All Eyes On 8O8 This Summer

Posted on June 1, 2015

Words: Abby Lowe
Images: Hrvoje Slebur.

Chances are, if you’re queuing at the bar of a club and pondering what drink to get, whisky wouldn’t be the first thing that crossed your mind. It’s long been associated with old guys wearing tweed jackets, who go fox hunting on Sundays and come home brandishing a rifle in one hand and a carcass in the other before settling down in front of a roaring fire. Perhaps that’s a stereotype but it’s undeniable there are certain characteristics attached to the discerning whisky drinker. Now though, that’s all about to change, because a new whisky brand called 8O8 is about to come to a club near you, and it’s all set to blow your perceptions of the drink out the water. Prepare to sample and savour a truly sexed up version of whisky as you know it.

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The man behind this new smoother than silk tipple is gregarious former DJ, Ministry of Sound pioneer, producer and songwriter, TommyD, who having conquered the music industry at least a thousand times over (he’s worked with Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye and Kylie, no less) decided to turn his jack of all trades spirit towards creating a new whisky brand in celebration of the wonder of dance music. “I’m a musician first and foremost,” he tells me when we meet at Ushuaia during this year’s IMS conference, “but I like trying new things. I’ve got a very low boredom threshold and I like a challenge.”

Moving into the whisky business might not seem like the next obvious move having worked with some of the music industry’s most high profile names, but when Tommy explains how 8O8 came about it starts to make perfect sense.

“About two years ago I was bored of everyone moaning about the music industry and saying it’s not like it used to be. I started thinking about the concept of how music gets delivered, how everybody loves it but no one wants to buy it. So I started thinking about creating a product you can’t download – something you can hold in your hands like a CD. I thought it could be possible to hold and sell something that had a strong connection with music and the two would feed each other – not just financially but in other ways. Then I was talking to a friend of mine and I was telling him about how much I loved whisky and how I’d always drunk it – at the age of 13 I had a little ritual where I used to pour my dad’s whisky at night. I’d make it with one chunk of ice and see him sit back and think about the world, and I watched his cares melt away with the ice.”

So whisky has always been a part of Tommy’s life, but it was while he was recounting the second part of this particular story to his friend that he had a ‘hallelujah’ moment that he should create his own brand.

“I used to bunk into clubs as a kid, and one of them was the Embassy club and Lemmy from Motörhead was always there. Lemmy liked Jack Daniels, and he also liked speed. So he would stand at the fruit machine with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bag of speed and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. One day I went up to him and he went ‘here, hold this’ because he couldn’t fill the fruit machine with a bag of speed in one hand and whisky in the other, so he gave me the bottle of Jack Daniels and told me to try it, and that was it – I found my drink. Since then I’ve always drunk whisky.”

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But Tommy, being the kind of guy he is, didn’t want to establish just another run of the mill whisky to add to the hundreds already on the market – he wanted to make something different, something that was tied to his roots in music and that would give back to the industry he’s been a part of for decades.

“I wanted to create a brand from the ground up that had an easy taste, a simple smell and a nice look. We did a lot of tastings and we developed the liquid with a guy called Jonathan Driver, who’s one of the top five whisky experts in the world. I just wanted to do a whisky that celebrated dance music culture, and had nightclubs at its heart. The idea is that 8O8 is used as a means to celebrate dance culture – to celebrate DJs and what we’ve been doing for the last 30 years.”

And they’re already well on their way to doing that. As a company, 8O8 is working with five clubs in Ibiza, as well as five in the UK – and it’s already the house pour in fabric and naturally, Ministry of Sound. And what makes it stand out from other whiskys is its incredible drinkability – it has a soft, smooth flavour, something that’s undoubtedly helped it receive a 95% approval rate in tastings carried out in London. If early signs are anything to go by, it looks like 8O8 is well on course to really reinvigorate the whisky scene and our drinking palates. And when it does, Tommy’s got big plans:

“Hand on heart, I’m going to put 90% of our marketing budget back into nightclubs. I love what Red Bull have done – they use their budget to further things like extreme sports. So I want to have academies and I want to bring in new artists – I want to take a great kid that’s coming through, who’s doing well on SoundCloud, and then give him five grand to go and make a track. Whisky is about mixing things – so for me as a musician, I want to embrace collaborations. We want to create a great product, that sells at a reasonable price and at the same time, gives back to this amazing scene.”

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And when it’s put like that, it seems miraculous that the whisky and dance music relationship hasn’t been explored before. For Tommy, it’s obvious that giving back is just as important as bringing whisky to the masses. And that becomes even clearer when he explains where the name 8O8 came from.

“The TR-808 is an electronic drum machine that was created by the Roland Digital Corporation in the early eighties. It came out around the same time as the LinnDrum – it was a quarter of the price of a LinnDrum but it didn’t get the same exposure. So because it was cheap, all the hip-hop kids used it, and those sounds resonated on the dancefloor. Those sounds eventually moved into the early part of dance music and they became like the standard. So when house music came along, you had to have some kind of 808 drum sound in there, and now it’s like the cornerstone of electronic music. And there isn’t a hip-hop record now that doesn’t have an 808 at its heart. So when we were thinking of a name – I wanted it to be simple, to be something that resonated, and international – because dance music is international, and it brings people together; it has no boundaries. And that’s when 8O8 came to me.”

When you meet Tommy his passion is what shines through – his dedication to music and to his product are paramount, but ultimately, it’s the taste of 8O8 that’s the real clincher: that’s why you’ll see people drinking it all over Ibiza this year. And as he says himself:

“We’re not taking on the whisky world – we just want to encourage people to drink it. If 8O8 is the first one they try, then fantastic, and if it gives them the confidence to explore other whiskys then that would be incredible.”