After you read this, nobody will speak of Dram Club; not for a long while, at least.
When Dram Club first appeared out of nowhere in 2016, nobody knew if it would catch on. But it looks like it is here to stay with the third edition a qualified success. Tickets were sold out within a day, and the punters satisfied with their fill of blood on the night; not to mention that a fourth edition is just around the corner. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Dram Club was a branded initiative when it first kicked off – i.e. one of the big whisky companies was backing this project with some sort of outcome in mind. But you can’t really say the same this time.
The third edition of Dram Club took on a more indie feel, in more ways than one. It was held at the beautifully laid-back Barber Shop with the help of a Frenchman still basking in France’s recent World Cup glory, Fab Arm. This time around, long-time (actually just twice, but who’s counting) instigator and combatant, Matthew Fergusson-Stewart, took a back seat to oversee the proceedings and became the sole adult in the ring. There will always be an opportunity to throw in a few cheap shots anyway, so hell, why not. Taking centre stage were two young and up-and-coming whippersnappers from whisky bars The Single Cask and The Wall respectively, Brendan Asher Pillai and Jeremie Tan.
Known as ‘Rockstar’, Jeremie’s trash talk would easily define his aggressive approach for the night and his penchant for channelling the spirit of wrestling superstar CM Punk at every given opportunity. From the get-go, he’s right on Brendan’s case, and minutes had barely passed before Matthew has to step in to intervene. Posturing it may be, but it set the tone for the evening. A clearly bemused Brendan was happy to cede the swaggering to Jeremie, and if you know your TV tropes, you’ll expect a host of sucker punches to follow suit. And that’s pretty much how it played out.
For the evening, the contestants had prepared three secret drinks in the hope of swaying the crowd’s vote – yes, you do not just win by humiliating your hapless opponent with their own soiled laundry, you have to make sure you serve a worthy dram that reflects your fine taste as well. Unlike previous iterations, the whiskies this time were all from independent bottlers, which on hindsight, explained the slightly higher ticket price and meant that both contestants had a little more leeway (but keep to the budget, yo) in choosing their weapons of mass distraction – err, destruction.
In a way, the whiskies and presentation were a clear reflection of the combatants of the evening: rambunctious Jeremie is all about the simple, but big impact moves (and whisky) while Brendan’s subtle, counterpunching style proved to be the perfect foil for the Rockstar. Brendan’s attempts to befuddle the grandstand with a Deanston hiding in clothing that was almost distinctively Clynelish’s, was perfectly juxtaposed by Jeremie’s clothesline from Sherry hell with a big and heavy metal-esque “Glenf**kers” (Glenfarclas).
Understandably, there was a slight sense of disappointment when Jeremie’s illness (he had fallen sick earlier in the day) took its toll and sapped his energy midway through the battle, leaving him to battle the rest of the way on a bar stool sans his manic energy, prompting perhaps the best heckle from the audience that nobody heard: “where’s your guitar, man?” Oh, but I did hear that Charlie, I did.
But like any good wrestling match, the combatants worked the unexpected situation in their favour; the attention turned to the whisky, with a couple of zingers thrown in every now and then. Photoshop had become almost a mainstay weapon in any Dram Club fight, and this one wasn’t short of them too. Brendan inevitably has to suffer a Bollywood reference, while Jeremie gets his own ancient Chinese doppelganger for good measure.
In all honesty, there was less savagery than one would have liked, but it was replaced by a show of mutual respect and camaraderie – kind like a match where two Faces (good guy characters) faced off. When the smoke cleared, Brendan had edged the contest, but hugs remained on free flow and everyone was satisfied; especially given the teaser of what’s to come next. Sarah Thallon, part whisky expert, part budding DJ, and all Scottish lass, defends her country’s most valuable export against Joseph Seah, who’s American big on bourbons. The fact that they’re colleagues at work is all the more enticing – can we see the at-work promos soon, please?