Welcome to the eighth installment of my 10-4-10 series of interviews. Ten people who are swirling winningly in the wide world of whisk(e)y answer ten questions. This month Reverend Christopher I. Thoma – www.angelsportion.com, whisky writer extraordinaire, blesses (haha) us with a view into his whisk(e)y world.
- Please share with the readers a bit about your whisky background.
I’m not paid to do what I do. And I’m no expert. But I am an enjoyer who has discovered a passion, and maybe even a certain level of discernment, for the particulars of whisky. Now, having said this, I am certain that my whisky past was ordered by the Divine. My fleshly fabric is German, and therefore, I drink beer. Well, I used to drink beer, but not so much anymore. Some time ago, over the span of about eight years, I was doing some summertime teaching in places like Russia and Lithuania, and on return from one of my first visits, I managed to wander into a little whisky shop in London being manned by a kindly fellow who was more than interested in providing for a proper introduction to the “aqua vitae.” It’s there that I met whisky—good whisky—and, oh, what a pleasant friend she has become. You can read the fuller story here. Anyway, my life has indeed changed, and since this notable enlightenment, I’ve taken up the mantle of preaching the whisky truth to the masses through my blog, books, and even a few guest appearances here and there. And I definitely have a hook. These days, it would seem that when a clergyman walks into the room, the atmosphere of any gathering changes a bit. A clergyman standing at the bar—especially one who knows his booze—changes the gala in even stranger ways. Quiet topics become a little more open. Reserved glances make way for intrigue and eye contact. It’s really quite fun to be that clergyman, and to be there when these things happen.
- You have published a number of books, two as The Angels Portion. Tell us how they came about and if you have any in the pipeline at the moment.
I always have something in the pipeline. I feel like I have a disease—a writing disease. I’m always scratching at it. The Angels’ Portion volumes came by way of suggestions from some of my followers that I should take what I’ve written and put them into book form so that they were accessible to some as a handbook of sorts. I jumped on the idea because, in the end, my reviews are not your typical expandings. I tell stories. Stories belong in books. And what I’ve found is that the stories I tell find their way across so many demographics. They reach people who wouldn’t normally read a whisky review or choose to follow a whisky blog. I get messages from folks all around the world who tell me that they never would have considered trying whisky until reading one of my narratives. That means a lot. It means that they were swept into the story, not as readers, but as participants, and they have been convinced and want to give a go at what the characters are enjoying. I mean, if Darth Vader likes the whisky, it might be worth checking out.
As far as my other books, I’ve written several that aren’t whisky related: Feeding the Lambs: A Worship Primer for Teachers of Children, Kids in the Divine Service, The Homiletical Canvas: Poetry in Service to Preaching, and lastly, one of my favorites, Ten Ways to Kill a Pastor. I also have a book of poetry entitled Where Dreams Ponder People, and I’m always tapping away here and there at a yet-to-be-published fantasy novel called The Heroes of Ganchimi. Oh yeah, and I’m working with an illustrator at this very moment for a children’s book entitled There’s a Bug on the Floor. I expect that to be in print by the end of the year.
Aside from Angelsportion.com, I’ve been keeping another blog at type1confessional.com. It is a rather provocative attempt at displaying the innards of a pastor who finds himself quite frustrated with God because his daughter has Type 1 Diabetes. I write it as a discussion between myself and the Creator. It’s a young blog, only 20 or so posts, but all very visceral and very therapeutic.
I should also mention that besides writing about a hundred sermons a year, I also do a lot of writing for the Church/LCMS, and I write a lot of political op-eds, give papers at conferences, and so many other things. Essentially, I’m doing a whole lot in a so many different areas. At some point, I’d love to get a writing gig with a magazine or something like that, but until then, there’s always something in the works and there’s plenty to keep me busy.
- Your affinity with Star Wars is apparent, but how did that develop for you when writing about whisky?
I’m just weird. That’s all. No development. Just weirdness. I sip a whisky, consider the contours and discover the story inside. I never plan a story. I just start typing. Something always shows up.
- As a follower of your blog, I have read how the occasional naysayer points a finger at your reverend collar and its relation to whisky drinking. Would you give a brief synopsis of your comments to said naysayers?
