Distillers Name Their Favorite Tipples
December 27, 2022 –––––– Julia Higgins
While we may look to distillers and blenders first and foremost for the whiskies they’re making us, have you ever wondered what they’re drinking when they’re off the clock? We asked 10 whisky makers for their favorite whiskies (with the single stipulation that it couldn’t be a whisky they themselves had a hand in making), as well as for their favorite non-whisky drinks. Their answers shine light on all sorts of whisky styles and non-whisky drinks, though you’ll see a handful of shared answers, too. Who knows, one of their favorites might just inspire you to try something new next time you’re out at a bar, restaurant, or liquor store.
Who: Dr. Bill Lumsden, director of distilling and whisky creation, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg
Favorite whisky: “It’d have to be The Balvenie Founder’s Reserve; I think it was a 10 year old when I first tried it, and it was the second single malt scotch I ever tasted after Glenmorangie 10 year old. I tasted it in one of my favorite pubs in Edinburgh, The Jolly Judge, and undoubtably tasting these two malts led me to a career in the scotch whisky industry.”
Favorite non-whisky drink: “My favorite non-whisky drink is wine; whisky is my life, wine is my hobby! As to which wine, it really depends on what I’m eating with it, but almost certainly it would be a good red Burgundy and ideally paired with something like duck, or even better—guinea fowl.”
Who: Matt Hofmann, master distiller, Westland Distillery
Favorite whisky: “Non-chill filtered Bowmore, ideally aged in pure bourbon casks.”
Favorite non-whisky drink: “My favorite non-whisky drink is mezcal. I usually drink it neat, but a really cool cocktail I enjoy is a riff on The Last Word, sometimes called a Last of the Oaxacans, when it’s made with mezcal.”
Who: John Glaser, whisky maker, Compass Box
Favorite whisky: “I can’t say I have one single favorite, but some I admire most for their distinctive and moreish character would be malt whiskies from the Clynelish, Springbank, Glen Elgin, and Caol Ila distilleries.”
Favorite non-whisky drink: “My favorite non-whisky drink of 2022 has to be the Ritual Sister. It’s an insane, hedonistic, delicious spirit made from smoked pineapples in, of all places, Greenport, New York. It’s the brainchild of Leslie Merinoff, the founder of Matchbook Distilling Co. It sounds so wrong, but it’s so good.
Who: Rob Dietrich, master distiller and blender, Blackened American Whiskey
Favorite whisky: “My favorite whisky to drink is always the one that’s right in front of me…That being said, I love the earthy, spicy depth of a well-made high-rye whiskey, like a solid 6 year old Willett, or a Thomas Handy Sazerac rye. Pair that with a dark tobacco cigar, and I’ve found my own little corner of heaven.”
Favorite non-whisky drink: “As for non-whisky, my absolute favorite go-to is mezcal. I travel as frequently as I can to Oaxaca, Mexico to tour different palenques and try the unique mezcals made by the mescaleros; there are so many delicious ways to make a great mezcal!”
Who: Paul Hletko, master distiller, FEW Spirits
Favorite whisky: “Leopold Bros.' Three Chamber rye. I can’t drink it everyday as the ‘daily,’ but I love that it’s unique and unlike anything else out there, with that exceptional viscosity and wonderful fruit and spice. For a more daily drinker, I’m looking to the Proof & Wood portfolio—it’s chock full of amazing drams at great price points that are lower than they should be given the quality levels.”
Favorite non-whisky drink: “My number one non-whisky is Fernet Branca. There’s nothing like it as a digestif after a great meal and the slightly bitter, slightly minty, slightly viscous is refreshing and really perks up post-dinner.”
Who: Miles Munroe, lead distiller, Westward Whiskey
Favorite whisky: “Redbreast 27 year old—I think sherry and port finishes are way overdone with single malts, but there’s a balance struck here where you can actually taste the beautiful whiskey; JJ Corry Flintlock Batch 2—an expert bonder in Ireland, Louise McGuane is as talented as a blender can be and her Flintlock series is just outstanding; and Dublin Liberties Copper Alley—there’s a very exciting whiskey renaissance happening in Ireland right now, and this 10 year old single malt is a great example of what’s to come.”
Favorite non-whisky: “Lalocura Arroqueño mezcal—I’m fascinated with every aspect of producing mezcal and was lucky enough to visit this palenque in 2016. Eduardo grows his Arroqueño [agave] for 18 to 20 years before harvesting and the spirit is something special. Or a Mezcal Last Word—a not so new riff on an old classic. Replacing gin with mezcal gives great depth to the drink but keeps it refreshing as it's meant to be.”
Who: Jota Tanaka, master blender, Fuji Whisky
Favorite whisky: “Four Roses Small Batch, as I have so many memories [Tanaka served as director of quality at Four Roses for seven years]. I love the aromas, flavors, bottle shape, and whole package!”
Favorite non-whisky: My favorite non-whisky alcohol drinks are wine and cognac. Non-whisky, non-alcohol drink is coffee, more specifically an Ethiopian natural process coffee.
Who: Jackie Zykan, master blender, Hidden Barn
Favorite whisky: I will always be an Old Forester 100 Proof fan, as well as anything from Four Roses.
Favorite non-whisky: The Paloma
(Zykan’s preferred recipe)
- 1 1/2 oz. Santo Mezquila
- 2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
- 1 oz simple syrup
- 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
- 2 oz. club soda
- Grapefruit peel for garnish
- Combine first four ingredients in shaker tin with ice and shake.
- Add club soda then strain over fresh ice in glass.
- Garnish with grapefruit peel.
“I love the versatility of a mezquila, it offers the perfect touch of smoke balanced with the crisp herbaceous goodness of tequila. If you’re not into smoky notes, replace the mezquila with reposado tequila. A little touch of vanilla from oak on the base spirit really helps to mingle the resinous grapefruit notes and keeps it in check.”
Who: Chris Fletcher, master distiller, Jack Daniel
Favorite whisky: Old Forester 100 Proof—I lived in Louisville from 2003 to 2014 and have always enjoyed that whiskey.
Favorite non-whisky drink: For non-whisky, I enjoy a good Gin & Tonic during our really hot months here in Tennessee. We have some wonderful gins, such as Fords gin, within our Brown-Forman family.”
Who: Elizabeth McCall, assistant master distiller, Woodford Reserve
Favorite whisky: Old Forester 100 Proof—I love the rich complexity of this bourbon and at 100 proof it’s still an easy sipper
Favorite non-whisky: My favorite non-whisky drink is a rich, oaky, full-bodied cabernet sauvignon wine. I love drinks that I can sip and savor.