I tend to receive more and more questions by private messages or on social media (keep’em coming, I always like a good Q&A session, wish I could be a YouTuber sometimes… 😉 ), and while some of them are completely inappropriate (yes, I’m talking to you fellow LinkedIn “relations” who think the term “relation” might imply some sort of privacy between us 😉 ), here are a few questions I’ve received several times over the past few months. So instead of answering you one by one, I thought I would open-up a bit more around here… Because after all, it’s a blog!
How and when came your interest in whisky?
I wish I could say that I fell in a whisky barrel when I was younger or that I lived in the middle of the Scottish Highlands as a child… But I didn’t. My love story with whisky began more than 5 years ago when I first stepped foot in Scotland for a quick citybreak with my Scotland-born partner. As proper tourists, we went to visit a distillery and couldn’t miss a tasting of Scotch. This distillery happened to be Auchentoshan (near Glasgow), if it definitely isn’t the first whisky I ever had in my life, it was the one that made me appreciate the amber nectar and motivated me to embark in my discovery journey.
I was studying Chinese at university at that time, not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life (I even did an Art school before which wasn’t a success either), when I first thought I could turn my passion for whisky into a potential career.
I still finished my degree in Chinese and then completed a Master degree in hospitality & tourism management where I chose to focus on whisky tourism, more specifically studying how to enhance the visitor experience in distilleries. I went to live in Scotland for a while to improve my whisky knowledge, worked in a few distilleries & other whisky-related positions and was then offered a job, straight after my studies, in a French whisky distributor, where I only stayed for a few months before creating my own business.
Beside this – wobbly – educational/professional background, I kept educating myself for years : attending all sorts of whisky festivals, tastings, reading hundreds of books and visiting many distilleries in many different countries.
What do you do in your spare time?
“so much internet, so little time” – that’s what my tshirt says today. And that’s quite true, most of my spare time is spent reading whisky books, looking for new whisky bars/experiences to take or cuddling my cat, planning a future trip, and binge-watching series [currently trying to get done with The Walking Dead if you’re wondering ;)]. I used to ride horses for more than 10 years but had to stop because of my studies etc. If I had more spare time, this is definitely something I would be doing more often. Oh, and I also enjoy a good heavy metal concert or festival…. \m/
What tips would you give those who want to explore more of the Whisky World?
I couldn’t recommend enough to go visit a whisky distillery and take an extensive tour where you’ll really be able to witness the A-Z of whisky production. I do believe that education is key, so if you know there’s a whisky tasting event around you, give it a go! You may sometimes be disappointed, but most of the times, you will leave the tasting with this nice feeling of being more knowledgeable and above all, you’d had spent good time in great company, sampling some great drams !
If you love travelling, a trip to Scotland is a definite must-do for any whisky lover. There are of course other amazing whisky destinations such as Ireland, Japan, Sweden, France, Australia or America, but nothing can compete with a getaway on Islay or a whisky pilgrimage in Speyside (more than 50 distilleries in a 30-miles radius… ).
Festivals are a great way to discover Scotland’s national drink. Every year in May, you can discover the Speyside distilleries through the annual Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival (5 days of malted celebrations, concerts, exclusive distillery tours and one-of-a-kind experiences), attend Feis Ile on Islay if you’re more into the peaty side of malt [and even if you’re not btw, the experience alone is worth every penny ;)] or the Arran Malt & Music Festival to name but a few.
How to enjoy the most of a drink festival?
To enjoy the most of a drink festival, make sure to organise your trip in advance – especially transport and accommodation – trust me, you’re not willing to drive that day (no drinking when driving, we all know this.) and at the end of a festival day, the only thing that you’d be interested in is a good comfy bed. You can check the list of exhibitors before attending the festival and prepare a bucket list of those you wish to visit – go to your favourites first when arriving at the festival to avoid any disappointments (especially if you wish to buy their festival limited edition bottlings!)
I also recommend masterclasses, which are always a very good way of getting in-depth experiences and tastings without having to rush while being pushed by other festival attendees behind you ;). Do not hesitate to ask questions to distillery/brand representatives during masterclasses, there’s no better time to do so.
What is the perfect “Alcoholic Tour” for you? (I left the question as it was asked…)
The perfect tour would of course depends on the people I’m with, my mood, the environment etc. All those factors are really important when it comes to experience whisky and spirits in general.
Having said that, a perfect boozy adventure for me would include distillery tours with added value (I’m a lot into sensory experiences where you get much more than just the basic distillery visit – I couldn’t recommend enough to go check the “blending sessions” or “make your gin” experiences for instance, which even leaves you with a nice souvenir to go back home – you can sometimes print and design your own label, which I find quite cool!).
A great drinking tour would not be complete without extensive tastings of the local liquid delicacies, and here, there’s no better place than local pubs/restaurants (ask the locals for their favourite drinking hole, my best addresses always come from people recommendations). I have compiled a lot of them on my blog under the series “where to enjoy a good dram in...”different cities and countries around the world. Experienced bartenders tend to be a goldmine of information and can help you find out what your dream dram is!
Also, don’t forget that spirits are made by people: from farmers, coopers, distillery operators, designers to master distillers & blenders. Go meet those people and create some memories. You can for instance go see the barley farmers, walk in the peat fields (go handcut some peat like they did in the past if you have the opportunity, you’ll see how hard it was…), watch coopers doing their magic (the Speyside Cooperage is perfect for this), enjoy a warehouse tasting with the master distiller or put the shoes of a distillery operator for a day (I think they offer this kind of experience at Highland Park).
If you have time (and budget) – go back to school! Many distilleries have designed some great “whisky school” sessions lasting from one day to a full month: go check Springbank and Midleton’s Whiskey Academy in Ireland for instance.
Some people consider Whisky an elitist and male drink. What do you think about that and do you agree with that?
The whisky world has always been seen by beginners as a codified universe and boasts quite a dusty image of being an “old man’s drink”. This is something I’m constantly fighting against… However, I do believe this image is slowly evolving. There are now more and more females involved in the industry and considered as real experts (Rachel Barrie, Angela D’Orazio or Allison Patel to name but a few), so hey, girls know their dram!.
I think the craft spirits & mixology trend helped a lot to rejuvenate the image of whisky, I see more and more youngsters attending whisky festivals or even willing to open a distillery and that makes me happy! After all, we’re all a big family in the industry, only willing to welcome more members 😀 #ILiveInAChildFantasyWorldAndImFineWithIt
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