“Writing about whisky has opened many new doors for me. As a result I have met some of my favorite whisky personas and have made many new and wonderful friends. What is there not to love!?” – Johanne McInnis
Johanne McInnis has been involved in the world of whisky since 2010, when she and her partner, Graham, set up a whisky tasting club in their hometown of Saint John, New Brunswick in eastern Canada.
She has since been the club’s president and now runs a website – Whisky Lassie – which follows her experiences with whisky.
In this Whisky Women interview, Johanne speaks about how she first fell for whisky as a teenager, her thoughts on women and whisky, and why a cold night drinking Bowmore last long in her memory of perfect whisky moments.
You’ve been involved in the world of whisky writing since 2012: how did you get started?
I’ve been a writer since I was eight but not about whisky. It was part of the natural procession as [my partner] Graham and I started a whisky society in our hometown in 2010 with the mission statement to “educate” our members.
We both scoured the internet for months to read blogs and the likes looking for as much pertinent information to share with our society friends. We both felt that something was “missing” so we discussed creating a blog where people could get two sides: He said/she said. On March 28, 2012 we published our first post and I’ve been devoting most of my writing time to whisky ever since.
Do you remember one of the first whiskies you tried? Why did it inspire you?
There are two that forever changed me.
My very first was Gibson’s 12 year old Canadian whisky. I ‘borrowed’ it from my dad’s liquor cabinet in my late teens to go to a high school dance. The rest of the kids thought it was horrid but all I remember is that it smelled so good and it tasted even better. While everyone else got extremely drunk downing vodka I took my time and savored one drink of the Gibson’s. While the rest of the bunch was sick in the bathroom I had a fantastic time. It taught me a very early lesson about drinking responsibly. However, I did get caught putting his bottle back the next day and was properly punished, but never forgot how good it tasted.
When I was old enough I began to buy it for myself and dabbled in Canadian and American whiskies for a while, but it took 20 years before I would try Scotch. That’s where the inspiration truly started.
One night after supper, my father in law offered Graham an Ardbeg and poured one for me too. I sputtered and pushed the dram back as they both laughed at me but George pushed the Glencairn back and then spent some time explaining to me what an Islay Scotch was, how to drink it, its composition, and why it tasted/smelled the way it did. I was hooked and that is where the passion for it really took hold.
You recently restyled yourself away from your former site – Perfect Whisky Match – to your own space, Whisky Lassie: how has that been going?
That was really a tough decision. After writing together for over a year Graham and I sat down and discussed what we wanted for our blog. The biggest thing that came out of that conversation was that writing came very naturally to me and for him sometimes it was a struggle. I put forward the idea that I go solo. He was reluctant and I was a bit scared to go it alone but we did.
My biggest question for myself: What could the ‘whiskyfabric’ possibly gain by my blog? There are 100s of people posting tasting notes so really, why bother? What ended up fueling me to move forward was the support of fellow female & male whisky bloggers/friends and so the site was born and it’s been going extremely well, although I miss reviewing and writing with Graham.
What do you enjoy most about running the site?
The coming together of two passions: writing and whisky. What I absolutely love is the fact that whisky is often not the story. It is about the people we meet, the way we feel, the memories it creates and the journey it takes us on. Almost every single whisky I’ve ever tried has a story. I’m going to quote John Hall (Maker of Forty Creek) – “A great whisky is like a good book: the introduction grabs your attention and pulls you in. The story line and the denouement bring you on a rollercoaster ride that excites you and you find yourself not being able to put it down. Then you get to the end satisfied but sorry there isn’t any more.” Writing about whisky has opened many new doors for me. As a result I have met some of my favorite whisky personas and have made many new and wonderful friends. What is there not to love!?
You’re a big supporter of bringing the whisky community together and coined the phrase the ‘Whisky Fabric’ – what first made you think of this and has that idea held through to today for you?
Back in 2010 when we first started our whisky society, I quickly noticed that as a group of like-minded people who met on regular basis we got along famously, helped each other, shared knowledge and drams, and all seem to have the same goal: enjoy whisky. When someone new joins us, the rest of the members ‘envelope’ the newbie and welcome them in graciously. I come away from every meeting/tasting feeling happy and enriched.
