Greetings, ATW readers.
Forgive my long time absence from mere discussion and opinion pieces. I have no excuses, simply explanations. I have a day job…beautiful kids…a stunning (and ever patient) wife…a liver to worry about…and…my focus has been elsewhere of late. Namely…in blitzing the site with whisky reviews.
You may have seen a very honest and articulate question bandied my way by a ‘whisky mate’ here on the site. The exact post, for those that care to read it, was here. I wanted to take the answers I was preparing there and put them front and center because I feel they are relevant, insightful and allow me an opportunity to share a bit of history and a few bits of advice.
I’m an average guy. Just turned 35. Office job which is quite contrary to the rest of my personality. Music…tattoos…books…zombie flicks…guitars…an obsession with the mountains…that’s more the real me. I’m a rather intense sort who swings from obsession to obsession, all embraced headlong and with a singular enthusiasm. Sometimes they fade after a year or two. Othertimes not. Whisky is a case of the latter. It is an interest that has monopolized much of my spare time for a few years now in one way or another.
Contrary to what you might think…I don’t drink much. A dram or two once or twice a week. Maybe a couple on the weekend depending on plans and family time. And then the occasional tasting flight I arrange. One of the questions from ‘Skeptic’ specifically spoke to volume of consumption, mentioning a figure of medical recommendation to not exceed 100 ml a day. F*ck. That’s a lot of d(r)amage to the liver. I am nowhere near that and not a daily drinker, by any means. My nights of ‘blurring the lines’ are maybe once or twice a year. Otherwise…I’m sort of a well-behaved lad. Let’s face it…hangovers are not fun. Especially with kids.
I also don’t need a full dram to do my tasting/nosing notes and review. After enough practice, you don’t need a lot. Honestly. Sit in on a tasting flight with me (and yes…that is a sincere offer if you are in town) and you will see what I mean. The way it ‘usually’ works (a guide, not a rule) is I will pair up a few whiskies that logically associate, and bounce back and forth between them. Reviewing one whisky at a time is not ideal. If the opportunity presents, I will generally revisit the whiskies again at some point before publishing anything. These revisits nearly always align with what my first impressions were. It’s all about ensuring that each time you sit to nose whiskies, the conditions are favorable (i.e. you haven’t just eaten anything funky…your home hasn’t been spritzed with cleaning products or the smells of cooking…you don’t have a cold…etc). If any of the aforementioned may be a factor…I abort and wait to be in the right ‘place’. Otherwise, no matter how much you nose/taste, you’re still not gonna get what you need out of it.
I mention this, as it ties back to a recent bombardment of reviews here on the website. Just so we’re all on the same page…at any given time I have between 50 and 100 reviews in ‘draft’ format. They may have a complete write-up, but no tasting notes…or contrarily…complete tasting notes, but the muse has not yet whispered in my ear what exactly to say about the whisky.
This flurry of activity is not related to a period of heavy drinking. Nor is it indicative of a change in anything to do with my personal constraints. It is merely a refocusing of energies for a period here in an attempt to build up a solid database of reviews here on ATW. Why? Simply because this is a vanity project. I want you to come here and read. I want to share thoughts and opinions, and I want to interact. I met one of my best mates through running of the website (a previous site , that is).
How do I try as many whiskies as I do?
There are a few things I need to speak to in order to share a full understanding on this subject.
1) I do not get whiskies thrown my way from the industry, like some I know who specifically solicit this. I’m not averse to it, per se, but I also don’t believe in the concept of pushing for free sh*t. I find it uncouth and classless. I wasn’t built that way, and I don’t need to do it. If something comes my way…so be it. I know I will be honest and forthright with you, and it would allow me to try more, for own benefit, as well as share notes which will hopefully aid others in buying. HOWEVER…you can see by the spartan facade of the site, there are no ads…no sponsors, etc. I am taking in no revenue to do ‘the whisky thing’. All whiskies reviewed on ATW are: purchased by me…purchased by friends who share…samples provided from local retailers who simply want you to know they’re selling it…tasted in formal tastings…swapped samples with others.
I live in Canada. Our customs laws are so unbelievably rigid and archaic that we can not even ship alcohol from province to province, let alone between countries. (Yes, Canadian government…I’m taking aim at you *ssholes. Get with the f*cking times!) While I see samples (free or otherwise) being shipped all over to key reviewers and such…sadly…I am not a part of that.
