“Money doesn’t in any way dictate how good a whisky is, especially when they are older”
BarLifeUK first encountered Dan Bovey about ten years ago, when he was in the midst of a cocktail competition spree that saw him win pretty much every heat we judged. Since then, Dan has worked at many of the South West’s most prominent venues, and currently holds the post of group beverage manager for Hyde & CO’s 11 site estate. Dan is also founder of The Dusties whisky club, the subject of this interview:
BLUK: For the uninitiated, what is The Dusties? DB: The Dusties is a Bristol-based break even whisky club. I’d say we are a little bit punk rock, it’s edgy in the way that we don’t make money off the tastings, the ticket money pays for the whisky we drink on the day. So it’s opening up bottles of spirit that would normally go to collectors, or be hidden away and not enjoyed.
BLUK: What was your main motivation for starting the club? DB: I’d been drinking and loving whisky, especially peated Scotch whisky, for a really long time, and in 2018 I’d been collecting bottles to drink primarily, but also you’d buy one and put one away kind of thing, and realized I’d collected 7 year’s worth of Ardbeg festival releases, and I was like ‘I really want to drink them, but they’ve built up quite a value’. It was quite scary thinking ‘I want to drink these but they are worth a grand’, so I threw it up on Facebook, and said ‘I’ve got this whisky, who wants to join in and drink some of it, and we’ll just chip in equal parts?’. That got a good response, we had 30 people there… From then we just grew it, I started buying stuff in advance with the forethought of doing a tasting with it at some point, and in the second year we did 6 tastings, and each year we’ve grown it since then.
BLUK: Including the pandemic years? DB: Yes, throughout lockdown we did lots of virtual tastings, which was good, it was nice to keep everyone connected. There’s about 600 people in The Dusties Facebook group, and it kept them together.
BLUK: Now that the lockdowns are behind us, will you keep a virtual element to the club, so people outside Bristol can be involved? DB: It was very much Bristol-based at first, but with word of mouth it grew and we started to get people coming up from London or down from the Midlands, it shifted from being solely bartenders to getting more whisky heads in, and as it progressed it become more and more whisky heads… and when we went into lockdown, we started picking up people in Scotland, we had packs going out to the Hebrides and little islands. So when we came out of lockdown we decided to split the tickets and sell 20 for in-person, and 12 to 15 for online, to keep those guys involved.
BLUK: Having tasted all of this incredible whisky so far, was the most expensive dram also the best-tasting dram? DB: No (laughs)… Money doesn’t in any way dictate how good a whisky is, especially when they are older. It can dictate rarity and collect-ability for limited editions and stuff. Sometimes a whisky is expensive just because it is old and rare.
BLUK: Can you put a name to the whisky you have enjoyed the most so far? DB: Man, that’s hard. We had a 27YO Glendronach single Oloroso cask, that was amazing. And there was a 45YO Port Askaig which was phenomenal, certainly not an every day dram!
BLUK: Are there any particular drams you have your eye on for this year?
DB: We really want to go to the Islay festival this year. We went the last time they held it, in 2019, and stayed in a little glamming hut thing, and every day went to the distilleries’ open days, and bought the limited edition bottles they were selling. We did that across the whole island… We queued from from 1 am to 8am to get golden tickets, that sort of thing. That was hilarious because we were stood next to whisky collectors who were there specifically to put it in their collection or on auction, and we were like ‘we’re going to drink it’.
BLUK: How can our readers get involved with The Dusties?
DB: The Facebook group has the most up-to-date notifications, and we also have a website for buying tickets, just because selling alcohol on Facebook would get us shut down. I’ll put what tastings are coming up throughout the year on Facebookas and when we know when they are… And I know a lot of the whisky community is beardy old men, but it should be for everyone, for young people, whoever the fuck wants to drink it. We’re inclusive.
BLUK: One last question… Have you made a cocktail with any of these ridiculously expensive whiskies?
DB: We definitely have, when there’s been little bits left over… In 2019 we did an Irish whiskey tasting, it was primarily whiskies from Middleton, so Redbreast, that kind of thing. We had 50-100ml left of some of these bottles, so we did a Middleton single sherry cask Clover Club, which was jokes, because Zack, who was one of the Pernod ambassadors at the time, his favorite drink was a Four Leaf Clover Club, so for lols we did it with this one. It was delicious…