Welcome to the Whisk(e)y Warrior Award!
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 in a special Whisk(e)y Warrior Release. What is a Whisk(e)y Warrior? Find out more by clicking here.
And now, we proudly present your Whisk(e)y Warrior.
He works tirelessly at pursuing his passion for bourbon. He is creating an amazing hang out for bourbon fans everywhere. He’s putting out the finest free bourbon magazine in existence. He’s a published author of bourbon books. He is behind the fastest growing podcast network dedicated to whiskey and beer. He is…
Colonel Steve Akley, Whisk(e)y Warrior!
Zac: Colonel Steve Akley congratulations on winning the Whisk(e)y Warrior Award. Speaking of Colonels, what exactly is a Kentucky Colonel?
Steve: A Kentucky Colonel is a program by the state of Kentucky for civilians, basically to be recognized as someone who contributes to the state of Kentucky. So through my work, blogging, Bourbon Zeppelin newsletter, my podcasts, which are all bourbon related – and since 95% of all bourbon still comes from Kentucky – I was eligible. I also do a lot of charitable work. So those two things, you have to be charitable and you have to contribute to the state of Kentucky. Then you can be nominated by someone who is already a Kentucky Colonel, and if you get approved, then you become a Kentucky Colonel. So I’m Colonel Steve Akley.
Zac: Well that’s super cool! I didn’t know what that meant so I’m glad I asked.
Steve: Yeah, I don’t think a lot of people understand exactly what that means. But I mean, it’s the same thing like, if you’ve heard of Colonel Sanders, he was a Kentucky Colonel. A lot of people in the bourbon industry are Colonels. Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jim Beam was a Kentucky Colonel, Jimmy Russel is a Kentucky Colonel, Colonel Blanton. So it’s a long history tied to bourbon.
Zac: Wow that’s really neat, and now you’re a part of that history too. So where did you grow up?
Steve: St. Louis and that’s where I still live.
Zac: Did you grow up around whiskey and bourbon? What got you into it originally?
Steve: My parents drank very little but when they did, they drank bourbon, that was one of the things they drank. But more along the lines of cocktails and things like that. So highballs and bourbon slush and a couple of other things like that. So I was around it to some degree, you know, egg nog at the holidays. But really I just kind of got into it myself and I was a fan starting in college [when I] started drinking bourbon. I always liked it, but when I really got into it was when I went to Kentucky on a vacation. I visited several of the distilleries and got to see the processes and how it’s made and the people and the history and all that. That’s when I really became passionate about bourbon.
Zac: Oh yeah of course. I remember going to Kentucky and doing the bourbon trail. Being there, seeing it, meeting the people who make it, it really does change things.
Steve: Yeah, I don’t think you could take a non-fan and make them interested, but if you’re interested in bourbon and you go see that, you’re hooked. You’re a super fan at that point.
Zac: So do you have a day job outside of your bourbon endeavors?
Steve: I do, yes. I work in the transportation industry.
Zac: Ok I was wondering, because you put out so much great free stuff. It’s absolutely phenomenal what you’re putting together.
Steve: Thank you. Yeah, we’ve had a lot of cool stuff happen. We were just the official podcast of the New Orleans Bourbon Festival. We got to go down and be a part of that which was incredible. We got to meet all these people, who for people like us, those are our heroes. You know, meeting people who are in the industry – like Fred Noe, Eddie Russell, Trey Zoeller – those people we look up to. It was like being on a bourbon red carpet in Hollywood for us.
Zac: When did you get the idea to do all this? To launch a newsletter and a whole podcast network. Obviously you must have been a big fan. So what took you from being a fan to a Whisk(e)y Warrior?
Steve: It’s been a progression that wasn’t always thought out, but then it kind of got a laser focus. How it started was I always wanted to write books and be an author. Never did anything about it. But then my dad passed away suddenly on December 12th, 2012 and I decided I’ve got to start writing. Life can end in a snap of your fingers. So I started writing books and I thought, “I’ll just always write about what I like. I’ll self-publish so I don’t have to answer to anybody. I can write about whatever I want.” And so I wrote several books about different topics. And then I wrote a bourbon book called “Bourbon Mixology.” My idea was to write a book that featured cool bars that were focused on bourbon. I wanted to feature their signature cocktail. And it became, “Bourbon Mixology – 50 Iconic bars sharing their signature bourbon cocktail.”
