Name: Mark Gillespie
Year of Birth: 1962
Place of Residence: Haddonfield, NJ, USA
Whisky Involvement: Podcast
To a certain extent, whisky information on the internet is an adaption of traditional media to the World Wide Web. Blogs are a bit similar to newspapers (although most of the times they are written by only one single person) and Ralfy Mitchell’s vlogs are in a way just ten-minute long personal TV shows.
And there is also an internet equivalent of the good old-fashioned radio show: the podcast. Mark Gillespie has been publishing his weekly WhiskyCast episodes since November 2005, so he is currently celebrating the fifth anniversary of his “Cask Strength Podcasts”.
Looking at Mark’s career it is not surprising at all that he decided to take the audio approach to whisky journalism. He worked as a radio and TV news reporter and anchor in Texas and Alaska before becoming Senior Broadcast Producer at The Gallup Organization.
With his Cask Strength Media firm Mark Gillespie took the step into self-employment circling around podcast production and social media consultancy. His WhiskyCast episodes are typically around 45 minutes long, but there are also shorter and longer ones. Currently the episode count stands at an impressive 287.
Mark’s podcasts feature a broad spectrum of whisky topics. They are produced very professionally like a typical topical radio show, so when you listen to one of the episodes it’s just as if you had turned on your radio – including a little advertising. Apart from news reports and tasting notes, a major feature of Mark’s shows are interviews with interesting whisky peple from around the globe. When he travels to whisky festivals in the US and abroad he records in depth on-location reports, sometimes including live discussions.
The WhiskyCast website features an exhaustive archive of all episodes together with web links related to the topics and also the tasting notes and ratings for the drams Mark has tasted. For smartphone owners there even is a WhiskyCas app. It is currently available for Apple’s iPhone only, but a version for Android based phones is already in preparation.
With your background in broadcasting it is not really a suprise that you are producing podacasts rather than a traditional blog. But what sparked your decision to start your own business around whisky?
It didn’t develop as a business, but as a way to further my own education into whisky. I figured I could use my experience in broadcasting to produce content that would help me and other whisky lovers learn more about whisky, and gradually, WhiskyCast has taken on a life of its own.
Did you have to do missionary work to attract whisky lovers to the new media concept of podcasts?
When I first floated the idea of a whisky podcast in the Whisky Magazine chat forums about six months before I started doing the show, people said “what’s a podcast.” It’s taken some missionary work to spread the word, but when people understand that it’s essentially a radio show that you download instead of tuning in to, they get the idea.
You have also been publishing short reviews for the whiskies you have tasted, but you started giving scores only later. What made you change your position on scoring whisky?
At first, I refused to give tasting notes or scores for whiskies because I felt there were others far more qualified to do that. When I was invited to join the Malt Maniacs in early 2008, I had to start submitting notes and scores for the Malt Monitor, and gradually, I got more confident in my nosing skills. It also became obvious that producing WhiskyCast was giving me the opportunity to taste some really amazing whiskies, and I thought it would be selfish to keep those experiences to myself.
Regarding your personal preferences for whisky, are you slanted more towards Scotch or American whiskey in any way or do you like both the same?
It’s not just Scotch or American whiskies, but Irish, Canadian, and whiskies from other countries that interest me. I’m really not slanted toward any one type, and the whiskies I select usually reflect the mood I’m in, the weather, or just a gut choice of something that’s been on the shelf for a while and needs some company.
On several occasions you stated that you have accepted sponsored invitations to whisky events or received free review samples by whisky makers. How hard is it to remain unbiased in your publishings?
I’ve been a journalist for 30 years, and this part of the job never gets any easier. I try to stay neutral when I’m reviewing a whisky and give objective descriptions of what I’m sensing, since that’s what really matters to the listener. I have never skipped over bad stories or pumped up good stories about my advertisers on WhiskyCast, and look at every story with an open mind. The final decision on WhiskyCast content rests with me, and I take that responsibility very seriously. Every journalist has his or her own opinions, but the professional journalist knows how to set those opinions aside and report a story fairly and without bias. I disclose it when someone pays my expenses to visit a distillery, but 99.9% of the time, it’s a trip I would gladly have paid for myself if the resources were available, and I don’t let that affect my reporting. Disclosure benefits all of us.
1. Please share a memorable whisky moment with us. This might be a fantastic dram, someone you met or any other situation that left a deep impression in your memory.
My most memorable moments have been sharing drams with friends…I met many listeners and new friends at the Islay Festival earlier this year. We stood together in the rain at Ardbeg, in the sun at Bruichladdich, and everywhere in between…and even though we’d just met, it felt like we’d all known each other for years!
2. What percentage of your life do you dedicate to whisky (sleep ignored)? Do you think it should be more or less, or is it just about right?
About 60%, between producing the show each weekend and doing the sales and marketing work during the week to keep the show going. It’s become too much for one person to handle, so I’m starting to turn over some of the business side of WhiskyCast to my wife. She has far more business expertise than I do, and it’s something I should have done a long time ago.
3. Your three tips for whisky novices
Get a good nosing glass and learn how to use it, trust your instincts, and start paying more attention to the world around you. You’ll discover more aromas that way.
4. Your three tips for experienced whisky lovers
Don’t be snobbish about blends, bourbons, or anything that isn’t a single malt. Teach someone else to enjoy whisky, and you’ll have a friend for life. Finally, try something different. You may love peated Islays, but there’s something equally beautiful in a vintage bourbon, too.
5. What was the last dram you had and how did you like it?
Had the 2010 George T. Stagg bourbon the other night at 71.5% ABV…I think I can still taste it! Just an amazing whiskey.