Private blending sessions wherein one leaves with their own bottled whiskey are rare and costly (sometimes $5,000 and up), but Designer Dram offers drinkers the opportunity to develop their own unique whiskey from barrel to bottle entirely online for $139. The process begins with the company’s Whiskey Builder, an online portal intended to collect information about your preferred tipple. Consumers then concoct their own blend of base spirits—pure bourbon, rye bourbon, wheated bourbon, barley rye and pure rye—until the bottle reaches 100%. Or, for those unsure of where to start, there’s a Palate Test. Then it comes down to selecting up to six flavors from five categories—fruit, sweet aromatics, spice, grain and smoke—to narrow the possibilities and help Designer Dram choose something on your behalf. The result is a recipe unique to your palate; one out of 21,000+ possible iterations.
When we were granted with our own Designer Dram experience by co-founders Shrada Divri and Chintan Dhanji, we devised a pure bourbon-dominant bottle: 60% pure bourbon, 10% rye bourbon, 5% wheated bourbon, 10% barley rye, 15% pure rye. The brand details the most pronounced notes within each of these spirits. For pure bourbon they cite molasses, frosting and marshmallows. For pure rye, they list vanilla, caramel, spice and smoke. Next, the drinker selects the ABV (43% or 47%), with the lower percentage offering a smoother sip and the other, more robustness.
In the next step of the process, you select from 21 different label designs to further the personalization. Depending on your configuration, you will be prompted to provide a name for your whiskey, a year, and a description or monogram. We favored simplicity, opting for a minimal label with two monogrammed initials. The entire package is wrapped in a black bow, tucked into a Designer Dram-labeled box and finished with a recipe card and handwritten note from its bottler.
Our recipe resulted in a whiskey with a woody, slightly sweet burn reminiscent of scotch whisky—likely because our levels of wheated bourbon and barley rye (15% total). The bottle stands out on a shelf thanks to its decanter-style top. It’s widest at its middle, boasts two arched feet and an elevated underside, a slim bottleneck and label placement that avoids blocking the view of the spirit inside.
For Divri and Dhanji, the concept for a custom whiskey creator stemmed from a shared affection for the liquid. They also aimed for more affordability to an otherwise astronomically priced experience. Using an algorithm Dhanji created along with a sensibility for customer service, Designer Dram was born.
“I love whiskey a lot,” Dhanji says. He recounts a time when he nearly bought a barrel of his own. “But when you get into that, you start understanding that it’s not easily accessible. The whole concept of bespoke, custom experiences are not accessible to everybody. So we thought, ‘How do we make this accessible to where you can actually create your own whiskey?’ I think that’s what the driver was.”
“There was a big time factor as well as a cost factor, because if you’re going to create your own barrel and create a custom whiskey from scratch, it’s going to take a minimum of two years,” Divri explains. “And I don’t want to say who wants two-year-old whiskey, because plenty of people drink two-year-old whiskey, but who wants two-year-old whiskey?”
The pair began the process of tasting and selecting barrels available to them through MGP Ingredients, an Indiana-based supplier of distilled spirits. Employing a panel of Master Distillers, they worked through the selections and tasted all of the potential extremities—any instance where two flavors could clash. Of course taste is subjective, but Divri and Dhanji wanted to be confident in all of their system’s potential outcomes. “It was almost like making confection. The smells, the aromas—they were just unbelievable,” Dhanji recalls.
This same excitement is infused into every order. While Divri and Dhanji aren’t doing the blending themselves, they oversee order fulfillment remotely. They also field inquiries about the desirability of a chosen design or the likelihood a customer’s recipe might taste like their favorite mass-market spirit. A new online mash bill finder assists with the customer with these questions too. This helps customers create a spirit reminiscent of their favorite sip. Plenty more features for personalization are in the pipeline, including access to limited edition barrels or additional control over bottle and box design.
“Our goal is to make every customer’s experience as exceptional as possible,” Dhanji says. “We’ll do whatever we can to do that.”
Images by Evan Malachosky