Welcome to the first Whisk(e)y Warrior Award! LeAnne and I have created the Whisk(e)y Warrior Award (WWA) to help make the whiskey community even tighter and more close-knit. So many of you are making wonderful contributions to the world of whiskey and not asking for anything in return. We want to deliver a big thank you from all of us in the whiskey community. On the first of each month, someone will be awarded the prodigious title of Whisk(e)y Warrior. A question and answer interview will be conducted with the valiant warrior, and then distributed to the world!
What’s a Whisk(e)y Warrior?
A Whisk(e)y Warrior is someone who is passionate about whiskey. They devote their evenings and weekends to being active in the whiskey community. They’re the first person you think of when you hear “whiskey enthusiast.” They’re also the first one you turn to when you need recommendations, reviews, or have questions.
Would you like to say thank you to the Whisk(e)y Warriors in your life? Then click this link, Whisk(e)y Warrior Award, and nominate them! Further instructions and details are on the nomination page. Thank you for helping your whiskey community come closer together.
And now, we proudly present your very first Whisk(e)y Warrior.
He works tirelessly to help the whiskey community. His knowledge of Scotch is second to none. He has co-founded a 501c3 nonprofit Whisk(e)y School in Austin, TX. History will show him to be one of the most influential people who quietly shaped the whiskey industry. He is…
DANIEL WHITTINGTON, WHISK(E)Y WARRIOR!
Zac: Daniel congratulations on winning the Whisk(e)y Warrior Award. We’d like to interview you so the readers get to know you a little bit and learn about your contributions. What first got you into whisk(e)y?
Daniel: I spent time in Scotland in my teens, but it wasn’t until my twenties that I discovered a true love for whisky.
Zac: Nice. As a teenager that must have been an awesome experience. Do you remember what your first whiskey was?
Daniel: I started with Irish and worked my way in.
Zac: Ah the Irish. Many a person’s first whiskey. Fast forward to now. We all have bills to pay, so what’s your day job?
Daniel: I’m the Vice Chancellor of Wizard Academy. It’s an independent business school that exists for entrepreneur minded people. We teach big ideas quickly in an environment of adventure and whimsy.
Zac: So you help run a business school. Where does whiskey come into play?
Daniel: I’m also the co-founder of Whisky Marketing School, certifying Whisky Sommeliers and investing in the future of an educated and snob free whisky world.
Zac: Wow, what an interesting duality – a business and whisk(e)y school! How did that come about? What made you want to help other whiskey drinkers?
Daniel: I’m a huge nerd. When I find something interesting, I obsess and study it endlessly. I went from a general enjoyment of whisky into studying the history, science, and art of it all. We live in an era where the resources are almost endless for someone wanting to learn.
I started into the wine sommeliers programs, but they were focused on only about 10% of what I was interested in. I found that I was spending a lot of money learning things I could have Googled.
I was finishing up Heather Greene’s “Whiskey Distilled” (a really wonderful book from a brilliant woman) and Adam Rogers’ book “Proof” (another amazing book) and found a really insightful interview with a wine sommelier that completely rewrote what I thought about the process of deductive tasting. Deductive tasting and the science of taste was one of the most valuable things I encountered in wine sommelier programs, and this new approach of it put me down another path.
There are dozens of extremely valuable programs teaching people about the history of whisky and the science of making whisky. There are no programs that I could find that focused on teaching you the systems, brain patterns, and art of understanding whisky with a focus on communicating it to others. No one was teaching people how to market it, speak it, and tell great stories. In real life, these are all things that take a good sommelier into being a fantastic sommelier.
I was talking that over with Roy Williams, the Chancellor of Wizard Academy, and he said, “Well, why don’t we do that?”
That hadn’t occurred to me at all, but once it was out there, everything started moving pretty quickly.
Zac: That’s so exciting! How did you take it from an idea to a real school?
