Podcast Episode: Introducing Whiskey Lore
Whisky stories, histories, and getting behind the labels
Listen to the Episode
Why do a podcast around whisky history? There are so many great stories to tell.
And it's not just what is in the bottle, it's what happened to help create that bottle, or bring that bottle to you. It's about the mysteries and lore that has been built up around brands, distilleries, and the whiskies themselves. And in this episode, you'll see how these stories can touch you in ways you'd never imagine.
Listen to the full episode with the player above or find it on your favorite podcast app under "Whiskey Lore." The full transcript is available on the tab above.
There was a young man riding along in the passenger seat of his father’s favorite car. Riding for hours and hours across the flat terrain of Ohio, watching farmlands of corn and wheat and silos by the hundred’s passing by.
On a family trip, these monotonous miles would have been tracked by the sounds of instrumental music coming from the radio, the father driving, the mother knitting in the front seat, and sister dozing and the boy creating imaginary competitions with the other cars they were overtaking while humming favorite tunes to pass the time.
But this father and son time was very different. Without hesitation, the young man took advantage of his access to the front seat of the car to engage his father in conversation, feeding his natural curiosity about things.
And on this particular trip, there was an added excitement because they were heading back to the place they had once lived. It was a place brimming with memories for both the father and the son.
For the father, it was the place of his birth, of his formative years, of his work life and of an oh so familiar family life. He’d spent nearly 50 years watching the busling nature of his old hometown and then watched with sadness as it slowly and steadily decayed.
To the young man, even though he hadn’t had the same time investment with the city, this place was thick with fond memories of those carefree years of childhood play, the best friends he’d left behind, the times he went to ballgames with his dad, and hours sitting in his grandmother’s high-rise apartment near the center of the city - listening to the adults talk, while he looked out the window daydreaming about the freedom of exploring that greater world outside.
The young man always felt a certain openness with his father when they went on road trips together. And on this particular trip, the instrumental music faded to the background, drowned out by riviting conversation as they rolled up through Tennessee and Kentucky, and he felt the freedom to ask his father question after question, engaging the wealth of historical information and those wonderous stories his father had locked away in his head.
Then, as they got in range, his father flipped the radio over to the AM dial and pulled in their old hometown radio station. And between the cracks and pops of radio interference came the familiar voice of the venerable morning talk show host J.P. McCarthy. The young man could feel his father soaking in the nostalgia from the familiar cadence of the announcer’s voice and they listened intently together.
As they edged neared the stateline, the morning show came to a close and the mid-morning host took over.
The host was interviewing an author who had just written his own unique thesis on the John F. Kennedy assassination. And when the segment was through, the young man asked his father about his recollections of JFK and asked him what he thought about all of the author’s theories. He listened closely as his father gave his own account of what he thought might have happened.
It was in this moment that the young man realized how much he loved history. While others his age might have been fidgeting over such a long car ride and wishing they were on their way to Disney World or Busch Gardens, this young man was soaking in his father’s stories of presidents, conspiracies, battles of long ago, and unexplained mysteries of the past.
Even this drive through their old hometown would bring on wave after wave of wonderful stories and remembrances of the way things used to be - with his father always providing a personal touch that no tour guide could ever match.
And what always amazed this young man, was the wealth of historical information that his father held in his head. Powerful stories just waiting to be explored, and all available for the price of a road trip, family vacation, or a visit upstairs to his father’s den.
Yet, as the young man began to grow into his own skin, he started challenging his father’s stories, through his own developing lense. And while still excited to hear them, the young man let his own political biases build the occasional wall between him and certain stories that no longer resonated.
Yet he always came back.
And whether his father knew it or not, just by sharing his own love and passion for travel and history, he had instilled those same loves and passions in his son.
Well, if it wasn’t apparent already, that young man in the car was me.
I picked up a lot of interesting tendencies from my dad. One, most definitely was a love of travel. But another was his love of research - and not only research, but getting to the heart of things - the harder to find truth hidden beneath the surface. As I got older, sometimes I would question my dad’s biases on stories, but I never questioned his desire to find a firm answer where one wasn’t present before. In his later years, he most showed this by his dedication to our family tree, traveling to the old country to verify through church records, information others took for granted. And that dedication inspires the path that I am taking now...with Whiskey Lore.
While traveling to distilleries in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ireland, and Scotland, I loved hearing all of the stories, histories, and loads of information about the process of making whisky. I started to uncover truths that had always been a little unclear to me, like all bourbon doesn’t have to come from Kentucky, or the differences between Irish and Scotch whiskies.
And I heard some great ghost stories and legends that fill the imagination and help define the spirit and character of the distillery or whisky.
But what surprised me was all of the guessing and hunches that were being tossed around and even contradicted from distillery tour to distillery tour. It was bugging me how people were willing to settle for unclear or incorrect information simply because everybody had gotten used to telling that version of the story, whether it was true or not.
And it’s the longing and desire to get these stories straight that lets me know I’m my father’s son.
So in certain episodes, I’ll explore these common misconceptions about whisky and see if I can find the answers.
