Thursday, October 26, 2017

Interview with The Whisk(e)ySmiths

Today we have the great pleasure of introducing you to husband and wife; Zac & LeAnne Smith, better known as the Whisk(e)ySmiths. Zac & LeAnne Smith are both certified whisk(e)y sommeliers, founders of, the writers behind the Whisk(e)y Wednesday Newsletter and last but not least, the founders of The Whisk(e)y Warrior Award, and some of the most giving and sharing people, that I have had the pleasure of working with, through the whisk(e)y community.

I know you are both very busy, so thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I truly appreciate it.

Zac: Our pleasure Hasse. We always love talking to you!

Before we get started, you might like to introduce yourself to those readers who don’t already know you.

Zac: Ok, I’ll go first. You already covered our whiskey credentials in your intro, so I’ll just add a few personal details. When a topic fascinates me I dive headlong into it. I’ll research and read until I know everything I can. Also, to the chagrin of those around me, I play the Devil’s advocate a lot even if I hold the opposite opinion of the one I’m defending. It’s how I make sure no stone is left unturned. Thankfully, LeAnne lovingly puts up with my exasperating traits.

LeAnne: And I am the eternal peacemaker(mediator) and caretaker, which is why Zac and I are a perfect match! I want everyone around me to feel at ease and cared for. My professional background is as a nurse, where I get to do that on a physical level. But I believe sharing food and drink with people is just another way to express that I care about you.

A typical question among whisk(e)y enthusiasts are; How long have you been into whisk(e)y and do you remember which whisk(e)y that got you hooked?

Zac: I’ve always loved the idea of whiskey ever since I was a kid. So I’ve been “into” it for a long time. As far as actually drinking it though, that’s been about eight years for me. The whiskey that sealed the deal was Lagavulin 16. I’m a little bit of a pyromaniac so when I discovered that I could basically drink a campfire I was hooked.

LeAnne: One of my early posts on the blog touched on this topic. It was my big brother who first gave me a sip of whiskey about 10 years ago. It was a glass of Blantons single barrel bourbon and it was love at first taste! That became my “favorite whiskey” mostly because I hadn’t tried many other whiskeys, but it gave me confidence to call myself a whiskey drinker and to try new ones whenever I got the chance. When I met Zac, his love of Scotch helped expand my taste beyond bourbon to the whole world of whiskey.

It might seem like a very easy question, but why are you so passionate about whisk(e)y?

Zac: It combines three of my favorite things: intricacy, history, and making people happy.

LeAnne: I’d have to say I love whiskey for those same reasons. First and foremost, I love the way it brings people together! To share a pour with someone can bind friends even closer together in a shared experience and can make new friends out of complete strangers. Second, I love the feeling of being connected to the history of a people and place by this common thread. Whiskey is a drink that’s been enjoyed by peasants to Presidents, and now you and I get to be part of that history too!

You are both certified whisk(e)y sommeliers. I do believe that most people associate sommeliers with the wine industry. I for one wasn’t aware, until recently, that one can become a certified Whisk(e)y sommelier. Do you mind telling us a bit about your training and what a Whisk(e)y sommelier is all about?
LeAnne: You wouldn’t be the first to make that association, Hasse! Most people do think of wine when they hear sommelier. We were very fortunate to be part of the first class of an innovative new certification program for Whiskey Sommeliers through the Whisk(e)y Marketing School in Austin Texas, USA. The training involves 5 levels of intensive 2 day classes that completely immerse you in all things whiskey, with lots of self-study between sessions (which can be 6 months to a year). Each class includes blind whiskey tastings designed to develop and hone your nose and palate, in-depth history and legal classification of whiskey around the world as well as informal gatherings with master distillers. Even though we are graded and take it very seriously, the point of being a Whiskey Sommelier is not to distinguish yourself from others but to learn how to make drinking whiskey accessible and enjoyable for everyone!  Zac and I are currently Level 3 sommeliers.

Zac: I also love how the training delves into not just the history of whiskey but the why’s as well. A lot of whiskey history stems from necessity and accidental discovery. As far as what it means to be a whisk(e)y sommelier, I look to the original French usage of the word. Sommelier means Butler and/or Steward. The original sommeliers were house servants, nothing more. As time went on, some of them became so good at their job that they started gaining renown for what they did. Eventually “sommelier” came to mean expert and not just servant. So to me, being a whisk(e)y sommelier means being an expert in both knowledge and service, emphasis on service. Good service and presentation is paramount for the job.

You guys hosts whisk(e)y tastings. Please tell us what people can expects from a Whisk(e)y Smiths tasting?

LeAnne: Our whiskey tastings are completely customizable and the perfect outlet for my caretaker personality! While Zac is dropping some amazing whiskey knowledge, I’m walking the room to make sure everyone has a proper pour, making conversation and answering questions. We want everyone to leave having had a great time, while learning a little something about whiskey and their own palate.

Zac: Yes, absolutely. Empowering people to explore the world of whiskey on their own is a key attribute of all our tastings.

Please tell us about your Whisk(e)y Wednesdaynewsletter. How long have you been running it?

