This week on Barrel Room Chronicles, I speak with Shelley Sackier about her spirits journey and how it led her to writing her new book, Make it a Double in our new segment Reading on the Rocks. Then in Whiskey whereabouts, returning guest Lynn House of Heaven Hill is here to tell us all about Old Fashioned Week and the charity it is helping.
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Kerry: Hello. Good afternoon. Good morning. Good evening for wherever you're watching this today's barrel room Chronicles. We have Shelly Sackier who is the author of make it a double right here for those watching. It's a great book. Okay. So Shelly do tell how did you get into liking whiskey so much that you wrote a book
Shelley: and made this your career?
Shelley: Yeah, that's a a tricky question because I got into having whiskey become my career by not liking whiskey. how's that for a weird answer? It was, my very first trip to Scotland when I was about 22 years old. I had a very most unforgiving handshake with brown spirits. I was brought to a distillery on the west coast of Scotland a place called Oban and in the Highlands.
Shelley: And I took a distillery tour. And as one does at the very end of those incredible tours you're given a dream of that magical liquid and elixir and hopefully everyone you're just gonna join the chorus of Ooz and AHS as to how this was made. And I basically became the female doppelganger of the green Mr.
Shelley: Yuck face. Just thought it was so foul and so offensive to my taste buds. And I said right then and there never, ever again, will I bring this liquid to my lips? And then that evening I was with my then husband and we were staying in this beautiful country house hotel outside of Edinburgh called Val Burnie house.
Shelley: And at the time. Diagio, which is the, one of the largest drinks conglomerates they were having this fantastic marketing campaign called classic malts. And they had, Beautiful display of six different bottles that were all supposed to represent the different flavors of the region of Scotland.
Shelley: And so the bar keep at the hotel, came over and said, oh, before dinner, would you all like to have a Dr of whiskey as you're looking at the menu and my. Husband turned to the bark even said, do not waste your precious elixir on my wife's taste buds. She has absolutely no, no appreciation of the liquid whatsoever.
Shelley: And so this man, he clutches his chest and he's oh my God what did you give her? And he said, Ugh, I gave her a jam of open and he would've thought I was giving her an ounce of poison and the bar, he said you did . You did do that. You cannot start somebody on that end of the flavor profile and expect them to have an appreciation.
Shelley: When it's hugely UN palatable, it's a little bit like starting people off on the Scoville scale, as to like here, drink some pepper spray instead of try some juice. Yeah, it was so foreign to me. And he said let me just trust me for a moment. Let me take you through, I'm gonna find something that I promise will be much more appealing to your pate.
Shelley: And so he brought out a bottle of Glen Kinsey and he said, this is from the lowlands it's from the garden of Scotland. It's also referred to as a lady's malt. When you noses it. Place it beneath your nose and you just get that liquid on your tongue. You're going to get notes of vanilla and flowers and cheesecake.
Shelley: And I said, oh my God, fathers, you're making it sound like a Marade cosmopolitan handed over . And so I did spend just a moment, smelling that and then tasting it. And I. This does not taste like turpentine. This is actually really delicious. And it was because of that one man, and because of his patience and in his enthusiasm that I made that massive.
Shelley: 180 degree pivot. Oh, wow. On one day. And what was it all in one day? Oh yeah. Had it not been for him, my life would be very different, I'd be a captain of industry someplace else.
Shelley: Wow. Okay. So let's
Kerry: go a little further back with your background. Where did you, where were you born? Where did you grow up? And when you were a child, what did you think you would be doing
Shelley: as an adult or a career I was born and partially raised in Wisconsin where, many of my family members are farm animals, cuz that is how we do it over there.
Shelley: it gets very cold in the winter in Wisconsin. But I was actually raised and trained from a very, very early age, so early that I can't. Not being a musician. We, we all studied classical music. My mother was a concert violinist and my dad was one of those super lucky guys who could just pick up any instrument and just, intuitively know how to make it sound like he knew what he was doing.
Shelley: So in our house, music came before our homework and you only practiced on the days that you ate. So it was very regimented style of this is how we do things in our household. And then I left home when I was about 15 and went on tour with a bunch of big band swing orchestras. And so I had even though I had trained classically and everyone was had the trajectory of my career aimed at you are going to be a, an opera singer. My heart said, no, I'm not, I'm going to, I'm gonna be Judy Garland or Liz Elli, or, it just, any, anybody who was as far away.