But I also want to invoke that great love of telling stories that I inherited from my father. The stories - the mysteries - the lore. From the American Old West to the mystical Celtic regions of Ireland and Scotland are just bursting at the seams with vivid tales. Like the tale of Cu BACH an, a ghostly specter that not only haunts a small Highland village, but also graced a bottle of Tomatin Single Malt whiskey. Or the incredible story of master blender Richard Paterson’s chance encounter with a 100 year old bottle of whisky that was originally intended for consumption by one of his greatest heroes, Sir Ernest Shackleton. Or the tale of Four Roses, which went from one of America’s greatest whiskies, to disappearing almost completely from the states, only to rise again from the ashes.
And then there is the story touched me in a way I never would have expected in my wildest dreams.
During my research, I came across a story that I thought would be fascinating for an episode.
In the last decade of the 19th Century, Tommy Dewar went on a worldwide trip to promote Dewar’s whisky and set up distributorships across the globe.
This story would contain two of my favorite elements, travel and whisky.
The best part was, he’d actually written a personal journal about the trip and called it “A Ramble Round The Globe.” Imagine, a travelogue written over 100 years ago, with stories, experiences, with completely different modes of transportation and a very different looking world.
It took me about 2 minutes to get to a computer, hunting to see if there was a Google Reader version of it, or maybe a book I could purchase.
To my amazement, there actually was a different book called “A Ramble Round the Globe Revisited” subtitled “In the footsteps of Tommy Dewar” by Malcolm Greenwood. I quickly read the synopsis and apparently in 1999, this modern day whisky sales manager had decided to follow the same path that Tommy Dewar took over 100 years before, comparing and contrasting the 20th and 19th century experiences. It took me all of 2 seconds to hit the purchase button.
Well when the book arrived, I ran right through it, enjoying Malcolm’s sometimes cynical look at his own travel style and his sometimes yearning for the slower pace and glorious hotels and times of the Gilded Age.
Now I was on another hunt. I had a trip planned to return to Scotland, with the goal of getting interviews and digging deeper for information on the podcast episodes. I had to find out where Malcolm was and get his story. What a wealth of information he could provide. I knew there had to be so much more than he could ever write in that book and my investigative mind wanted to have a chance to sit and enjoy a dram with him, while we talked over all of his adventures.
Wasn’t going so well. I couldn’t find him on LinkedIn or through any Google searches. But on the back sleeve of the book, it told me which distillery he worked for. I went to their website and filled out a contact form and waited.
The next morning, I was happy to see an email from the distillery, but the person answering it was not familiar with Mr. Greenwood. But she said she would ask around. I thanked her and waited.
One morning later, I was reading through my email when I saw the distillery’s response pop up. Man, I was excited. I was going to get this interview after all. I felt like a real journalist at that moment - chasing the story!
And then it happened. At first I didn’t even realize how loud my voice actually was when I did it, but I almost shouted out a painful “oh no!”
I slumped back in my seat.
The message read that sadly Mr. Greenwood had passed away a few years ago and unfortunately, because of the nature of things, they couldn’t go on any further with helping me.
It wasn’t until later that night when I got home, that I had a chance to process, not only the news, but my sudden and startling reaction to it.
Malcolm Greenwood left his world with a story to tell. In an instant, all of those memories, all of that knowledge, all of his humanity was gone. Only the memories of his family and friends. And this one little book that was sitting on my desk.
What’s interesting though, I realized I had had that thoughts before.
On the day my father passed away, it was a very hard day. I had to go home and do some cathartic writing to help me get through those painful moments. I consoled myself by remembering how my dad had lived a happy and healthy 82 years and did it all on his own terms. Traveling, learning, and sharing his joy for what he knew. If we all could be so lucky.
But what about all of his stories yet untold? Sure my dad had written some family histories and pages of other people’s genealogies, but there was so much more that just disappeared. In one instant.
It’s why when I walk through those historic buildings with their angle’s share smells and musty corners, while listening to those wonderful stories and seemingly insignificant anecdotes, I feel compelled to capture those ideas, stories, and tall tales, and share them with you, so you can tell them to others and pass them down. So that I don’t trap all of the things I’m learning into this small lump of grey matter in my head, and never let them lighten up someone else’s day.
Look I know, whisky legends and whisky history may seem to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but what is life without sharing stories. Sure, many of these stories may be for fun, but some of them, like the one that evolved out of my search for Tommy Dewar, can unveil a deeper story.
If there is one thing I would want you to take away from this episode, don’t hesitate in sharing or setting down your own stories and don’t wait to get those great stories from your loved ones. I truly believe stories are the things that make us who we are as human beings.
I look forward to our journey together. Thanks for indulging me as I shared with you a piece of who I am and the reasons I feel driven to share these great whiskey stories. And for allowing me to honor my father, who gave me the love of travel and history and who without his influence, I’m pretty sure I would not be doing this today.
Now for the details on the show:
- Our seasons will be literal seasons. Whiskey Lore will be released in 10-12 episode seasons 4 times per year.
- Make sure you subscribe on your podcast app, so you can get the next season as soon as it’s released.
- Our official website is whiskey-lore.com and you can spell whiskey with or without an e - just don’t forget the dash. There you will find more information on how to grab bonus content like extended interviews and how to join the Whiskey Lore Society’s community or leave comments for the show.
Enjoy Season One. I’m your host Drew Hannush and this is Whiskey Lore.