Zac: We’ve been putting out our Whisk(e)y Wednesday newsletter for about a year now.

What or who inspired you to create it?

Zac: We were inspired to create it because we had all this passion for whiskey and we wanted to share that with an equally passionate community. Going online allowed us to reach out to a larger international society of whiskey lovers.

What’s the ideology behind the newsletter?

Zac: We believe that the only definition of “good whiskey” is “whiskey you like to drink.” We also believe that the more you know, the better your whiskey tastes.

I have been following your Whisk(e)y Wednesday Newsletter for some time now, and I believe there’s one thing that divide you guys from a lot of the other whisk(e)y websites and newsletters out there; The lack of whisk(e)y reviews and general news about new and upcoming whiskeys. Instead you seem to focus your energy on educating whisk(e)y drinkers, new as well as long time whisk(e)y enthusiasts. Why did you choose to go down that road, instead of just following the stream?

Zac: Well, we felt that there are already a lot of amazing sites, like The Son of Winston Churchill, who are doing a great job of offering whisk(e)y reviews and news. We also know that we’ll never get to do a personal whiskey tasting with every person out there. So the question was: How do we empower all the people we’ll never get to meet in person? The answer for us was to share the why’s and how’s of whiskey. That way, even if we don’t get to do a tasting with you, you can at least take that knowledge and use it at home and with friends.

Recently whiskey blogger Sku retired from blogging, and stated on his Sku’s Recent Eats blog, that he had said pretty much all that he had to say. Do you think that there will ever come a time, when you start feeling the same way?
Zac: Wow that’s a good question. Eventually I might run out of new things to say about whiskey. Some day in the distant future I might even decide that I’m done writing about whiskey. But I’ll always be up for talking about whiskey! There’s nothing like sharing a dram with someone while discussing the golden spirit. I’ll never get tired of that.

You guys have created a Whiskey Deductive Tasting Chart, which by the way is free to download through your site. Please tell us a bit about how it works?

Zac: I’ll do my best to be succinct. The chart is a powerful tool in your whiskey learning arsenal. It gives your eyes, nose, and mouth an order of operation to work with, causing your thoughts to stay organized. Using it will let your tasting notes flow freely and be meaningful. It helps you focus on what you’re actually tasting so you get more out of your whiskey.In short order, you’ll be able to taste a whiskey blind and narrow down country of origin, the grain it’s made from, and the type of barrel it was aged in. If anyone would like to download it, they can click here. There’s two articles on the download page that go into much more detail and give the steps for using the Deductive Tasting Chart.

You guys are the founders of the Whisk(e)y Warrior Award. Let me start out by saying, that I truly believes it’s one of the most selfless, giving and appreciating projects that I have ever encountered from one of the members in the whisk(e)y community. Please tell us what your Whisk(e)y Warrior Award is all about, and how people can nominate their very own Whisk(e)y Warrior.

Zac: Most people will never get paid to share their passion for whiskey with others. But that doesn’t stop them from sharing a dram, hosting tastings, writing blogs, recording podcasts, and the like. They contribute to the whiskey community because they love to. We created the Whisk(e)y Warrior Award in order to acknowledge and say thank you to the non-industry people who give so much and are the backbone of our whiskey community. Anyone can nominate a Whisk(e)y Warrior by going to our website or by clicking here.

How did you come up with the idea for the award?

Zac: I was in the shower (that’s where I do my best contemplating) and I was thinking about needs that weren’t being met in the whiskey community. For some reason I got onto awards and how there are a lot of awards for the whiskey industry, but no award for the enthusiast. You have all these people who are supporting the whiskey industry and getting no recognition for it. So I told LeAnne my idea for the award and she was instantly behind it. LeAnne helped refine the original idea and made it much better.

Why are you willing to use your own hard earned money, buying and creating prizes for the nominated warriors?

Zac: When I see a need I fill it if I can. We saw the need to encourage and validate our fellow whiskey enthusiasts and had the ability to put together the prizes. So we did. We believe this award has the power to bring the whiskey community closer together. We’re more than happy to spend the money to help do that.

Do you guys have a Whisk(e)y Warrior of your own?

LeAnne: I have to say that Zac is my personal Whiskey Warrior. He is the definition of everything this award is about! Even before we started this journey to become certified sommeliers, Zac has always been eager to pull a bottle off the shelf and share it with someone who may be curious but hesitant about whiskey. But more than just tasting, he has always been eager to teach them how to appreciate what they are tasting and empower them to find their own palate. I love how excited he is to give recognition to others who do that for the people around them.

Zac: My old roommate Justin and my Uncle Steve are my Whisk(e)y Warriors. They both taught me a lot about whiskey and have always been generous with what they have. They’ve always enjoyed the company that surrounds whiskey and the personal stories that come with it.

What does the future hold for The Whisk(e)ySmiths?

Zac: Speaking for LeAnne and myself, we don’t know what the future holds. As long as it’s up to us, though, good company and good whiskey will always be welcome in our home.

Interview By: Hasse Berg

Visit the Whisk(e)ySmiths blog by clicking here