Photograph: Magnus

Interview with Thomas Maufer

This is the fifth interview in a serie of interviews with people who love whisky. This time I interviewed Tom, aka whisky2dot0 from the San Francisco area. Tom runs a great whisky blog and also tweets from time to time. As Tom sais:

”I do not consider myself a whisky expert. I’m most definitely a serious whisk(e)y fan, and I appreciate whisk(e)y even more when I can share the experience with others.”

Please put your hands together for Tom!

1. Tell me a little about yourself?

Thomas MauferI’m 45 years old and I have been happily married for 20 years now! I love to travel and meet new people, both of which are part of my job in Silicon Valley. My hobbies (besides learning about whisk(e)y…) are astronomy, music, reading, mechanical watches and puzzles. I love to write and I am passionate about sharing what I learn with others. I have always said that you can only say that you really understand something if you can successfully explain it to someone else. My Whisky2.0 blog is my attempt to live that statement, but realistically, I’m at the very beginning of a long process of discovery! For me, blogging is a labor of love, and I wish I had more time for it (or didn’t need to sleep!).

2. How did it all started, what’s your first experience of whisky?

I think my first whisk(e)y experience was probably a Bourbon-and-Coke or something like that in college. How embarrassing! As far as straight whisk(e)y goes, I suppose that didn’t really start until 6 or 7 years ago. A friend’s ex-husband is a Scotch fan and he thought it would be amusing to see my reaction to a very peaty whisky. I think it was probably a Laphroaig. No sir, I didn’t like it. However, that night I got to taste some expressions that I did like. I gradually got recommendations from experts (like Ken Chalmers at Beltramo’s, my local whisk(e)y supplier) and joined informal tastings with friends. Over time, I expanded my horizons.

3. What’s your favourite and worst whisky experience and why?

Favorite: Thanks to Ken at Beltramo’s, I got invited to a Highland Park/Macallan tasting that was free…but I didn’t know what to expect. Oh, my — it was awesome! It included a 4-course dinner and I got to taste a Highland Park 30yo, after tasting pretty much their whole range, and most currently bottled Macallans. Many thanks to the Edrington Group’s US distributor for setting that up, in conjunction with Beltramo’s. My second favorite experience was a 7-course whisky dinner that was hosted by The Glenrothes at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It wasn’t free, but it was a steal.

Worst: I suppose my first Laphroaig tasting would be the worst. I just wasn’t ready for it. At the time, I was only familiar with Cognac, Tequila and Rum, so I was completely unprepared for the smoke. I love Laphroaig today, but I had to prepare my nose and palate.

4. What’s your opinion on today’s whisky rating systems (1-10, 1-100, stars etc.)?

I know that pretty much everyone seems to like to do this. This is my answer, though, and I don’t. :)

In my opinion (which you are free to disregard and you won’t offend me) I think that rankings are nearly worthless. Look at anyone who uses a 100-point scale. You probably won’t see any scores below 65 or 70. The distribution of scores looks a lot like grades in school, in that most whisky is ranked as a B- or C+. I figure an A through F scale would be sufficient, with plus/minus added to distinguish edge cases. I don’t see the point of ranking a product to such a degree of precision when the senses involved are so subjective.

With that said, I really do like reading reviews for the descriptions of the smells and flavors, so I can try to pick them out in my samples.

5. How do you taste whisky? Do you use water, and when?

I usually try it neat unless it’s over 60% ABV, then I add a bit of water. It’s easy to assume that people who won’t add water are just being macho. If you know me, there would be no question that I was trying to impress you with my macho image. For me, it’s more out of caution than anything. Once you add water, you can’t remove it. If you add too much, you’ve just ruined your dram, and I don’t buy whisk(e)y to waste it. Personally, I never add ice, but that’s just me…I think people should drink whisk(e)y however they like it. That includes making mixed drinks. It’s your whisk(e)y…drink it however you like.

6. How is the whisky ‘climate’ (bars, clubs, events & magazines etc.) in your country?

Awesome. I don’t go to bars very often, but just recently my company had our quarterly sales meeting and we stopped at a bar in a shopping center on our way to dinner at the restaurant next door. I got a Yamazaki 18yo at the bar (the only Japanese whisky they had), and at the restaurant after dinner I got an A. D. Rattray bottling of Glen Mhor 27yo. Those two bars were within a 20-second walk of each other. In both cases, I was surprised to find that whisky on the shelf at some random bar, as they are rather obscure for the general consumer. There are also a few restaurants and bars in my area that offer a plethora of whisk(e)y, and that market themselves as whisk(e)y destinations.