2) I started the website when I felt I knew enough (though still adorably naive 😉 ) to be comfortable publicly speaking about the subject. In hindsight, it was a little too early. I have learned ridiculous amounts over the past few years. I have been humble enough to admit where I was off course, and have righted the ship from time to time. An easy example? Like all newbies…I scored far too high initially. I have had to do a couple of massive ‘true-ups over the years’.
Anyway…where I am going with this is…I made some connections through the site. Those individuals have shared generously of their time, knowledge and yes…whisky. I have friends in much better positions of life than I am, and who have a genuine interest in just wanting to hang out with fellow whisky nerds. One of the gents I am closest to now is someone I only came in contact through because of my site.
3) I run whisky clubs. One is a private little invitation-only affair for a few of my literate mates. We gather and discuss a book and some great whiskies each month. The other is a new undertaking. An impressive affair coming together known as The Dram Initiative. This is a big formal public club. I am the guy that brings these things to life. From there…a select handful of my best mates and all ’round good guys work tirelessly with me to keep it moving forward.
4) I take the initiative to be involved in events. Commercial tastings, festivals, launches, etc. I travel to Scotland every couple of years to tour distilleries and whisky bars. I also host my own events, when there is nothing out there suiting my vision.
At the end of the day…the most important bit of advice I can offer? Share your whisky. Use the ‘pay it forward’ model. Remember those who shared with you, and try to do the same for others where you can. I like to share good whisky with good people and it seems to come back around. Good people have in turn poured lovely drams for me. That’s what this is about, isn’t it?
Finally…for those that say they’ll never try a Port Ellen or a Rosebank or something…all I have to say is…y’never know. 😉
Cost? Well…let’s be honest. This is an expensive hobby. I make a pretty decent salary, but not quite decent enough to afford all of the whiskies I taste and review.
You have to cherry pick your purchases. Why try every batch of a’bunadh, as mentioned in the question, when there are tons of other great whiskies to experiment with? Yes, a’bunadh is great and I do try to keep one around, but I will generally try one out of every 5-10 batches or so. There are a lot of great whiskies out there.
And yes…you will miss out on limited batches. I do all the time. Sleep easy knowing that there will always be another ‘limited release’ coming down the pipelines. Hopefully you and your mates can sort of coordinate efforts on this front. You buy the new ‘Glenwhatzis’…he buys the new ‘Glenwhynot’…she buys the new ‘Glenpricey’. Then…get together, crack ’em open and share. That way you don’t need to personally buy them all, but still get the opportunity to try ’em. Trade bottles when you get halfway or three quarters through. Buy some sample bottles and start swapping samples. Plan your club events (if you have a little group who gathers) around drams you want to try.
Open ’em up. F*ck the idea of collecting. Storing some for future years? Sure. Collecting, and not sipping? Bah! Open ’em…share with friends…collect the memories. That’s the important stuff.
I admit…I have a couple hundred bottles in my basement. This ‘hoarding’, if you will, is self-perpetuating. After you build up some stocks, you’ll find you can buy less, but buy better. The key is always to buy a little more than you drink. Keep yourself in the black, in other words.
Finally…some thoughts on ‘integrity’…
All scored reviews are my own. There are other bits on the site which have been credited to Maltmonster or Whisky Pilgrim or what-have-you. But for the most part…this is my own rambling, for better or worse. I say that so you understand there is integrity, honesty and consistency to the reviews. You may not agree with me, but hopefully, if you stick around long enough, you’ll see where I’m coming from.
I also try to use almost exclusively all my own photography. I think this adds an element of sincerity and validation that these whiskies really are being tasted…and really are being properly assessed. I’m not the best photographer, but I get enough in the frame to show that these pics are not stock images.
I try to stay humble (some days harder than others), as it lets others see you’re not in it for gain.
I’ve finally started using twitter. Come find me at @Allthingswhisky. Each time something new goes up here, I’ll let you know there.
Sincerest thanks to ‘Skeptic’ for his questions. They’ve allowed me to orate without it necessarily being from a soapbox.
Until next, friends…please keep comments coming. Your feedback is important. I thank you.