Being passionate about the world of distilling in all its areas we sometimes learn that people don’t always understand how being active in the world of spirits works. Many people seem to think that traveling in the spirits industry means you are intoxicated all the time. The truth is far from it. It takes up loads and loads of your time, it is hard work, but the people we meet are nice and we have come to learn it is a lot of fun but drinking comes second. So. We thought it was about time to get some questions out of the way we get thrown at us from time to time and clear up some things in the way we feel most comfortable; writing about our own experiences. Here are our facts. How do we do it…? Let’s do a Q&A - with us!
What exactly is WhiskySpeller and who are behind it?
We are Thomas & Ansgar Speller. A married Dutch couple, passionate about writing, photographing, traveling, learning stuff, meeting people, eating fine food and drinking quality drinks. Epicureans, really.
How do we work as a couple?
As with every relationship, a lot of communication and a healthy dose of discussions are key. Each of us has our own preference and style but through the art of communication, we build something new together. We needed some time to discover how we could incorporate our styles into something which we both liked, but with time and practise it got better as does everything else in life. We just kept an open mindset and kept on doing it the way we like doing things.
Do we both have a specific part to play?
No, it is a joint operation. One of us does not appear on a festival or distillery without the other. One of us may have a more developed skill at one thing or another, we both have an equal say in everything we do,. We both take photos while we are at an event, the both of us writes a similar amount of the articles. WhiskySpeller is a package deal.
|Will we grow when we sit on the Malting Floor?|
Whats up with the fluffy animals?
Ah, yes. Those. They have names, you know. Toeter the little elephant and Beertje, the little bear. They have been traveling with us whenever we went somewhere since the beginning of time and will be doing so until we can’t any longer. And no, they do not exactly represent us, although they tend to choose one of us a favourite every now and then.
How did we get started?
At the beginning. Dûh. We were on our first road-trip in Scotland, at our first distillery, got infected with the bug and have not stopped. Both of us were writing about it, but we were not satisfied with the outcome where both of us were basically writing the same story. Our last name is Speller and the www.speller.nl website was already in our possession, so the decision was made easily to merge our stories there. The merger itself was long thought and talked about, but when we found a way to do so, we only needed to travel more and gather the necessary information. Challenge accepted.
Will we ever stop?
Not if we have a choice in it (which, luckily, we do). Maybe at some point time will be an issue somewhere down the line with both of us having a full time job and doing the website on the side, but as long as there are distilleries to discover and the passion is there, we keep going. We have been planning to win the lottery too, so when that happens, we will just build a Tardis, so we won’t have that problem any longer.
How about tasting notes?
Sure, we do those too. Each of us makes them on our separate websites to keep a record (initially for ourselves), but also to keep a record of what the distilleries we have visited produce. This is not a WhiskySpeller thing but separate for Thomas and Ansgar. Sure, we share a picture on social media of something new to say “thank you” as WhiskySpeller when we receive a sample, but that is all, from there it is each on our own to tell more about it. Taste is something personal anyway, we just happen to have comparable tastes, which helps building the "favourites shelve".
How much time does it cost?
A lot. And then some more, it is hard work. We love to extensively learn more about the different production processes, do research on the next place we are about to visit so we can ask the right questions, make the appointments and the journey, research and understand the technical details we have learned during our visit, build a story, talk to people, double check our notes, twice, rebuilt the story and check once more, and then tell you about it. We love doing that and, so far, it is worth it. The people we meet, the stories and history that is shared with us, the passion we get to see all around these people, learning about the geeky science details and crafty bits and pieces, it fuels our own curiosity and passion to share it again through the channels available to us.
|Payment in beautiful vistas...|
Do we get payed for writing and traveling?
Yes, with access and information, and yes, with samples every now and then. But no, nobody is paying us with money to do what we do.
Do we want to get paid for writing and traveling?
Ehrm... yes, obviously. However, for us everything still is a hobby. Neither of us is a professional writer or (photo)journalist, everything we do is for fun and we like to see it as an investment in our network of people, the building of new friendships, the expansion of our knowledge and the enrichment of our skills. It would be fantastic to quit our jobs and travel the world to write full-time about everything we do, but we like to think of ourselves as realists. Both feet (and all four wheels) on the ground has gotten us this far, and will take us to our next destination. Sitting on the sofa and checking out the next films and series on Netflix only broadens our behinds, not our passion and horizon.
Does it conflict with our paying jobs?
No, we both do something completely different in our daily lives. It costs us days off of work to explore distilleries and visit events. Our vacations are focused around the routes to drive and the distilleries to visit and the sights to see. We invest time, money and energy and make sure we never go to the office feeling like crap and always perform to the max, because that is what the boss expects from us, no matter what we do in our own time. Hangovers are not acceptable, doing our payed job gives us the means to make sure we can keep doing what we do (until we win that lottery, sorry boss).
Do we encounter negativity because of the high abv spirits?
