Robin Robinson works with small spirit brands across the US. He has helped build the Compass Box Whisky Co. as its US Brand Manager, and previously worked in sales in the tech industry. He has also acted in theatre, film, TV and radio. He is an in-demand lecturer on Scotch and American whiskies, and is the author of "The Complete Whiskey Course" (Sterling Epicure). He is a spirits judge for Spirits Selection of Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, John Barleycorn Society, and The Fifty Best.
My best advice is to find your purpose by using four criteria: conceive it in simple words, be able to share it with anyone, activate it with every action you take, and understand that you won't be able to achieve it in one lifetime. Transcript: "The best advice I have ever received did not come in the form of advice, it came in the form of a demonstration. And the demonstration was how to understand what your purpose is and how to connect with it in every part of your life. There are four criteria, I'm going to share those with you. Number one is that your purpose should be conceived of very, very simple words. It does not have to be this elaborate philosophical treatise at all. Very simple words. Number two, simple words that you can say to anyone. There are some things you can say to your spouse that you can't say to your children. There are some things you can say to your best friend that you can't say to your spouse. Words that you can say to anyone given the fact that you'd want to share it with them. Number three, you should be able to activate it with every action that you take. Whether that's getting dressed in the morning, to buying a car, to looking for a job, to whatever that may be. Your purpose gets activated with every action that you make. Number four, you have an understanding in the back of your head that you'll never be able to achieve it in one lifetime. And when you find all four, you'll know you found it. Because when you look back in your life, you'll realize that you have been doing this. You've been connected to your purpose since you were six years old. I'll give you what mine is. My purpose, get the word out and make change."
Pot Stills have been around since ancient times, used to separate organic elements from each other. It wasn't until the 18th century that people started experimenting with more continuous methods of distillation, which eventually led to the invention of the Stein column and the coffee still by NS Coffee in 1831. Transcript: "So pot stills go all the way back to ancient forms in the Egyptians, the Sumerians of that period in history. And it's essentially, it was just a way to separate organic elements from each other, which is really what distillation is, which is a separation and then a collection of that. It took a thousand or so years for someone to figure out to put another pot on top of that, and then took another thousand years for someone to figure out, actually let's put a pipe to actually gather that condensation. And that essentially is what we now know as the Alembic, which is Arabic for pot, or the pot still. And that was the dominant way of distilling anything, or separating organic elements, which again, this is what distilling is, is the separation of organic elements with heat in a pressurized container, and that's essentially a still. In about the 18th century, we start seeing in France and in Italy, the desire to do something that's less batch oriented and something that's actually much more continuous, but not for whiskey, not for alcoholic beverages, but for separation of foods from elements that are in food. So this is really more of food production. It eventually culminates with a man named Selye Blumenthal in France, who creates essentially a column, and a man named Robert Stein, who adapted that for beer to put the column in. The Stein column didn't really work out very well, that was the early 1800s, and it wasn't until 1831, taking that idea, that a man named Ennis Coffey patented his coffee still, which was two different columns that did that work, and now today, we see that in one."
While there are many incredibly talented and experienced people in the whiskey industry, it's not really possible to identify one person as an "expert" as whiskey is a very subjective type of subject. Everyone has their own experiences and opinions and that is what makes this industry so special. Transcript: "This is a great question and the first thing I want to do is address the idea of an expert. Now what we're talking about is booze, which is a very personal and very subjective type of subject. So there really are no experts in whiskey or spirits. There are enormous amount of people in this industry who are incredibly talented and have a massive amount of expertise in various efforts. Some in distilling, some in blending, some in the sales and marketing of it, some in the packaging, some in the writing about it. And they all show expertise and this is wonderful. But to give someone an imprimatur of being an overall expert is really a misnomer and I think that the industry needs to reform itself in this regard. I've got a lot of experience. I've drunk a lot of whiskey. I've been able to attach good words to those whiskey from the people who make them. Does that make me an expert? Only in my own mind I can tell you that. No one else's."
