St Andrews: a whisky fiasco

It was the 150th anniversary of the Golf Open at St Andrews. We came, we saw, and we were utterly conquered.

We may well go down in history as the hosts of the best, most well-organised, well-promoted, best-stocked and WORST-attended whisky tastings of all time.

And we have some very fine and expensive whisky left over to give to you, if you can explain to us what went wrong. We may know our drams (at least, to a respectable standard) and we may be a well-oiled machine when it comes to making sure that the venue, the food, the glassware and the accessories are all in place – but it turns out that events promotion may not be our strong suit, and we want your help.

The planning

All the ingredients were right: a major golfing event in a Scottish town, tens of thousands of wealthy tourists from around the world, business executives darting about in helicopters, a magnificent selection of malts, and a town hall free for booking. We’d done hours of research and preparation, created beautiful presentations, printed tasting note sheets, bought dozens of Glencairn whisky tasting glasses, secured amazing local cheeses and oatcakes, as well as shortbread and bottled water – and had everything in place.

The radio said 300,000 visitors to St Andrews for the golf open this weekend. We figured we should be able to convince a few dozen to pop along to a tasting of twelve of the finest whiskies about over two consecutive nights.

The logistics and marketing were planned down to fractions of a unit. No fewer than 3000 glossy flyers were individually handed to people that looked like they might be up for an evening of the kind of Scottish culture that exceeds 40% alcohol by volume.

The publicity machine

What really fooled us was the enthusiasm. We chatted with literally hundreds of people all day, every day for the past three days – in and around the town, at the golf, in pubs and bars – and in torrential rain, howling wind and, occasionally, in the sunshine.

We shook hands, exchanged names, discussed how great the whiskies were and explained exactly where to go. People took flyers. Some asked for extras.

We talked about it at length online. Our 1,000+ followers on Twhisky had repeated invitations and reminders. Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay’s master blender and celebrity whisky personality put the call out to his 7,000 followers. Golf blogger Andy Brown circulated the message to his substantial mailing list.

The Scottish Tourism Board got involved, as did major Scottish newspapers. The tourism information centre were actively promoting us, and we even had insiders in the corporate hospitality tents encouraging their fellow VIPs to attend.

In all, we personally collected around 400 excited and genuinely keen promises to attend with gusto, as well as with friends and family members in tow. We needed just 30 to make good on those promises over two nights to break even.

The turnout

Competition winner Stuart Maclaughlin enjoys a dram

The first night, three came. Two of them had won their tickets in an online competition. The other was virtually dragged off the street – and in the end, we didn’t have the heart to charge him the entry fee. We closed the doors, had a dram or three, and a magnificent time with a terribly small but fantastic group of people – and then went home dejected.

We doubled our efforts the next day – determined to personally carry people into the building on our shoulders if necessary. Everyone was friendly and everyone was enthusiastic. We had cast iron guarantees of attendance from at least 40 people.

Not one came. Not one. WTF.

The explanation

We have theories. Something about the weather, the starting time or possibly the venue. None of these theories are very good – and certainly none explain a total washout. Poor attendance maybe, but not an absolutely zero turnout.

The price was £39 a head. Steep for your usual night out, admittedly – but given the circumstances and the clientele, it wasn’t outrageous. The feedback we had was that for six drams of bottles this great over the course of an evening, it was not an issue – but it is something we’re prepared to review.

The whisky itself was, of course, a massive drawcard. These are, it has to be said, some of the finest drams we’ve ever encountered. But even that was not enough to get people to actually walk through the doors.

Since we opened one of each bottle in preparation for our attendees each night, we’ve had our own tasting, and we’re very glad we did. Had the whole debacle not been a financial catastrophe for a couple of blokes who could ill afford it, then that alone would have been more than enough compensation for our battered egos.

We’ll post the tasting notes from each of the fine whiskies we’ve tasted (yes, just us, alone in a town hall) here on the blog over the next couple of days.

In the meantime – we want to hear what you think. What could we have done differently? Your positive advice and helpful suggestions would be most welcome. In fact, we’re so keen to get this right in future, we have a complete set of the three new Jura expressions we were tasting on the night to give away.

That’s around £180 worth of premium whisky for your best explanation or critique of the Dubber & Clutch St Andrews Golf Open Whisky Fiasco 2010.

Dubber and Clutch on Twitter:

@davidjmclare Some good ones in that pic. Give the Highland Park a go. Very drinkable… 
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