Yes. Sadly, there seems to be a stigma around the consumption of distilled beverages, which gives people an image that you are an alcoholic straight away when you say you enjoy whisky, rum, genever, gin and the like. Somehow, it is far more acceptable to drink a couple of beers every evening or share a bottle of wine between your glass and yourself during dinner, but it is frowned upon when you sample one or two 5-10 ml of spirits once or twice a week.
We both have strong examples of alcohol abuse and know the things it can do to the people related to the abusers. We are very well aware, and therefore always go for enjoyment of quality rather than reaching another maximum. Again, a hangover or feeling like shit the day after (which is of course, the same) is not acceptable, we are passionate about the world surrounding spirits (and quality food, the travelling, the writing, photography, and so much more), just as others are about football, bicycle racing, Dolly Parton, Justin Bieber, or dressing up as My Little Pony. Each to their own.
So, we are heavy drinkers, but in denial?
Yes, we do like a drink from time to time but you won’t find us consuming alcohol every day of the week, and drinking multiple drinks on one day is more an exception - as a rule. You won’t find us filling the empty glass-bins every week and we honestly don't like the feeling of being intoxicated. We watch ourselves very carefully, and have agreed a long time ago that when we detect abuse at our home to pour it all down the drain immediately. It has to stay fun and relaxed.
(this text seems very hard to write, and not have it sound as an excuse. Still, it is the truth)
When making notes we share a 3cl sample most of the times and have to work with that without a problem. With that, we have enough to make a note and review the note on another day. Making tasting notes is a training for our senses to better understand the different layers in spirits and see the full circle of the process. We take a good while to write these notes and loads of water is consumed while writing and tasting (no denying there - we do drink massive amounts of water). We publish these notes to build our own source of reference, and share and engage with others who have the same passion. We love to meet brand ambassadors and producers and get to know them as a person, not only because they serve us the spirit, but listen to their story and experiences. They have so much to share with all of us and are not just there to pour you a dram.
So, how do we do it?
We start with our wish to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. Ehr… something like that… When we know we can reach a distillery in a weekend or day trip we make an appointment and, depending on the distance, we might decide to stay over for a night to explore the region a bit. For our vacations we make a wish-list of the places to visit. After that, we contact the right people through our different networks, make appointments, do research on the distillery and its surroundings, choose an angle the story should be taking and than when the time is finally there, be ready, fresh and on time. Complete strangers have made time for us in their busy schedules to tell a little something about their place. We are always sorry about the moments we were dead-tired from an overly busy schedule, and always felt we might have done better afterwards. We are very critical on ourselves and since neither of us is a professional (photo)journalist who attends hundreds of press events per week, when we are tired, we are tired. We could just say “fuck this day / article / distillery / whatever” - this may be influenced by sleep deprived hangovers (which is still unacceptable). That is not us. The people we meet, meet the Spellers. How can we be representing ourselves if we are not ourselves?
Both of us are making photos of the exterior and interior (when allowed) and agree beforehand which lenses to choose. Most of the time Ansgar decides on the 70-200mm variant to make some close-ups of stills, mash tuns, wash backs, levers, thingymajigs and whatnots, where Thomas goes for a wide / ultra-wide lens for the totals and overview shots, especially when we know space is limited inside a distillery. Combined, we thus have a range of pictures we can choose from to create a visually pleasing addition to our stories.
Most of the time Thomas is writing in his own shorthand (think: “7.3T SS SL MT CT 4h 3w std tmp” for a 7.3 tonne stainless steel semi-lauter mash tun with a copper topped dome, running for four hours while using three waters at the standard temperature increments, and the use of the kilolitre (17.4kL WB) works amazingly well) about everything that is told during the appointment or tour. Some snapshots are swiftly taken with our phones to share semi-immediately through the different co-managed WhiskySpeller social media platforms after the visit. When leaving the site we already start to brainstorm during the drive on how we are going to write the story, putting our positive and negative points on the blank canvas in front of us. Evenings are often used for jotting down notes and Google Documents is an unmissable tool for this, because of the shareability and real time co-editability.
The preparation of a trip to Scotland like you have seen us do a couple of times can take up many months, where we keep an extensive Google spreadsheet and different (also Google) Maps with routes, pins and ideas for where to go to and what to share. While we are travelling, the spreadsheet gets updated on a daily base to keep track of who we visited, what we ate and where we filled our car or what bottles we bought where and why. Keeping track of expenses and an eye on the budget in this way seems a bit excessive but works very well for us, and forms a good base for future expeditions. After a trip, the task of the editing and organising all the pictures awaits us, which is a hell of a job that takes massive amounts of time. Sometimes an email back and forth with the distillery is needed to clear up some last details or missed questions, and after hours of writing, discussion and editing again (where would we be without Google Docs, really?) there is a moment when we say done. After that, we probably make some more changes. We are our own editors and e-publishers, and it takes up a lot of energy to stay vigilant and watch the consistency.
