The dram buster

The dram buster

Alan Mitchell had a corporate career becoming general manager of a household Scottish financial company. Then he changed tack, turning his passion for whisky into a lifestyle business. He spoke to Kenny Kemp

Alan Mitchell is living the dream – or should that be ‘the dram’. He has taken his love of Scottish whisky and turned it into a niche business that is growing organically. “My business, Straight From The Cask, emerged from my hobby which grew around Scotland’s greatest product – whisky. I’ve always enjoyed whisky – and I wanted to share this with other people. My business is growing year on year and I have always said I want this to remain fun and a passion, so getting the right balance between work and pleasure is important to me,” he says.

Alan built a career in financial services and human resources and rose to become a general manager of the Dunfermline Building Society. But once his time in management came to an end, he set about creating his own business. He launched his website in 2010 having bought the domain name some 15 years earlier. The business, based in Linlithgow, is a tiny part of Scotland’s tourism supply chain, selling its own branded malts from Scotland, bottled straight from the cask, and also arranging whisky clubs, tastings, distillery tours and walks for corporate and private events.

Straight From The Cask is just one of several scores of small Scottish businesses offering specialist services to the drinks industry. “I think I offer a unique and less-formal tasting experience but I’ve been able to use my previous experience as a human resource manager for corporate team-building sessions too, often after board meetings,” he says.

Straight From The Cask has had six bottlings from all over Scotland from Bladnoch in Galloway in the south-west, to Glen Ord in the North. “The corporate tastings have developed. Recently my tasting in London was a great success matching Michelin Star food to some superb whiskies. I have also expanded the number of whisky clubs/ venues with new tastings planned for Perth. Tastings are popular around Christmas and New Year and Burns Suppers in late January. I have also found my clients like to relax and enjoy the event and prefer something different.”

Straight From The Cask buy from individual whisky brokers and distilleries, where the casks are kept in the bond along with the rest of the stock until they are ready. “The recent bottling of my own cask at Bruichladdich was a highlight. The newest batch is a 12-year-old cask and, as always, the whisky is bottled at cask strength. I have a massive respect for the team on the island of Islay. Jim McEwan was the man who inspired me to set the business up and stop me just talking about it.

The Distillery Academy at Bruichladdich, sadly no longer offered, was the best week of my life and to all those responsible for that experience, I thank them. To have my own bottling, bottled and made at Bruichladdich Distillery is a dream come true.”

“I also have on offer a wonderful 18-year-old Lochranza, Isle of Arran, and a 15-year-old Glen Ord from the Black Isle, and I have a part share in a cask from Tullibardine, near Gleneagles, which will be bottled this year.”

Straight From The Cask has over 200 special bottles for sale. “I see 2015 as a year when I need to decide how much more work I take on. My clients expect a professional service. I have found that to offer a more personal, tailored event to fit their needs is much more enjoyable and fun. I offer a bespoke event and, as an independent, I do not ‘sell’ one particular brand but all brands.”

Straight From The Cask 02Is there a growing opportunity for others to undertake similar kinds of business? “I do see expansion. The Scottish whisky industry is buoyant at the moment. It is a worldwide product. It is a wonderfully unique industry and appeals to people across the widest spectrum.”

“A few years ago, I made contact with a Norwegian company and then conducted a tour for around ten who wanted to visit a distillery. We went to Glenkinchie in East Lothian and the day was a great success.”

The personal Scottish touch obviously plays its part in selling whisky. “It’s funny how business develops sometimes. What I did not know was the parents of the company owner were ‘on the tour’ and gave personal feedback to their daughter! I have since hosted her and let her experience the tour first hand and now have bookings for next year.”

“I also sold the Norwegian boss a rare St Magdalenes from my collection. We photographed the bottle with the old Linlithgow distillery, which closed in 1983, in the background and a chap walking past was caught in the picture.

It turned out the elderly man worked there as distillery manager in the 1980s. A small world indeed,” he says.