The day I signed up for twitter I thought to myself, what the heck am I doing because I had no idea what it was even about. But it didn’t take long for a whole new world to open up and I quickly realized there was a huge global community out there from every background and walk of life. The feelings I had about our little society was demonstrated to me one hundred fold. People were kind, welcoming, helpful and the bonds were strong and real.
It wasn’t until I was interviewed by Rob Gard (fellow blogger/whisky writer) that the phrase came to me. I was trying to explain how we all ‘fit’ somehow and that we are a strong close knit, interwoven bunch of people that span from the whisky makers down to the guy/girl just starting out with their first dram. There it was: ‘whiskyfabric’.
As soon as I said it, I knew it was the right terminology and yes that term has not only held true; it has been reinforced daily. There isn’t a day that doesn’t go by that someone from the fabric doesn’t touch my life in a positive way and I hope I do the same for others. It’s truly a lovely place to “be”.
You’ve got a big trip lined up to come visit Europe’s distilleries next year – what are you most looking forward to?
Everything! Initially I planned to spend two weeks in Scotland, however after looking at everything I wanted to accomplish, that wasn’t going to be long enough. It multiplied and became a month. Then, I started tweeting about it and the next thing I knew my trip was extending to England & Wales so another week was added on and of course that turned into “well, I’m in the UK so what the hell”, and extended it so I have now planned the trip to be a full eight weeks and I finish in Sweden where I plan on visiting Mackmyra. It’s going to be crazy and by January 2014 I hope to have a huge announcement as a result of the trip. So, stay tuned!
Do you think more women could or should be involved in the whisky world?
This is a tough question to answer. I was raised by a feminist and her constant motto to me was always: “You will have to work twice has hard to prove you are half as good as a man”. That stuck with me most of my life.
From the time I was about 10 I realized I didn’t fit in with the rest of the girls. I didn’t “do” Barbies, tea parties, brownies or dresses but I loved Lego, motorcycles, GI Joe and playing in the dirt. It took some time to convince the boys I could too. In my 20s I felt more comfortable with the guys in the living room drinking whisky and watching football then talking fashion and the latest gossip in the kitchen with the wives. That made some of the guys and wives uncomfortable until they got to know me. I am educated and work in a male dominated field and was often the ‘first’ woman that was part of the groups. So I seem to have spent much of my life proving I can belong. I felt the same way when I started in the whisky world. I was worried when I became the first president of the whisky society because I was a “woman” and felt I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I worked twice as hard to learn and be knowledgeable.
When I started blogging, I was one of the few women doing so in North America. Then, I found your website and I read many of your posts and we talked and I watched as you handled yourself with tact and strength, not just as a woman but as a whisky enthusiast and that’s when my attitude began to change. My feelings of women needing to be accepted and involved changed to women wanting to be accepted and involved. The male counterparts of the ‘whiskyfabric’ certainly helped because they certainly didn’t make it about “us” wanting to be a part of “them”. The tacky definition of glass ceiling still exists but I’m realizing it’s mostly due to marketing and advertising, not the rest of the whisky world. I certainly feel like I’m respected by my peers (male and female) because of where I am on my personal whisky journey. Very rarely does “sex” ever come into the equation and that is quite liberating.
So, do I feel more women could/should be involved: If they want to, yes! Do I feel like industry should simply hire or feature women because we are “girls”, no…
What is one of your most memorable times drinking whisky?
Graham and I have a great relationship and have been together for almost 10 years. We have many things in common including whisky. The memory I probably cherish the most is one cold winter night in February where we got all bundled up in about three layers of winter wear and proceeded to go and walk our two dogs. It’s something that we do together almost every night; however that particular night it was really cold and crisp outside. We trudged along the trail and he asked that we change direction from the usual walk. We ended up at the look-out where our cityscape can be seen.
The stars were so bright and the skyline was shining in the distance. I sat on the stone wall and dangled my feet. It started to snow, big lazy drifting flakes and Graham sat down beside me. We sat quietly for about five minutes taking in the beauty and peace of the moment. I sighed and he said: “What’s wrong?” I giggled “the only thing that would make this even better is if we had a dram to help keep us warm”.
The wind picked up and the snow swirled around us. Graham smiled, reached into his pocket and pulled out two Glencairns as well as two miniatures of Bowmore 15 and 18. I cried (I guess I am a girl sometimes!) and I savored that Bowmore 18 like it was the last dram on earth. It was the perfect moment with the perfect person and the perfect dram. It was truly magical.