And than, we finally publish… The passion shared with us by the people in the industry, converted into our experiences and stories get to go live. The deadline we have (recently) set for ourselves to publish every week gives us some pressure, but as long as we can manage to keep up this pace and people are willing to read our ramblings, we will keep doing it. Or until we run out of distilleries or events of course, but with them growing like mushrooms every where in the world, we'll have a lot to do for quite a while.
How about the marketing machines?
We are, have always been, and will be in the future, “what you see is what you get” people. We love to share our experience with you, will never burn down something which was crap, but will (try and) tell you what we think instead, not why it was crap, but rather what they should (or could) have done different (not better): we will try not to judge a book by its cover. There is a lot of marketing BS in the spirits industry, but we try to keep our own voice in it all and stay independent, true to ourselves. If we don’t stand behind something to write, we don't. If there is a good side of not being paid for the things we do, than this is it. We are our own.
Marketing is there to sell stuff, distilleries obviously do it for the money and not because you are nice people, but they want to sell you (and us) their spirits. We will not copy/paste the marketing BS from a release of a new NAS whisky from the GlenMacSomething distillery and tell the world we love it, without having tasted the BS first. Not that we are begging for samples here (please, send us samples), but when the GlenMacSomething distillery’s marketing department sends us an email with the new press release, do not expect us to copy this onto our pages. We might use snippets of it in our tasting notes, but that is as far as we will go.
Yes, we do wear matching shirts (coughmarketingcough), have business cards (this still works, in our opinion) etc, but that is to make ourselves visible as the couple we are, make the world see us more easily so we can share our stories with even more people and connect to the people in the industry. WhiskySpeller is our personal branding as a couple, and a brand needs a little marketing. As does everything in life when you think about it.
Discussions & Opinions
We have learned massive amounts about the brewing, distilling and ageing processes during the last couple of years, have come to understand a lot of how things are meant to be done or when things are just not working well. We do have our opinions about how things could be done differently. We are not, however, the people to tell you that. You will hardly ever see us in a discussion on social media about voluptuous redheads promoting a whisky, if an age statement is necessary or not, get angry over a decision the SWA or the f-ing law has made years ago, whatever cask type would work better with whichever spirit, or if this cask type is better or worse than it was so many years ago. Times change, marketing visions can hit or miss completely (but if a concept is talked about, it worked). Rules and laws are rules and laws for a reason, stick with them or try to change them if you have the resources. Yesteryears’ cask of that one beautiful GlenMacSomething definitely was better than their latest release was or their future release will be. Sure, but who cares, anyway? Not us. If anyone is done any injustice, we might tell you what we think, or support a cause to try and change a ridiculous and outdated law, but we are not the people to lead a rebellion. Don’t expect us to burn down the offices of the modern day cooperages because they employ a sigar-smoking, nipple slipping sensuous blonde with a deep cleavage promoting sherry seasoned casks to the GlenMacSomething distillery and tell them to tell us their product shall be as good after three years of ageing instead of the 18 years they normally sold us but didn’t tell us it actually wasn’t because that was only a teaspoon with the real stuff and so, actually, their stuff was NAS all this time, but they had lied, but they didn’t, because it was in there, just like the drops of caramel, and the use of chill-filtering, but that other, skinny, golf-playing brunette told them it would look better on the label so just printed it next to the stag, steering the wandering ship at sea. Lost? So are we. Cut the crap. If we have something to tell about something, we will pick up the keyboard and tell you, if it is only a heap of shit, we won’t just because it is a hot item for the statistics of the website, but we might tell you after we have informed ourselves, and from our perspective.
|So... where are we going next?|
What is the master plan?
There is no master plan with our goals. Of course the hits, likes, shares and comments are nice and important because everything is about creating interaction and sharing our thoughts. We love to get feedback since we are not robots, but do have feelings. Are the stats leading for us? No. We don’t leave a story on the shelf because it is unpopular and will not generate enough turnover, neither will we create something out of thin air or without a proper source of information, just because it is a trending subject at the time. If we like to share something we share it, but we don’t want to be an extension of PR or marketing agencies. Like grandmother used to say: “if you don't have anything interesting to say, say nothing at all”.
All of our hits, followers and likes on Facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest, google+ and linkedin are organic. We have sometimes asked people to like or follow another page of us, but have never used paid marketing techniques to reach a larger audience. Is that wise? Probably not, but we like to think it is honest and the people following us and reading our articles do so because they like to read what we do. It keeps us from making empty promises, and keeps us doing what we are doing; being ourselves, because, in the end this is who we are, and what you see is what you get. Live with it. We do.
Don’t be too serious, life is too short, there is too much to discover, and too little time to enjoy it all, so do so while you can. We will just keep traveling to wherever our car, bike, legs, boat, a plane, magic carpet, the Tardis or wormholes can take us, look for more breweries, distilleries and our next big thingery - the normally open for public and the ones who aren't, so we can tell you about what we have experienced. Anything else you would like to ask us after this all? Comment on this article or the next, or interact with us on social media and we will give you an honest opinion.
Thomas & Ansgar