I can’t speak for clubs (if you mean whisk(e)y clubs), but we have magazines (e.g., Malt Advocate) and they run the awesome WhiskyFest events. Whisky Magazine is based in the UK, but they run numerous events in the US, and of course their magazine is available worldwide.

7. What’s your opinion on different cask-finish expression?

I think that what matters is flavor. If the cask finish improves the product, then great. I don’t have visibility into what the product was like before the final cask finishing, so I can’t possibly say whether the cask finish is just a Marketing stunt or actually took a good product and made it better. The ways that distilleries use wood varies from those that age a single expression in one type of wood, to ones that ”marry” different wood finishes, to ones that transfer whisky from one kind of cask to another for some time. At the end of the day, wood contributes significantly to the final flavor, so I think that distilleries have to be careful to not overdo it. If the finish is the only point, I worry about the whisk(e)y.

8. What is your opinion on the whisky snobbery that some are talking and writing about?

I am not sure to what you are referring. I suppose there is a tendency among single-malt lovers to look askance at blends, despite the fact that many blends are consistently fabulous, complex products that represent the vast majority of the whisk(e)y market, both in terms of raw revenue and volume sold. I suppose this is just a reflection of the general view among consumers of higher-end products toward anything that is a mass-market item, regardless of the market. There are computer snobs, car snobs and many other kinds of snobs.

I consider myself very lucky to have had the resources to learn what little I have about single-malt whisk(e)y and I’ll refer back to my answer above. I think people should drink what they like. I’ll do the same. And if you like something I’ve never had, I want to hear about it, so I can try it! I’ll do the same and share my experiences with you. I enjoy all whisk(e)y and I drink whatever I feel is appropriate to the occasion.

9. Where in the world would you like to go to try whisky? Why, do you have a favourite place, distillery or country?

Do I have a favorite whisk(e)y? Not really. As I said above, I drink what seems appropriate to the moment, which could be defined by: Weather, food, feeling, music, etc. I have a small collection (3-4 dozen bottles), but it’s got decent variety. I hesitate to even name a favorite, but in terms of versatility, my favorite distillery overall is a toss-up between Ardbeg and Highland Park. My choice of a favorite is based on far too small a sample: I certainly can’t claim to have tried them all!  ;) When I am out, I always try to drink things I’ve never had before.

As to favorite place (country), I love Scottish culture and I clearly love their product. I have spent a lot of time ”driving” through Scotland on Google Maps / Street View, and the country appears to be a huge machine that makes whisky. There are so many fields of barley, it’s staggering! I think I now have map links on my blog to all the distilleries that still exist, and they are pretty much all adjacent to acres upon acres of barley (or hectares upon hectares if you prefer!).

Whisk(e)y is made in lots of places. I want to go to all of them. I’ve been to Japan, but that was before I knew about Japanese whisky. :( I would love to visit Scotland, but I fear I’d never leave. :)

10. What whisky trends are you seeing, how does the future look like?

I am very excited by the micro-distilling movement. It’s not easy to make good whisk(e)y, but lots of people are trying. To me, nothing captures the essence of a place more than whisk(e)y. I am very lucky to have a number of distilleries within a short drive of where I live: Anchor Distilling, Charbay, Distillery No. 209, Germain-Robin, St. George are just a few in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Not all of them make whiskey, but three of them do. I’m also a fan of other spirits, but what I love about whisk(e)y is its deceptive simplicity. Anyone can make single-malt anywhere on Earth where barley is grown, but the soil, sunlight and rain are different everywhere, as are a host of other factors that conspire to make the end product unique, not least of which is the local (or imported) oak from which barrels are made, as well as the flavors that local people find palatable. The future looks like I’ll have way too many whiskies to try and not enough time. I wish I had started sooner!

Did you enjoy the inter view? If you would like to be part of the serie or know some one else who would, please let me know.

  1. Inter view with Filip Ling
  2. Inter view with Gal Granov
  3. Inter view with Jörg Bechtold
  4. Interview with Mark Gillespie
  5. Interview with Thomas Maufer