That book took off. I’ve published a lot of other books, nothing really sold. But when I published that book, it went crazy. And it’s still, this is three years later now, and if you go on Amazon and search the word “bourbon” it’s in the top 5 almost all the time. I don’t market it, it’s just once people find it they really like it and they like the concept of it. Once I did that I thought, “I love bourbon. I’m just going to focus all my efforts on bourbon.”
So I was toying around with doing a newsletter because no one does anything written from the fans perspective. Money gets in the way because of advertisers and I feel like everything’s skewed, whether it’s the reviews or what’s featured. I thought I could do something clean. Get other people involved who are passionate about it and we could work together. So now I’ve got 25 staff writers and we put out a huge email magazine with full articles. For someone who’s not a fan, it’s probably their worst nightmare. But people who are fans of bourbon love it. It’s gotten a lot of support from the industry and it’s just amazing.
Then the third thing was adding podcasts. Once I had success with the books I wanted to add podcasts. So I started doing that, and that’s kind of taken off as well.
Zac: I love that your story is of somebody who had a passion, and didn’t necessarily have a huge end goal. But you let your passion guide you and it’s led you to some really cool places.
Steve: Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. One of the things that’s helped me out too was I’ve never had to do any of this stuff for the money. It’s never about the money for me. It’s about doing something that I love. I’m a creative guy and it allows me a great outlet for that. And it’s allowed me to make inroads into something that I never thought I’d have inroads to. I’m not in the bourbon industry, I’m just a huge fan. But now I find I get to go meet all these people that I like. It’s amazing…it’s…it’s the greatest.
Zac: This is obviously quite an undertaking you’ve shouldered. So what have been some of the challenges of implementing all this?
Steve: I’ve been lucky in that, I’ve always found good people to work with me and help out. The most challenging thing is simply time. You know I’ll get off work on Friday and podcast Friday night. And then spend all day Saturday and all day Sunday working on this stuff, then record Sunday night.
Zac: Wow that’s a full schedule. It’s amazing what you’ve been able to accomplish with bourbon in addition to having a regular job. I think it goes without saying that you’re Team Bourbon, right?
Steve: Right. Definitely.
Zac: So what’s something you appreciate about Team Scotch?
Steve: I appreciate that the grains they use are not a commodity. When they purchase the grains, it can be seasonal. You know, this grain from this farm. I think that’s pretty impressive. Whereas bourbon, they’re going to buy off the market, it’ll be mixed together, it’s just a commodity. Whereas in Scotch, I do see where you could get the value of some neat flavor profiles that are created from just using a single grain from a single farm that sometimes is even seasonal. I think that’s kind of cool.
Zac: What’s the biggest innovation you’d like to see in the whiskey industry?
Steve: The fastest growing segment of bourbon drinkers is women. I would like to see the distilleries embrace that in both marketing and maybe see if there’s some unique flavor profiles that women prefer verses men. And maybe some unique products that appeal more toward women drinkers. They’re kind of on their own. It’s been traditionally a drink that appeals to men. The fact that women are getting into it now, I think the industry needs to wake up to that.
Zac: So that’s what you’d like to see change in the industry. Now, what are your hopes for the future of whiskey drinkers?
Steve: My hope for the future of whiskey is that it never becomes wine. Never becomes snobby. Whiskey should never be that way. It should be open and embrace everyone and allow people to drink it how they like. That’s what the great master distillers like Booker Noe or Elmer T. Lee always said. Elmer T. Lee would drink his bourbon with Sprite and a lot of people would be appalled to hear that an Elmer T. Lee whiskey was mixed with Sprite. But that’s how he liked it. And he said people should be able to drink the stuff however they like it, and I think it should stay that way. I think that wine is the worst. It’s very snobby and people won’t order it if they don’t know about it because they don’t want to be embarrassed at the table by saying the wrong thing. I don’t want that to ever happen to whiskey.
Zac: You’re our kind of people Steve because we feel the exact same way. For all of our kindred spirits out there, where can we find your stuff?
Steve: Yeah I’m @steveakley on Instagram, primarily. I’m also on Twitter. And there’s also my website which is steveakley.com. That’s where you can find out everything that I’ve got going on, or sign up for Bourbon Zeppelin, or everything else.
Zac: Perfect. Colonel Steve Akley thank you so much for taking time out for this interview. And from everyone on the whiskey community, thank you for being the Whisk(e)y Warrior that you are!
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 June 1st. We’ll see you then, and remember to nominate your favorite Whisk(e)y Warriors by clicking here!
— Zac Smith