Welcome to the ninth 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 Holly Seidewand – herwhiskylove.com and Instagram as herwhiskylove – entices us with her eight month journey into whisky around the globe.
- For those who might be unfamiliar with your background and blog, tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Holly Seidewand and I am Her Whisky Love. I started Her Whisky Love and I guess you could say became Her Whisky Love a little over a year ago. I worked in retail store design for 4 years. The first three working in New York City and the last year in Oakland, California. I had my “whisky awakening” during my first year in New York. I was handed a Lagavulin 16 and I had never smelled or tasted anything like this before. From that moment I was exploring every nook and cranny that single malt scotch had to offer. During my year in California I was surrounded by the viticulture craze. I started taking classes at UC Davis through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). The professors and curriculum were pushing me towards wine. That was where the money was and the career opportunities. It felt as if at that time the best option for spirits lovers was to go into mixology and bartending. I knew this couldn’t be true and I wanted more. It was at this time I put together a very simple plan: visit the largest whisky producing regions of the world and learn everything I possibly could from the experts. If my parents have taught me anything it sometimes the best you can do is to just show up and work hard. That’s what I did over 8 months and in 5 countries.
Since no one was giving me the tools I wanted to learn more about branding, production, process, regionality and the whisky industry overall, I was going to find it myself. I put everything in storage in Oakland and embarked on an 8 month journey as “that girl who is chasing whisky”, that girl who “that girl studying whisky” that “girl that loves whisky” and yes that was me, I was her and whisky was what I loved, hence Her Whisky Love. I truly started the blog to document my progress through each country. A sort of documentation process and also for my family and friends to see my education progression. I made a handful of business cards and set off. People started reading and commenting to the journey my stories. My approach is quite unique in the fact that everyone had to learn with me. I was no Jim Murray or professional whisky blogger. I was just following my passion and learning as I went. This spark lives in many of us whisky fans. It is that thirst to learn as much as we can about this spirit we adore. I feel people really connected with that. I am not extremely technical and I’m not an extremely good writer, but I have passion and stayed true to my interests.
I spent 3 months in Scotland, one month in Ireland, two months in the States (primarily Kentucky/Tennessee) but also New York State, one month in Japan and one month in Tasmania. Every meeting, distillery, marketing manager, distillery manager etc. that I met with or chatted with is documented on my blog.
- What is your current position?
Via Her Whisky Love and Her Whisky Love on Instagram, Gordon’s Fine Wine & Spirits approached me and asked me to join as their Scotch & Whiskey Specialist. I am still writing on Her Whisky Love and collaborating with a few other sites, but most of my time is focused on building the Gordon’s Whisky Program. I write all marketing materials, emails and social media materials. I also test new product lines, curate and buy for the whisky sections of the stores. I also coordinate weekly events such as Whiskey Wednesday and lead tasting seminars. Our seminars are everything from old and rare whiskies to intro to whisky classes.
- How many distilleries have you visited around the world? What, in your opinion, should be on the “must see” list?
I have visited just over 100 distilleries in one year. People call me crazy for saying it, but Glenglassaugh and Bunnahabhain are two of my most memorable visits for Scotland and Wilderness Trail for the States.
Glenglassaugh is like traveling in a time machine. It was opened in 1875, changed ownership a few times and then was closed from 1908 to the mid 1950’s. Since this time it has changed ownership multiple times and been mothballed a few times again as well. This meaning their spirit has only been produced sporadically and it is hard to find anything older from Glenglassuagh. Their distillery architecture shows the tumultuous life it has had. New structures and buildings were built during different time periods and then closed. The 60’s architecture of the still house is incredible. This distillery also sits in the most adorable town of Portsoy on the coast of Northern Scotland. Within a 200 yard walk of the distillery you are on the beaches of the many coves of the North Sea. It’s untouched and quaint as can be. Such a magical day can be spent here. The spirit is great, underrated and the history of the distillery is well and alive. It is now owned by Brown Forman.
Bunnahabhain is the forgotten distillery if any on Islay. It has also had a rough past and with new ownership has really shown its true colors with its distillery bottlings. It’s a one way, dirt road to the distillery, but worth the risk of running into a tractor trailer that just delivered grain. It sits right on the sea and on a clear day you can sit out on the pier with your dram and see Tobermory. The people that work there are so friendly. Don’t forget about Bunnhabhain when visiting Islay!
