not what we’re about.”

Top name brands like Glenfiddich, AnCnoc, The Macallan and Highland Park are set to headline the event, meaning there will be a huge array of top-drawer drams on offer to visitors.

To celebrate its 30th birthday, Harviestoun Brewery will also be revealing its latest whisky-inspired brew.

Darroch believes that the mix of drinks on offer will be a pleasant to surprise to people – including those who aren’t already big lovers of whisky.

He says a lot of people think they don’t actually like the drink, but he firmly believes there is a variety to suit all tastes.

“I think it’s a case of when everyone was ten to 15 they nicked in and stole their dad’s bottle of whisky and got blootered on it and have thought it’s firewater and disgusting ever since. But there really is a whisky out there for everyone,” he says.

“A few years ago vodka overtook Scotch as the number one drink in Scotland. It’s our own spirit and we should drink it.”

Co-founder Scott, 32, who is a whisky brand ambassador, agrees that there needs to be an effort made to change people’s perception of Scotland’s national drink.

“Whisky’s image is changing and events like the Edinburgh Stramash are at the forefront of that change”, he says.

“Our intention was always to flip the world of whisky on its head and this year we are pushing the boundaries even further.

“Like last year, the emphasis is on the interactive and the experiential – it’s all about challenging the audience’s perceptions of the drink.”

Tickets are available from TicketSOUP priced at £26 for a four hour session.

Sessions run on Saturday 25 May from 12-4pm and 5-9pm and on Sunday 26 from 1-5pm.

A specially branded glass will also be included in the price of the ticket.

Visit http://thewhiskystramash.com for full details.