Oh, I get by…..

…….with a little help from my friends.

 I realise I don’t write on my whisky blog very much and there are various reasons for that; I don’t cover what other people already cover. I only really write when I have something I feel is worthwhile saying. Oh, and I don’t do reviews here. (sometimes on my Instagram, but not churned out like there is no tomorrow, I mean how many times can one whisky be described from one persons point of view….)

But looking back on my posts, something they seem to have in common is people, my observations of people, behaviour, kindness, but always about people. And this is what I love most about whisky. It’s all about people.

So I wanted to use this little space provided to me via the world wide web to highlight some of the people that have made an impact on my whisky life so far. This thought process was triggered by bumping into a whisky industry acquaintance in Milroys and me happily telling him I’m now a brand ambassador. His response was so positive and supportive that it triggered this whole thought process. It’s been quite the ride and well, I never expected to be doing what I am doing, so read on if so inclined.

Let’s start with my dad. He liked a dram, I remember Johnny Walker Red being in the house. I remember when I was old enough to buy him a bottle for birthday or Christmas, I would agonise over it, knowing absolutely nothing, then realising that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. He would do a bottle of Naked Grouse (I thought the bottle was pretty), in two days over Christmas. But I also remember hating the smell of whisky and retching when I smelled it. I vowed it would never be a drink for me. My dad passed away before I really got into whisky. It’s sad that I will never share a dram with him. (It would have been the cheap stuff mind you!!)

When I did make a move towards drinking whisky it was off the back of a health diagnosis. Ironic eh? But essentially it boiled down to finding a “clean” alcoholic drink, that would pretty much be all I could drink. So, from hating the smell deciding it’s now the drink for me, I needed help. I approached the Soho Whisky Club, London. Where I met George Keeble. I explained the situation him, and he signed me up to the club and served me my first real dram, a Linkwood. From that moment on, I immersed myself in whisky (not literally, though it could be interesting) but I tried to visit the club every couple of weeks, I went to tastings, bought bottles and began following whisky people on Twitter.

After a while my relationship with the SWC dwindled and another whisky friend, Jason Vaswami introduced me to Milroys, Soho. Well, that was the beginning of a new beginning. Milroys staff are a rare breed. Their knowledge of whisky, customer service and welcoming demeanour is EVERYTHING. It’s why I keep going there. Now, Eddie de Souza was, for me the main man in Milroys. Extraordinary knowledge, his perception of client and their palate outstanding. I never make a second decision in Milroys. I make the first, what mood am I in, then ask the staff to suggest a dram. Happens every time I visit.

Back to Eddie. When he had time, he took time. Time to chat, to engage, to teach, to connect people. It’s a rare skill and I will always be thankful for Eddie’s guidance on my whisky adventures. I would also mention Simo here too. Simo owns Milroys and has allowed me opportunities many who want to work in the industry would die for. I have worked at Milroys Spitalfields both in the Dram House on the whisky side and in my day job, designing the big moss wall in the cigar terrace. It really is one of my favourite projects.

Another person who has had a HUGE impact, and actually got me started working every now and then in the industry is Mr Dave Worthington (or Boutique-y Dave to many).

I met Dave via Twitter and one day he let me know about a Boutiquey Whisky tasting at Black Rock Bar, London, would I like to go? Now, meeting a person off social media can be a little dodgy. But I went. Dave was an absolute delight and remains one of my favourite people in the industry. We chatted whisky all evening. Towards the end he asked me I would fancy doing a stint at a whisky festival at the Oval, Kennington. My initial response was to do myself down and state that I knew very little and probably would be terrible. Dave responded with, “Well, you’ve just chatted with me for three hours about whisky, you’ll be fine.” And I was.

Dave has been a cheerleader promoting women in whisky, giving people a chance and sharing his encyclopaedic whisky knowledge. From that first conversation I have worked at a number of whisky shows and continue to build my own knowledge and experience.

The person I mentioned right at the top of this piece is James Goggins, who at the time I first met him was working with Atom and was running the Boutiquey tasting where I first met Dave. I have since bumped into James in various places, as you do with the industry. So when I saw him last week and told him what I am doing now, he was happy for me. He mused that some people want to be in my position (BA) and that very few get there, he was genuinely thrilled for me. It made me realise, again, what a privileged position I find myself in.

The next person I want to thank would be Sorren Krebs. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Sorren set up The Whisky Circus and invited me, amongst many others to join. This little group of whisky enthusiasts, from the UK, Europe, Canada and more became a wonderful family of drammers. Not only were there whisky tastings, online parties (no, I can’t talk about them, what happened at the Christmas Party, stays at the Christmas Party), but some really lovely and genuine friendships came about, and although I stepped away from the Circus some time ago, those friendships are still there, with friends visiting from France, and me actually leaving London to travel ‘norf’!!

Via The Circus, I got to know Richard McKeand from Mackmyra. He helped us organise an exclusive bottling which was lovely. One day, Mackmyra invited me to be involved in an online tasting of Bjorksav with Angela D’orazio. A while later I was invited onto the Mckmyra online Pub which was great fun.

And now, here I am working with Mackmyra (freelance) as a brand ambassador, where last week I held a whisky tasting in Milroys, my first solo outing and it was brilliant fun. The feedback has been excellent.

There are so many others in my adventures, Graham and Faye Coull of Glen Moray and now Dingle fame. So welcoming, so lovely and I genuinely can’t wait to get my A into G and sort out a trip to Ireland to visit them. Warren and Craig, brothers from north London. When I busted my foot in 2019, I had to spend a lot of time at home recovering (long story), and these gents kindly “encouraged” (dragged) me back into society and I will always be grateful for that.

The thing is, I never set out drinking whisky, with a mind to “working in whisky”, it’s been a natural and fun progression and I have no idea if I will take it further or just stay where I am. All I know is this; every person you meet in whisky, whether as customer or as an industry bod can have an influence on your journey. And I can honestly say that most are bloody lovely!! Yes, even you!

Claire.

Published by Claire Vokins

My am involved in whisky and horticulture. I own a small professional garden care company with a focus on working in a sustainable way. Whisky enthusiast. Studying "Politics, Philosophy and Economics" with the Open University. Stoic.

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