In the last 20 years, Japanese whiskey has gone through a lot of changes. Initially it was made for Japanese consumption and wasn't exported at all. However, with the increasing exports globally, scrutiny and transparency have come into play. This has led to the creation of rules for Japanese whiskey that are very similar to the ones in Scotland. These rules will change the way Japanese whiskey is made by who and how. Transcript: "So Japanese whiskey has gone through a lot of change in the last 20 years. Initially, Japanese whiskey was made for Japanese consumption. It was all domestically consumed and it wasn't exported at all. So it didn't really matter what we thought about it. What they thought was that it was made by Japanese hands with a sense of Japanese aesthetic and a sense of Japanese tradition. And that Japanese tradition was to bring a bunch of disparate things together in order to create something pleasing for the Japanese palate at that time. Mostly Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory, was who propagated that idea. So for many years, it was always imported. You would typically import other whiskeys that would come in to actually make it in bulk because the Japanese distilleries at that time weren't making enough whiskey. So yeah, you would bring in scotch and you would bring in Irish whiskey as well. In the 21st century, it all started to change because of Japanese exports globally. And with exports globally comes scrutiny. And with scrutiny comes transparency. So in 2024, what we're going to be seeing is some rules for Japanese whiskey, very similar to the ones that are made in Scotland, about where the Japanese whiskey has to be made, by who and how. And that's going to change a lot of it by the time we start seeing that come out."
The history of whiskey production in Scotland dates back centuries, with Christian monks using distillation for medicinal purposes. In 1823, the government of Scotland decided to create an industry by taxing output instead of chasing down illegal Moonshine rings. A decade later, Irish inventor Aeneas Coffey patented his continuous production still and the Scottish blenders and grocery men began producing grain whiskey. This eventually led to the creation of blended Scotch, which changed the world for over a century until the growth or reintroduction of single malt. Transcript: "The history of whisky in Scotland, and very similar to Ireland, goes back centuries with Christian monks who were using distillation for medicinal purposes. They were infusing all types of bitters and herbs and plant roots and things like that in order to create medicines of the early to middle ages. The modern age of whisky in Scotland dates to about 1823, so prior to that, for the 200 years prior to that, the British crown was just trying to bust up all of the moonshine rings that were taking place in the highlands. 1823, they made this really fateful decision, let's create an industry by not chasing them down, but by taxing the output and thereby allowing the industry to grow and to innovate and to actually make a better product. And that was really the thing behind it. About 10 years later in 1831, Ennis Coffee in Ireland patents his coffee still, his continuous production still. So prior to that, it was pot stills with the continuous production still, which he couldn't sell in Ireland because nobody in Ireland wanted it. The Jamiesons thought it was like, it was evil poison. But the Scottish blenders and the Scottish grocery men like Dewars and Usher and Johnny Walker for example, saw the grain whisky that came out of that still as massive. And together, what they created was what we know as blended scotch. And blended scotch is what changed the entire world and led the entire world for over a century until the growth or the reintroduction of single malt, which now has all the sexiness right now and blended scotch doesn't."
Distillation is the process of separating different components of a liquid. All five major whiskey making countries - Scotland, Ireland, the United States, Canada and Japan - use two different methods of distillation: traditional pot stills and modern column stills. In Scotland, pot stills are dominant while in Ireland and Canada, column stills reign. In Kentucky and craft bourbon, both pot and column stills are used. Hybrid pot-column stills are also seen. Transcript: "The process of distillation in regards to whiskey is more controlled by custom and tradition than it is by law. So all five countries of the major whiskey making countries in the world, Scotland, Ireland, the United States, Canada and Japan, both utilize two different types of distillation methods. One is a traditional pot still, and then the second one is a more modern column still. And by tradition and custom, you're going to find one of those that is going to be dominant over the other. Now, primarily in Scotland, it's a pot still country. However, the irony behind that is that 93, 94% of all of the whiskey that comes out of Scotland comes in the form of a blended Scotch whiskey. And that blended Scotch whiskey is made primarily of grain whiskey, which is made in a large column still. You're going to find something similar to that in Ireland and in Canada, the column still reigns. So that the way that they actually make whiskey in Canada, it's mostly with the column still. And then when you get down into Kentucky bourbon, those are all column stills. When you get out into craft bourbon, you're getting a combination of pot stills, column stills, and then the hybrid pot column combination."