Daniel: I took all the information, history, and facts of whisky that I had learned over the years, countless resources from others, and the methodology and science we teach at Wizard Academy and applied it all to a program to train Whisky Sommeliers.
I hoped to create a community of whisky experts who were anti-snob and invested in the future of the industry. A lot of the structure we implemented around the school went into that goal.
Zac: What challenges have you faced and/or are facing?
Daniel: Building a certification program from scratch is pretty damn daunting. Luckily one of our instructors at Wizard Academy ran one of the foremost certification consulting associations in the world, The Communicators Inc. Working with them and many others, we developed a multiple day program with levels of certification and instruction.
The biggest challenge is ongoing. How do we run a program that focuses on our student’s success and development in the industry instead of just making them walking whisky encyclopedias? If our students graduate with their heads full of information and then just return to their normal lives, we’ve failed. If we can’t help them make money at what they know, we’ve failed.
That’s an ongoing quest for us.
Zac: You’ve obviously poured a lot of time and effort into this. What have been the rewards?
Daniel: There’s been a lot of early acceptance from the industry from people that we know, love, and trust the most. The excitement we encounter from other experts and enthusiasts in the whisky industry keeps us excited about the future.
The single biggest reward is the community we’re building. We have graduated a lot of really amazing people. I’m grateful to have a part in how our students affect the industry.
Zac: What are your whisk(e)y goals?
Daniel: Are you allowed to have whisky goals? That’s awesome.
I’d love to continue building an understanding of what exactly affects the various things I can taste and smell in whisky.
I’d also love to be a part of building a worldwide network of kickass whisky people.
Zac: What’s the biggest thing you’d like to see change in the whisk(e)y industry?
Daniel: I don’t see a lot of changes I’d like to make in a negative sense. I think we’re living in a golden age of whisky where variations are only limited by imagination.
I really love the movement John Glaser of Compass Box has started with transparency. One of the things I’d like to see in the future is a full ownership and disclosure of a whisky bottle from what and when to how.
I’d also love to see people in US whiskey industry creating malt blends and things like they’ve been doing in Scotland for 100’s of years. There’s a lot of innovation in the American Whisky around grains, distilling, and aging. But think of how awesome it would be to have American Blended Malts that represent multiple distilleries across the US.
I’m sure it’s already in the works.
Zac: I know you’re aware of the friendly banter between Scotch and Bourbon drinkers. Where do you fall? Are you Team Scotch or Team Bourbon?
Daniel: I’m Team Scotch. It just happens to be my first love, and I keep coming back to it. The peaty, rich whisky of Islay and the Islands, the warm notes of Highland and Speysides, the amazing blends…. What’s not to love!
I’m only just now learning to enjoy the depth of American whisky due to spending decades focused on Scotch.
Ask me again in two years.
Zac: Ok, we’re supposed to be bringing everyone together. So what’s one thing you appreciate about Team Bourbon?
Daniel: The bourbon industry is an industry of innovation. I love it.
Zac: What are your hopes for the future of whisk(e)y drinkers?
Daniel: More and better whisky, less snobs, and more community.
Zac: Where can we find you and your content?
Daniel: Our Whisky School can be found at www.whiskymarketing.org
A friend and I have started a Youtube Channel doing daily, irreverent whisky reviews by working our way through the Whisky Vault at the school. You can watch those here.
The Wizard Academy is what started this all. You can find it at www.wizardacademy.org
Zac: Daniel, from everyone in the whiskey community, thank you for all the contributions you’ve made. We eagerly look forward to seeing what the future holds for you!
End of interview
We’d like to take a minute and thank you, the reader, for your support and contributions to this award. Without your nominations we wouldn’t have a list of potential Whisk(e)y Warriors to draw from. There’s so many amazing things happening in the world of whiskey right now, and amazing people to thank for it. Thank you for helping us let the world know about them!
The next award will be released May 1st. We’ll see you then, and remember to nominate your favorite Whisk(e)y Warriors by clicking here!
— Zac Smith