Travel

This Travelling Life: Andrea Wilson

Michter’s master of maturation Andrea Wilson talks about the strong bonds of friendship that tie those in the whisky world together, her desire to see Sydney and why she never gets upset if things go wrong on her travels
By Joe Bates
Andrea Wilson
Andrea Wilson
Joe Bates (JB): It’s often said that there is a sense of community in the whisky industry which isn’t found in many other businesses. Do you find that the among distillers? For instance, do you swap ideas and support each other when times are
tough as they have been of late?

Andrea Wilson (AW): There is a strong sense of community among distillers unlike any I have ever seen in other industries. Certainly, there are familial connections, but even more than that there are friendships deeply rooted in a common passion and adoration for the work involved in making really beautiful whiskies. Consumers taste and experience the final product, but it is the production teams who understand the work and the care it took over many
years to complete that single bottle. There are thousands of details that have to be looked after and one seemingly small detail not properly looked after could change the outcome. Even during sometimes challenging circumstances – mechanical breakdowns, power outages and freezing temperatures – the work has to get done with a sense of commitment and passion and pride. It is incredibly personal to all of us. At the end of the day, while we are all competing to share great whisk(e)y and tell our stories, at a production level we are dependent on our relationships. I can remember,
years ago, having an outdoor pump completely frozen up once, calling a colleague in the industry and, within an hour, one of their maintenance team was on site delivering a portable pump. When a prominent Kentucky distiller experienced their warehouses catching fire years ago, many distillers came to their aide to distil on their behalf, so they would not have a significant outage in their production. I can also remember inquiries coming from distillers abroad asking about the particular challenges of using rye in a recipe. It is this kind of true friendship that exists in our industry – these friendships are unwavering and make the whisk(e)y industry really special and continue to grow without bounds. Kentucky Bourbon is part of our heritage in Kentucky and there is a strong camaraderie that exists not just with Kentucky distillers but with other distillers across the globe. No one wants to see each other fail and we celebrate each other’s successes. We want people all over the globe to experience our passion and our artistry and respect the nuances of difference and the beauty and joy they bring.

JB: Can you remember the first time you tasted whisky?
AW: Both sides of my grandparents had amazing bars in their homes and they loved to entertain. The Highball was always the popular drink at their parties and I can remember when I was probably around 10 years old begging to try it as everyone always seemed like they were enjoying it. My grandfather fixed it and it was heavy on the soda and light on whiskey. Not bad, but I wouldn’t say my palate was overly developed.

JB: What’s the most memorable dram that you’ve had on your travels?
AW: I have had the opportunity to have many memorable drams in places all over the world and I really believe some of my most memorable moments were influenced by the ambience of the moment. My husband and I finding ourselves in off-the-beaten-path bars, to fantastic Scotch and Irish whisky distilleries with charming people and scenery, to amazing Kentucky Bourbon distilleries where the hospitality is second to none. Part of the joy of tasting drams all over the world is the environment and terroir and the joy of the moment, sharing with new friends and those you love.

JB: You must have spent a lot of time on the road. What travel tips do you want to pass on to our readers?
AW: It is great to have a plan, but don’t make it so rigid you can’t take advantage of something unexpected.

JB: If your flight was delayed, who would you most like to share a dram with in an airport bar?
AW: I initially was thinking hard about who I admire and even thought about my own mother who passed three months before I turned legal drinking age, but then realised when your flight is delayed you’re not looking for inspiration or reflection on life. Instead, you are genuinely looking for something to take your mind off things and help you remember to take advantage of every moment. As such, someone who just celebrated her 99th birthday, actress Betty White would be my choice. Betty seems like she has done it all as an actress, comedian and author and, let’s face it: who couldn’t enjoy a dram and a laugh while stranded?

JB: We have a long 12-hour flight ahead. What book would you recommend we read to while away the time?
AW: Watership Down is my all-time favourite book and worth a read more than once. No, it’s not just about rabbits.

JB: Tell us about a funny, strange or unusual thing that happened to you on your travels?
AW: My family and I were travelling home and had a flight connection in Memphis, Tennessee. Due to delays we missed our connection. There was only one flight out and two of us would have to lay over. My husband, Randy, and I decided we would stay. We ended up at a small hotel, tired and hungry. When we checked in the staff gave us vouchers for dinner and said they would make the arrangements for us and gave us a half-hour to freshen up. We came downstairs and found a pink Cadillac waiting for us and headed for a Memphis barbecue near Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland, and had an amazing time! Now when we travel, we never get upset but instead remember this experience and how something so disappointing turned into an evening to remember.

JB: You’ve been shipwrecked on a desert island. What bottle of whisky would you like to find washed up on the shore?
AW: Well, since I don’t know how long I will be on this island, I feel I should choose something really special and not my everyday go-to. I choose Michter’s 20 Years Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon: the symphony of flavour never stops and would give me lots to ponder while awaiting my rescue.