Shelley: Classic music as possible, but that era of music was fabulous. And so I toured with a bunch of the guys from old jazz bands, Harry James's orchestra and Stan Kenton's and Frank Sinatra's guys. So these guys became my mentors. They were extra parents on the road. They basically just gave me this the rest of my growing up teenage years a sense of place and self and That was it.
Shelley: Music was what I thought I was gonna be doing for my entire life. And. Then I had children and as anyone who who, who does decide to spawn the issue you very quickly realize that you have no life of your own. And if you're a super talented person and can juggle things, then you actually.
Shelley: Have a career and raise children successfully. And I am not one of those people who is super talented so I had to make a choice and I thought I've got one shot at raising two human beings and making them the best I possibly could. I better not screw this up. And since I had already had so many years working in the music industry, I thought that will just have to take a backseat.
Shelley: And while I was raising children as it happens to a lot of creative people, you begin to grow a little stir crazy if you don't have an outlet. So after I tried every color of hair and painted the walls, every shade that that Sherman Williams had and, there was an entire year.
Shelley: I explored ly everything that could be done with food. So there was an entire year where it was all just foam food. It was very into astronomy. So everyone was saying you need to do something that's a little bit more safe and less shocking. I knew what I knew and that was songwriting and and music.
Shelley: And in my mind I. Very good at writing lyrics and lyrics are basically just a story. So you have a beginning, a middle and an end. You've got two verses a bridge and a chorus. They translate to one another and I thought now I don't have to be as pithy with lyrics. I can just actually write a story.
Shelley: That's, much, much less edited. And and so I began writing fiction and did it for middle grade and young adults. And weirdly this was all happening while I was back and forth to Scotland, a million times over, 20, 25 years and developing this enormous love for whiskey and all things related to the spirit.
Shelley: And. Researching as much as I possibly could. The trips,
Kerry: For pleasure, or
Shelley: did you have things, family? We had family back there. So my my then husband was British. He still is. But so the, he had family in, in London and I, the deal was, if I have to go visit your mother you're going to take me into up into Scotland again, because I.
Shelley: Fully falling in love with every aspect of of this country.
Shelley: So Scotland. What just became this absolute fascination of mine as I was touring from, village to village and whatnot and desperate to go into every distillery I could manage to show up at and.
Shelley: At the time, 20 years ago, there weren't a whole hell of a lot of 'em that had tours. And certainly, weren't educating people on, Hey, come visit our production room floor. So I was just basically knocking on back doors and saying can I come look at your fermentation tanks?
Shelley: And they , they were saying. Why I had a very difficult time trying to translate. I'm curious, I'm interested. I like science. I wanna know how you made that beautiful taste as it does. How did those flavors and those scents get into that glass? And teach me. And so that's, how it happened.
Shelley: And I, at the, at around when I was 40 or so my husband gifted me An internship at brew LATI and said, you will now go to your favorite place in the whole world. You'll go to Islay. You'll go to your favorite distillery in the whole world. And they will teach you all of the trade secrets, and then you will come back and open up a distillery in our garage and make us all wealthy.
Shelley: And I tried to explain to him that was not really in the picture, , but thank you for the gift. And and I had to deal with a lot of of imposter syndrome, at, during that internship mostly because I was an untrained person and I was a woman and the only one there, and I was constantly comparing myself to my counterparts.
Shelley: Who were also wondering why I was there. so it's there, as a woman in an industry that is mainly populated by men, there's a lot that one has to has to manage and muscle through. And I think these were very pivotal moments for me when I was doing that. That that schooling and realized that it didn't matter my level of education or skill set, I was there to learn and I deserve to be there simply because I was fueled by curiosity.
Kerry: So how long ago was that? And do you think there's more women there now?
Shelley: Oh, good Lord. Yes. That was probably about, let's see 13 years ago or so I always have a hard time with time, a dozen years or so more. And I definitely think That there are plenty of women who are, obviously populating this industry.
Shelley: Good Lord. Rachel Barry and Jill Jones and Jillian McDonald and, Marion Eves. There's just a million great women. There's one woman in Scotland now who I just think the world of her name is Jaine Ruda Siqua I think. And she is the founder of a Scott. Rum distillery. I think it's called TGA.
