Ten years ago, I first wrote about whiskey. It was a small article for a local newspaper. The piece was really more of a social event article than a whiskey article, as I was covering a Hollywood party featuring whatever young actors were the flavor that month. The party was sponsored by a major bourbon maker at a time when most parties of that type were sponsored by vodka makers. Or wine makers. Or rum purveyors. Anything but whiskey.
The article was nothing special and the whiskey was barely mentioned. However, the brand ambassador was nice enough and interesting enough that a year later when I received an invite to attend and cover a whisky expo in San Francisco I decided to explore the subject. A few minutes of chatting with some boys from Bowmore had me completely hooked. Within a couple of years I was writing columns for national magazines; learning about whisky from the biggest names in the business: Paterson, McEwan, Noe, Samuels; and drawing strange looks from bartenders when I’d ask for certain whiskies, cocktails or used the word, “neat.”
At the time, it seemed like there were only a couple of dozen of us writing about
whisky regularly. There were the all-stars like Jackson, Murray, Nouet, Broom, Hansell, etc. And then there were a second tier of us: professional journalists who’d seen our interest in drinks piqued by the world of whisky and our writing skills increasingly devoted to that world.
Jump forward to 2009, and I’m living on Islay, working at Bruichladdich, lunching at Ardbeg, strolling down sheep paths for an afternoon dram at Caol Ila. I felt I’d written enough about whisky from a journalistic standpoint. I decided to shift to a bigger vision. Whisky as metaphor. The move to Islay immersed me in that metaphor, literally making me part of the story. And, I wrote a book following that vision.
After two years of traveling the world, and a year removed from Islay, I returned to the U.S. to pursue publishing the book. My oh my, how the world had changed. There was already a slight shift in popular culture with a few whisky bars opening before I left the country. By 2011, they were everywhere. Even bars that didn’t focus on whisky were now run by “mixologists” who found ways to use whiskies in new concoctions.
And writing? Well, that small group of whisky writers from a few years earlier had exploded into a worldwide cadre of bloggers, tasters, tweeters and aficionados. What had once been an almost secret language among a lucky few was now rocketing around the world in 140 characters or less. I’m a relatively young guy, but stepping away from the world of whisky and then looking into it a couple of years later made me feel more like Rip Van Winkle than Pappy Van Winkle.
I wasn’t sure if there was a place for my kind of writing in this new world of whisky. So, I pretty much didn’t write, aside from the occasional piece here and there, usually at someone’s request. No articles. I sat on the book. I lived mainly vicariously, following other people’s blogs and tweets, adding my own thoughts when inspired. An exiled preacher of the faith looking in on the world he once evangelized about to those who had yet to hear the good word of Murray’s Whisky Bible.
My favorite part of working at Bruichladdich was laying down casks in the warehouse, knowing that I was helping put something to sleep that would wake up gloriously. And, while I would never categorize my own writing as glorious, I think it’s time to wake it up and see if time and the environment has matured my creativity. Do I have something to say that will resonate?
The Whisky Guy Rob blog is now officially resurrected. Over the course of the next few months I will dive back into the world of whisky, exploring its connection to writing, creativity and things outside of the standard distillery updates, though there will be plenty of those I’m sure.
The late Michael Jackson and I were chatting over a dram a few years ago, and I asked him what were the keys to becoming a great whisky writer. His answer was uncharacteristically short and to the point. “Write! Drink!”
I’ve been doing one of those the past couple of years. Now it’s time to reignite the other.