“There are so many wonderful stories to tell about whisk(e)y – and yet it still remains so very misunderstood. I’m excited by the challenge of trying to change this.” – Alice Lascelles
Alice Lascelles is the new Sunday Times and Times Columnist on spirits and a founding editor of highly regarded industry magazine Imbibe.
As a whisky lover since a visit to Jura distillery early on in her journalism career, Alice is setting the pace for getting more coverage of the water of life in mainstream media.
In this Whisky Women interview, she speaks about her most memorable dram, what inspires her about whisky and why she agrees with Caitlin Moran that it would be nice to be considered just one of ‘the guys’.
What made you want to write about whisky?
When I began in the drinks world ten years ago I wasn’t immediately drawn to whisk(e)y. Like many people, I thought it was intimidating, cliquey, old fashioned, geeky. But gradually I discovered a different side to it. I learned that it can be artistic and exciting and pretty rock and roll too. It’s a subject that takes you on fascinating journeys all over the world, and has made me all kinds of new friends. It teaches you about science and geography and history and politics. It ignites your imagination and expands your vocabulary. There are so many wonderful stories to tell about whisk(e)y – and yet it still remains so very misunderstood. I’m excited by the challenge of trying to change this.
Do you remember when you first came to like whisky? Was there a dram that hooked you in?
The very first distillery trip I went on as a cub reporter on Wine & Spirit International was to Jura. We crossed by boat – there were seals, whirlpools, George Orwell’s house. I sat by the fireside that evening at Jura House, dram in hand, and thought – yep, this is the life for me. I was completely blown away by the romance of it. My most memorable dram however, was my first taste of Talisker 10, which I had at the 175th Anniversary celebrations on Skye. It was with an oyster straight out of the sea – the combination of flavours was dazzling, and it remains among my all-time favourite drams to this day.
What do you find most inspiring about whisky?
I think a really under-appreciated side of it is the incredible artistry that goes into making whisky – I think most people still think you just punch some numbers into a computer and then pull a lever. The myriad different factors that shape a whisky’s flavour, and the skill of those people whose task it is to manage them is awe-inspiring. I love the fact that no machine has yet been invented which can improve on the human nose. And I find wood in particular absolutely fascinating.
What do you enjoy most about the drinks industry?
It’s populated by people who are really passionate about what they do, and who also enjoy living well. If you’re interested in what they do, they’ll throw open their doors for you.
What frustrates you about how whisky is perceived/spoken about?
Despite the excellent efforts of certain people, I think the industry is still guilty of being very cliquey and jargon-ridden. I’d go so far as to say that some whisky professionals deliberately cultivate that air of impenetrability simply to feed their egos. Whisky is many amazing things, but at the end of the day it’s still just a drink.
I’m reluctant to mention the ‘s’ word – but I’m afraid it’s also still disappointingly sexist. If you happen to be blonde, people always presume you’re the PR person. Only the other day I was sitting next to the CEO of one of the world’s biggest whisky producers at an industry lunch. I’ve been writing about whisky for nearly ten years, am the founding spirits editor of the leading drinks magazine for the UK on-trade and write two weekly columns for the Times Whisky Club and yet he still turned to me and said: ‘So, do you actually like whisky then? I mean, really?’ You’d be amazed how often I get asked that – I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be the same if I was a man.
What would you like to impart on readers of your column?
Don’t be scared. Have fun. Don’t get so hung up on age statements.
What achievement are you most proud of in your drinks career?
The other day a reader of my Times columns said to me: ‘Your column has made us realise that we are interested in something we didn’t know we were interested in.’ As a journalist, that is the highest praise I can imagine.
Do you feel more women should or could be involved in the whisky industry?
I think not enough is made in the mainstream media and marketing about how many female whisky makers there are – I think people would be very surprised. However I’m absolutely opposed to any special measures designed to include more women in the industry – as Caitlin Moran would say, can’t we just all be ‘the guys’.
How do you think the industry has developed/changed since you’ve been involved?
As a journalist, I’d say the really big change that’s just happened in the last year or two is the increase in spirits coverage in the mainstream consumer media. It’s still criminally small compared to wine, but it’s getting there. I’m very excited to be part of that.
Why would you encourage someone to try whisky?
It’s the start of a fascinating journey of discovery that will last your whole life, which can take you to extraordinary places, introduce you to all kinds of people, and which, perhaps most importantly, you can share with your friends. That conviviality is one of things I love most about whisky. Oh, and it’s bloody delicious.
What is your favourite memory of whisky drinking?
So many – but the best usually happen outside.
To read more from Alice Lascelles, check out her twice-weekly blogs on the Times Whisky Club website: http://www.