New grain whisky 808 has been designed for twenty-somethings with an endorsement by DJ TommyD. Philip Hunter finds that the branding is just as key as the blending, if not more so.
New grain whisky, 808, gets an apt full on, high beat send-off in London’s trendy Shoreditch
808 is billed as ‘the whisky for a new generation’ and if the provenance is anything to go by then it certainly has the right marketing credentials. Named after the Roland TR-808 drum machine it is the brainchild of DJ and music producer, TommyD, who has worked with an artist list from Kanye West to Kylie, and businessman Paul Pullinger and, following a soft launch last year is already the house pour whisky in Fabric, Ministry of Sound and The Warehouse Project.
Blended at North British distillery, Edinburgh’s last working distillery and one of the largest and oldest grain whisky producers in Scotland, the 8O8 team, which includes whisky expert Jonathan Driver, ex-Red Bull managing director, Harry Drnec, and Warner Music UK chairman and chief executive, Max Lousada, has created a whisky that is intended as a neat serve or for mixing in cocktails. To which end they brought in legendary bartender, Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Ryan Lyan, to help create bespoke cocktails that work with the soft, smooth style of the multi-grain whisky.
To mark its launch to the consumer market, I found myself surrounded in a bustling venue near Shoreditch High Street by a crowd of mostly student age more interested in 808’s properties as a cocktail base than for neat drinking.
To a backdrop of pulsating dance music I worked my way industriously down the card and found there were certainly some exciting cocktails on offer. My favourite was the “alternative Mojito” Coco8 Hiball with ginger ale and coconut water, getting the hangover cure in early, but I also enjoyed Dark Bob with its luscious saturation of blueberry juice.
Yet 808 is hardly going to fly with youth and overcome whisky’s supposedly staid image as a mixer alone and so I put it through its paces neat. I tried it absolutely neat, then with a little water to tease out its flavour, followed by a glass with a little ice and then one with a lot of ice Bourbon style.
I enjoyed it every which way but I was still left wondering whether it was actually worth its retail price tag of £32, positioning itself as a boutique item in that modern sense of the word intended to instill a vague sense of affordable luxury within limited horizons.
808 is a grain whisky so made from wheat or rye rather than malted barley and perhaps as a consequence I found it best of all absolutely neat without any added water in any state.
In that form 808 had a pleasing kick falling back to a smooth finish as one swills it around the mouth, but tasting blind I would be hard pushed to declare it cooler and more conducive to a young palate than say other premium blended whiskies like Johnnie Walker Black Label, which can be found for a little less money.
That may not matter for 808 is 90% branding – the bottle design was created by Mark Farrow who back in the day created much of the artwork for Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub – and only 10% about what is in the bottle.
Whether hedging its bets by positioning itself as both a mixer and fine neat whisky will work remains to be seen.