A Dram A Day, a whiskey tasting marathon

Picture Credit Charlotte Graham/Guzelian North Yorkshire dad takes on a whiskey tasting marathon, to support children's heart surgery charity, Ben Bowers, from Hemingbrough, near Selby, North Yorkshire

Picture Credit Charlotte Graham/Guzelian
North Yorkshire dad takes on a whiskey tasting marathon, to support children’s heart surgery charity, Ben Bowers, from Hemingbrough, near Selby, North Yorkshire

Hello. My name’s Ben Bowers. It’s nice to meet you.

Kairi and Vaughn are the sort of friends that you joke about as parents – they’re inseperable, they set each other off, they’ll probably spend the rest of their lives together . My wife and I always wanted our daughter to marry a blue-eyed American boy – Vaughn’s mum Rebecca is from the US, so it’s close enough for us.

When Rebecca was pregnant with Vaughn, she and her husband Simeon discovered their son already had problems with the development of his heart.

Vaughn was born with a hole in his heart and just five days later had open heart surgery – the first of three he had to endure before he had even celebrated his first birthday after further complications were found.

Kairi and Vaughn

Kairi and Vaughn

On the right is a picture of my daughter, Kairi, along with her best friend Vaughn. It’s the best picture I could get, given that they can never stay still for more than 0.2 milliseconds. In 2014 he underwent a fourth surgery, but this was not a success and as a result his heart pressure is now at dangerous levels.

 

He can play pretty much as any normal boy can, but he has to take things easier than most kids his age, and once he is strong enough he will need to undergo a complete valve replacement.

Let me take a sidetrack now. I have a Labrador, and to pass the time walking him every evening I listen to podcasts. I’m not a massive football fan (I’m an armchair Gooner, shall we say) but I enjoy listening to the weekly Guardian Football podcast on a regular basis.

Last year, one of the journalists, John Ashdown, set himself a challenge to drink 500 different beers in the space of a calendar year. He made it – just – and it was an interesting side story during all the footie chat to find out how he was getting on.

I used to manage a dedicated whisky shop in the centre of York in the North of England, and I’ve also worked for some of the biggest drinks companies in the world. I’ve been out of the drinks industry for a few years, although I still deal with pubs as part of my current job. I still love whisky, and I was looking for something to do with my spare time that might rekindle my love for the water of life.

Could I sample a year’s worth of whisky, I wondered? 500 seemed like a lot, but 366 (2016 being a leap year) sounded possible. What about the health dangers? If I just sampled a 25ml shot, that would be the equivalent of one unit of alcohol. UK Government recommendations state 14 units in a week, so a dram a day would end up being half of that.

An idea began to form. It was a challenge – a long term, difficult challenge, but one I thought was possible. I started to think about the logistics – should I just do Scotch Single Malt? No, I prefer Bourbon so it would be good to get a mix, plus would there be enough to get through a year? Do I sample different ages? No, why not make it a real challenge and make all the distilleries (or brands) different. How do I document the samples? A podcast? No. A blog? Well, yes, but there’s a million blogs out there. Videos? Ooh, now we’re talking.

Where do I get the samples from? What happens if I run out?

This is where Vaughn comes back in. I could try to start the challenge on my own, and write to distilleries and drinks companies and ask for miniatures and samples, but I’m essentially asking for freebies. And if I get to day 30 and I’ve run out of samples, what’s stopping me from jacking it in?

But if I do this challenge for charity, I have a reason to stick it out. I have a reason to push on, to keep asking people, to keep networking and sharing and trying to spread the word of not only my challenge but also the fantastic work that the people who support Vaughn and his family throughout his difficulties.

I asked Rebecca who she would want to raise money for. Her first answer was The Childrens Heart Surgery Fund, a charity based in Leeds who provide assistance and equipment for babies and children with congenital heart problems, along with support for their families

I couldn’t think of a better charity to raise money for. The chance to help the best friend of my oldest daughter, who may have to be part of his struggles if their friendship continues as it is now. I dread to think what all of us would have to go through should the worst happen with him. This would be a chance to ensure that didn’t happen.

So this is my challenge. Across 366 days from Burns’ Night 2016 (Jan 25th) to Burns’ Night 2017 I will sample and review a 25ml dram of 366 whiskies from 366 different distilleries or brands. Every review will be filmed and I will provide some background detail on the distillery/brand itself, introducing new drinkers to each one. The video will then be uploaded to a YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/adramaday366) to provide a database for drinkers in the future. Ideally each dram should be the ‘standard’ release of the producer in question, to give viewers (and me) an indication of what the ‘core’ of the whisky is like.

My aim is to raise £5000 for The Childrens Heart Surgery Fund. That total is simply a finger-in-the-air moment when setting up my JustGiving page (www.justgiving.com/adramaday), but at the time of writing in June 2016 I have raised over £700 in donations and I really feel that the closer I get to the end of the challenge the more money I could raise, as people realise I could well do this.

As I type, I have just uploaded Dram #148 – I’ll hit the halfway mark of 188 on Saturday 30th July. Right now I have enough samples to get me to Dram #318 – and with the exception of six miniatures that I bought for a grand total of $16, all of them have been donated by people I have met on social media. Facebook and Twitter have led me to meet some fantastically generous people who have been gracious enough to send me little bottles of various whiskies, from Glenmorangie and Bells to Swiss, Belgian, French and Indian whiskies, along some unbelievably rare samples of the likes of Millburn and Brora (just the £400 a bottle, mind).

The whisky community has been amazing and humbling, and their kindness knows no bounds.

It has been so much fun speaking with people about whisky on a daily basis, and it’s been fascinating to research some of the more unusual names that, without this challenge, I would never have encountered. There’s only a few Drams left to source, and I have an updated list at adramday.tumblr.com/listofwhiskies which shows what I’ve have obtained so far and what would be fantastic to get a sample of.

And yes, the challenge is difficult. Every night, or every other night when I film two drams to give myself a bit of a buffer, I have to find the time to research, film, edit and upload. I’ve just returned from a family vacation in Florida, where I had to carry on the challenge whilst dealing with two kids and Disney parks. To further complicate matters, my wife is pregnant with our third child, and she’s due in October, which will certainly make the final third of the challenge… interesting.

I’m not halfway to the end yet, but with the samples I’ve received so far I know I can make it – I’m so close to having enough to get me to 366, after which I can concentrate purely on raising funds for the charity. I’m pitching monetary donations similar to those who run marathons – instead of sponsoring me per mile, sponsor me per dram – 10p per dram totals £36.60. Not much for a year, but if 100 people did that I’m well over halfway towards my goal.

Vaughn is an amazing, brave, beautiful little boy, and seeing him and my daughter together is everything about being a parent in one go.

If doing this daft, dumb, difficult challenge can save his life, or another kid like him, it’s worth the effort.

JustGiving – www.justgiving.com/adramaday
YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/adramaday366
Facebook Page – www.facebook.com/adramaday
The List of Whiskies – adramaday.tumblr.com/listofwhiskies

 

 

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