Wilderness Trail is a “craft distillery” in Kentucky. The founders actually are chemists and biologists by trade and are the main suppliers of custom yeast strands to the distilling and brewing industry of North America. The welcome center is in an old farm house and the distillery sits up on a hill overlooking the property pond. For any distillation nerds this is an incredible tour. The two founders have their yeast propagation labs now on site and they have a brand new distillation facility. They experiment with all different kinds of corn, grains and yeast that leave you in awe of their knowledge. This is a great stop in-between all of the big boys like Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark (which are all great).
- What is on your wish list for whiskies to try this year? Why?
Anything Springbank or Clynelish. I would love to try anything from private bottlers that is cask strength Clynelish. Also, I would like to try the new release from Heartwood, the private bottler in Tasmania. It is a Tasmanian single malt, cask strength single cask (always cask strength single cask) release from Tim Duckett at Heartwood. It is first aged in a 2nd fill port cask for 7 years and then a 1st fill sherry cask for 3 years. . It was filled in August 2006 and bottled May 2017. Only 337 bottles were released. Everything I have tried from him is SENSATIONAL.
- Do you have a go-to whisky at the end of the day? Any cocktails on your current favorite list?
My go to whisky right now is simply- Sazerac Rye. I love that stuff. It ever gets old and is perfect for the summer days right now. I know that could go into a cocktail, but I’m not much of a cocktail person. I like to know the basepoint, exactly what I am tasting. I drink everything neat. Once and awhile I like an old fashioned. I know, I’m boring, but I don’t like super sweet!
- One of your blogs features Canadian Club, what other Canadian whiskies have you tried? Any that stand out for you?
Canadian Club was one of the first brands I ever visited. Unfortunately they do not offer you to take a look around the physical Hiram Walker Distillery, but the brand heritage center is quite an experience. Beam Suntory is actually closing down all tours, so I feel fortunate that I was able to visit the venue in Windsor, Ontario. Besides that we are drinking Canadian Whisky all the time! Most of WhistlePig’s product line is sourced Canadian rye. Also, Lot 40 rye is always a crowd favorite and that is from Hiram Walker in Windsor as well since it is owned by Pernod. Although the name brands such as Crown Royal, Black Velvet etc. don’t always travel with the best reputation, Canada is producing high quality whisky. You just have to search a little harder than usual to find it.
- Are you considering taking your writing from a blog to a book? Any self-imposed timeline?
I do plan to write a book in some shape or form. I am working on something right now as co-author. It is in regards to my similar path of Alfred Barnard from the late 1800’s. Although I did not visit every active distillery in Scotland/UK, I am documenting in the same style but on a more global level.
- Who is your whisky author of choice? Why?
Philip Morrice and Michael Jackson are my two favorites. Philip wrote the Schweppes Guide to Scotch in 1983 which is an incredible window into the past and how the market ownership was divided. Extremely different than how things are divided today. Michael Jackson’s “WHISKEY” was the first book I ever purchased when starting this journey.
- What advice would you give to a first time whisky taster?
It’s okay if the first few whiskies you try are not for you, keep trying! There are so many different styles of whisky out there that don’t feel like it’s “one and done”. Your preference will change and evolve. Go into every dram with an open mind and know that if it’s not for you, you don’t have to finish it and likely someone else will! The drams you don’t care for could be someone’s favorite and vice versa. The important part is the exploration of this world with your fellow whisky friends.
- Where are you off to next on your whisky travels?
I will probably focus more local over the next few months since I am working quite a bit developing Gordon’s Whisky Program. I hope to visit Bully Boy, Boston Harbour, Mad River Distillers and Taconic Distillery over the next few months.
When whisky fans get together to talk for the first time, books, bottles and tasting soon follows…even at 9 AM. Yes, Mom, coffee and breakfast cake was also had.
Holly and I met at my home for what was originally meant to be a bottle drop off. An hour and half later we formed a whisky bond and tasted a few wee drams. Thanks to Holly for a lively conversation followed by this insightful interview. I certainly learned something new and that’s the beauty of extending a hand to other whisky fans.
I raise a glass to Holly…HerWhiskyLove!