Shelley: I might be mispronouncing that TGA. I've never actually heard her say it or anybody say it, but they're basically, enriching the livelihood of east Africans specifically through their sugar cane plantations. And they've got a cane to cask thing going on, but, I love for innovation and I love what it is that she's doing.
Shelley: Awesome for women everywhere. And there are so many people to be looking up to now there's another woman. I absolutely adore Nancy Fraley, who, is so well known in the industry as being one of the best noses in the business. And so it's people like this, people like them who I take great.
Shelley: Calm and comfort in knowing that because they're so upfront and visible now there are fewer women who are pondering. The question of is there space for me in this industry? Is there a place for me? They have great examples. They have someone who has already, cut a swath through that path.
Shelley: Right. Which
Kerry: just always fascinating to me. I try to get as many fascinating women and whiskey on the show as possible.
Shelley: Yeah, there's a long list.
Kerry: Now. How long was the internship and when you came back, did you make any whiskey in your
Shelley: garage? it was a very short internship. One. I would've liked to have duplicated again and again, but, it was only a space of a week and a half or so that I was there.
Shelley: But yes, then coming back to the United States, I, no, I did not make whiskey in my garage ever but I was hired by a, an American distillery called reservoir in Richmond, Virginia. And it was one of those absolutely beautiful moments of again, just a, another pivotal moment where you are fighting against that imposter syndrome.
Shelley: Why would I be in this industry? I had been researching for another book that I was writing and I went to this distillery in Richmond to speak with, I was looking for the master distiller or for somebody on the production room floor, just to make sure that I was getting all the technical aspect of it, because I had, by this time developed, a good 20 years worth of knowledge within. The scotch industry, but certainly American whiskey making has some differences. And I wanted to really nail all those. And so I came across the proprietor of reservoir, Dave Kuno. And he and I were talking and he said, why are you not working in this industry?
Shelley: You have this bucket full of knowledge, and more about whiskey than everybody here in this distillery put together. Why are you not working in a distillery? And I. I'm an author. , this is what I do. I write about whiskey and about other things. And by the way, there's whiskey in every single one of my young adult novels.
Shelley: I don't tell my editors that they dunno , but you could never start them too young, right? Like fifth grade it's science, it's all about science and biology and chemistry and engineering. So this is never too young to start love. But I said, I'm an author. And he said we need to get you a position.
Shelley: You're not just gonna work in the industry. You're gonna work in my distillery. I'm going to find you a job. I'm going to make a job that is tailored specifically to all of your knowledge. And then we're gonna squeeze you like a lemon . So where were you? Where were you
Kerry: living when you visited that? Were you in that state even, or?
Shelley: yes. Yeah. Okay. I was about an hour away or so. And still within not spitting distance, but within traveling distance. And then he made that job offer sound even more enticing because he said you can do a lot of it. Remotely and just come into the distillery as we need you. And then of course COVID hit.
Shelley: And so I, I wasn't bothered by that just to be able to work from home, doing everything that I needed to do. So that was truly, it was one of the best best things that has ever happened to me in my life. And I'm very lucky to work in this distillery specifically. That's awesome. So you're still there today.
Shelley: I am still there today. Yeah. I work as the director of distillery education. Oh, that sounds perfect for you. it's a fancy ass title and I just fill in the blanks with whatever needs to be done. A bit of a Swiss army knife, position.
Kerry: I love it. So let's talk about the book real quick. , make it a double what inspired you for the book?
Kerry: What is the main story here? And,
Shelley: give us a little over. Yeah. I feel like I have never not been writing this book. I have been working on this compendium of stories for two decades because, I wanted to track this transformation that I knew I was going through. And, I had initially had this.
Shelley: Negative reaction to this spirit, very visceral noxious to my body reaction. And because of that one person's enthusiasm because of their just super patient instruction. And because. I love that petrified. Oh, petrified. Yeah. I love that. Love that. And also because, my next experiences were paired with things like folklore and history and the destinations I was traveling to and the keen craftmanship, the food and the music, just like everything that embodied the making of this spirit.
Shelley: I saw in real time How influential and critical. They all were to rewiring my brain to welcome something foreign, something I couldn't possibly appreciate without a foundation from which to understand it. And I always tell people it's a little bit like. Like putting your Joe average fifth grader into a calculus class, because I think there is so much that one needs to know that one has to be exposed to first before all those hieroglyphics start to become beautiful.
