People

Top of the pods

Mark Gillespie ‘s Whisky Cast is in its fifth year of broadcasting. Dominic Roskrow spoke to him
By Dominic Roskrow
As a journalist working in radio and television, Mark Gillespie has always been quick to spot new trends. So when he heard about podcasting he saw it as the perfect vehicle to share his growing love of whisky.

Gillespie was asked by a previous employer to test the podcast concept with a view to launching a corporate version. And as he had been discovering the joys of whisky for some years it seemed a logical step to make it the subject of his podcast.

Effectively he plans and writes a weekly radio show, then makes it available for whisky enthusiasts to download on to their personal stereos to listen to at their leisure. Each show is carefully researched and includes news, features, reviews and interviews. It’s all delivered in a clear and concise manner, it doesn’t patronise but neither is it elitist, and it has an educational quality without ever seeming to lecture its listeners.

“I started WhiskyCast in the fall of 2005 as a way to further my own education about whisky and I kept going with it because every week I learnt something about whisky I didn’t know before,” says the 48-year-old.

“That’s why I think people listen to it. I get e-mails from people who have been drinking whisky for years and young newcomers who are just starting on their own journeys, and everyone seems to be thirsty for more information. The highlight of doing WhiskyCast is getting those e-mails from people who say I’ve helped them learn something.”

Gillespie, a proud member of the Malt Maniacs, got the whisky bug about 13 years ago.

“I decided that it was time I should drink something other than beer,” he recalls.

“I was in Florida at a bar that offered tasting flights of Scotch, and so I put my credit card on the bar and told the bartender ‘teach me what you know.’ It’s been a passion ever since.”

It’s that passion which Gillespie has managed to bottle on WhiskyCast. Over the four years he’s been broadcasting he’s earned the respect of the industry partly because of his enthusiastic approach to his subject but also because he is both fair and honest. And his formula seems to be working among whisky enthusiasts. Despite a tidal wave of whisky blogs and postings through a variety of new media, WhiskyCast goes from strength to strength and is hitting new records for downloads.

“I think the audience is growing because more people are taking an interest in good whisky, and frankly, more people are becoming comfortable with the concept of podcasting,” he says. “When I started, it took a while to explain to people just what I was doing, but now, when I say ‘it’s a radio show you download’, people get the idea right away.”

What Gillespie brings to the party is good old-fashioned journalistic values – integrity, facts and fairness.

“Yes I do treat WhiskyCast as seriously as I treat a regular newscast,” he says.” You won’t hear rumours or gossip, and I try to maintain a solid standard of journalistic ethics. WhiskyCast does accept advertising. However, I never allow it to affect the editorial content of the show. If a sponsor has news that merits reporting, I’ll make the decision to include it based on my news judgment.”

Gillespie isn’t afraid to state his views and like many he is disturbed by the general fixation with rare and expensive whisky, and the way it seems to be escalating in price. There isn’t enough attention on affordable whisky, he argues.

“I’m as guilty of that as anyone, and one of the things I want to do more of is highlight the quality drams that are available at reasonable prices,” he says.” I got an e-mail today from a 19-year-old whisky lover in the Netherlands who wonders whether he’ll be able to afford his hobby 30 years from now as prices keep rising.”

In the meantime he’s set to continue embracing new media such as Facebook and Twitter to keep his WhiskyCast fresh.

“I’ll be out there trying to find the next great dram, highlighting distilleries around the world that are producing interesting whiskies,” he says.” There’s a whole world of whisky out there, and I want to explore it.”


Profile



Name: Mark Gillespie
Age: 48
Home: Haddonfield, New Jersey
Currently drinking: Laphroaig Triple Wood, Evan Williams Single Barrel 2000, The Glenrothes 1991, and too many others to name
Favourite whiskies: Laphroaig, Highland Park, The Glenrothes, Maker’s Mark, Tomatin
Favourite distilleries: Laphroaig, Maker’s Mark, Highland Park