I’ve written quite a few posts about how I feel about the pietists who walk among us. Perfect examples would be my reviews of the Speyside Cooperage 10-year-old or The Dalmore 12-year-old. In fact, I do quite a few radio interviews here and there. You might take a listen to the one I did on a Christian radio station in Detroit. You can listen to all three of its parts here, here, and here. I was, sort of, caught off guard by the host who wanted to discuss the very topic. He didn’t do it in a mean way. In fact, he was in agreement and he set up for a great discussion. I just wasn’t ready, and so my response, I think, was one that was very honest and from the gut, and in the end, rather informative for people who may be looking at the mandates of the Bible from the wrong angles.
- What are your current favorite whiskies as well as the not-so-much whiskies?
I’m struggling these days to say I have favorites. I used to land on The Balvenie when that question was asked—and I suppose I still might—but I’m finding so many that I wouldn’t want to be without should the zombie apocalypse ever befall us. In the ashes of civilization’s collapse, while everyone else was out looking for food, I’d be searching for guns and Scotch—editions from The Balvenie, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Auchentoshan, Glengoyne, The Dalmore, Glenmorangie, and so many others. I’d also be grabbing a few bottles of various Bourbons that I’ve grown quite fond of. There are, however, some whiskies I’d only use for treating wounds, campfires, and Molotov cocktails—namely the likes of Scoresby, Lauder’s, and number of the mass-produced Bourbons and Canadian whiskies.
- Have you found that over time some of your favorite whiskies have fallen out of favor with you? If so, why?
Not really. I’ve only found an increase of my arena of favor.
- What do you look for in a “good” single malt?
I’m going to tiptoe into this question. What makes a whisky “good” is somewhat relative, and with that, I find that bringing a formula to the experience lessens my ability to find and tell the story. I only find the good whiskies because I took from them what they offered and I allowed them to tell me why I should consider them as such. In one sense, you could liken my approach to a theological exercise—exegesis versus eisegesis. Exegesis is to take from the Scriptures what is already there. Eisegesis is to impose one’s opinions on the text in order to find what you want, to make it fit your expectations. I’m an exegetical guy—not only as a clergyman, but as a whisky drinker—and this has made it so that even my expectations with regard to certain editions from certain distilleries that may have betrayed me in the past with a rotten dram, have found redemption in the presentation of something better. I really try to keep the process very honest.
- Are you a collector of any particular whiskies, or books, memorabilia, etc.?
I collect all kinds of strange things. Here’s a good place to get a taste of my very old clutter. As far as whiskies, I’m also into historical study and valuation. I’ve quite a few posts on various editions and their dating. As far as my whisky collection, I think I have about 200 or so bottles in my various cabinets throughout the house. There are some that I don’t intend to open, mainly because I plan to keep them until their bottling dates reach the 100-year-old mark. I have a few from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. If I don’t sell them at some point, and if I’m still alive, I’ll probably drink them. If I’m dead, I want them mixed into the embalming fluid. But whatever. We’ll see.
- Who do you follow on social media and/or do you have whisky authors who you recommend?
I follow you, of course, and I love your book Whisky Tales. Lots of wisdom in there. In fact, I keep it on top of my stack of “Whisky Magazine” editions right next to my desk in my church office. As far as social media folks, I keep in touch with guys like the Scotch Test Dummies, Scotch Trooper, Mark Gillespie (who wrote the foreword for The Angels’ Portion Volume II), and Mark at Whisky Whistle. In the end, there are so many that I enjoy conversing with throughout the whisky-sphere. All good folks. The #whiskyfabric is a grand expanse of knowledge, vision, and passion. I enjoy being a part of it. At least, I hope I’m a part of it… in my own little way.
- Any whisky goals for 2017?
Nope. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. Although, I would expect The Angels’ Portion Volume III will start taking shape next autumn. Working with Grail Quest Books has been a pleasure. Good people running that operation. Anyway, we’ll see. Life has a way of setting my goals for me. There’s always something new on the horizon, and I’m always ready to tell the story.
I raise a glass and offer a rowdy cheer to Rev. Christopher Thoma for taking the time to share his world of whisky with us. Yes, people take it to the next level and read his The Angels Portion’ whisk(e)y books!