Shelley: And so this book allows me in short order to expose people to a few of those, crucial and fascinating things that might be a little bit out of reach. And in order to, basically make that initial handshake with brown spirit. To be a bit less befuddling and a lot more en. That's awesome.
Kerry: And this came out when
Shelley: June 7th, I think. Awesome. Awesome. And then
Kerry: what number book is this
Shelley: for you writing? That is number four of actual. Published, but there's a whole lot of D that's never been published. so loads of books that are in desks and just waiting and and others that are with publishers or agents or editors who are all going through various stages of rejection.
Shelley: No or
Kerry: holding it off for the best time to put it out there. That's
Kerry: Shelly, this is fantastic. I can't wait to finish reading this, I just started just cuz I just got it, but fascinating stories and I think your journey through whiskey has been one of the most unique and I really enjoyed listening to your story and I thank you for coming on the show.
Shelley: Oh, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. I think Carrie, that you guys have one of the most amazing podcasts and and I the world of spirits and brown spirits specifically are very lucky to have you with all the phenomenal guests that you have on your show. So thank you for making me be a part of it.
Kerry: appreciate that. So where can people find you on your social handles and your websites and all that? If they wanna get the book, where can they go?
Shelley: Definitely. I am on Instagram at Shelly Sier and on the I have my website, which is Shelly sier.com. You can. Find lots of information there. And then also the reservoir distillery.com that has listed all of our all of our events, the places that we're going with, this book and bottle tour that we're doing, which is great fun.
Shelley: And then, if you wanna buy the book I always suggest people first and foremost, go find your favorite indie store and give them some love because we need all those people to stay in business and pay their electricity bills. Okay. Great. Thanks again for being on. Absolutely.
Shelley: Thanks for having me, Kerry.
Director of Distillery Education
After completing a course in Scotland’s Bruichladdich Distillery, Shelley Sackier began writing about––and working within––the world of whisky. For the past twenty-five years she has devoted her efforts toward creating a plainspoken, easygoing, and humorous grasp on the subject to welcome more into this realm. As the Director of Distillery Education at Reservoir Distillery in Virginia, she aims to distill down this sophisticated spirit one simple sip at a time. She is also a critically acclaimed author of three YA novels. Visit her website at ShelleySackier.com
National Spirits Specialist and Portfolio Mixologist, Heaven Hill
National Spirits Specialist and Portfolio Mixologist, Heaven Hill
Lynn House is Heaven Hill’s National Spirits Specialist and Portfolio Mixologist. She is responsible for support of the entire Heaven Hill Portfolio with emphasis on on-premise focused brands. Specifically, she implements brand and spirit category education, cocktail development for both national and local programming, and identifies current and upcoming cocktail trends. Lynn is a resource and mentor to external distributors and trade personnel as well as the internal field sales and brand teams, working on programs like Elijah Craig Old Fashioned Week.
Lynn, an award-winning mixologist, has been named a 2022 Tales of the Cocktail Foundation Spirited Award winner for “Best U.S. Brand Ambassador”, which recognizes an individual whose creative use of brand communication and exceptional personality has had a prominent impact on the promotion of drink brands through engaging the trade and executing compelling educational seminars. Lynn was also recognized by the foundation in previous years as a finalist for “Best American Bar Mentor” in 2020, and “Best U.S. Brand Ambassador” in 2017 and 2018. Additionally, Lynn is an inaugural inductee to the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s Dame Hall of Fame and has been featured in many industry publications.
Prior to joining Heaven Hill, Lynn served as Chief Mixologist and Beverage Director at Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago. At Blackbird, she organically developed the first mixology program for the Michelin Star and James Beard Award winner. Previous experience in her 25 years in hospitality includes Chief Mixologist/Beverage Director at Michelin two-star restaurant Graham Elliot. She is, also, one of the original Master Bartenders at The Drawing Room and was named one of the 2011’s Top 20 Most Fabulous Bartenders in the World by Gary Regan.
During her time at Heaven Hill, Lynn also served as the PAMA Liqueur Brand Ambassador and the National Brand Educator, covering all Heaven Hill Liqueur brands. Her knowledge of Heaven Hill’s large and diverse portfolio of brands and her dedication to the education of various spirits has led Lynn to great success in this field. She is creative, diligent and serves as a strong resource and mentor to all who she works with.
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