For Whiskycast host Mark Gillespie, podcasting was kind of a happy accident. Gillespie's background is in journalism, and not any part of the whiskey-making process (or even whiskey journalism). In 2005, the early days of the podcasting medium, the company he was working for wanted to investigate the format, and asked him to produce a show. Since it was just a trial run, he produced it under his own name and chose the topic.
“It started out as fun… If we try this out and have to shut it down after a few episodes, it’s fine, it doesn’t hurt the brand,” Gillespie told Houstonia at a tasting last month at Reserve 101. Gillespie went to whiskey message boards to ask if people would listen to a podcast on whiskey. He largely got the same reply: “What’s a podcast?”
Gillespie went ahead and produced that first episode anyway, and the positive feedback he received motivated him to continue. Six months later, he was laid off and eventually went to work for Bloomberg News. On the side, he continued the podcast, which only grew in stature. His time at Bloomberg ended a few years after that: “After the financial crisis in 2009, I survived the first round of layoffs, but didn’t survive the second,” he remembers. Fortunately, he podcast had become popular enough by then that he was able to devote his resources to running it, and it became his full-time job.
With enough subscribers to raise some ad revenue (Gillespie is very up-front about who advertises on his show, and says he demands complete editorial freedom, or he will not take money from a sponsor), Gillespie was able to turn WhiskyCast into a family business, now recording for 12 years, with more than 650 episodes, and in excess of 1,900 tasting notes on his website. Despite this, he still doesn’t consider himself an expert: “I’m a journalist. I tell stories," he says. "I want to take listeners on the journey with me.”
What's his favorite whiskey? “I’m still looking," he admits. "To me, a favorite whiskey is something that you would drink every day and be happy with never drinking anything else. I haven’t found that whiskey yet.” Fair enough.
As far as the tasting, we had six whiskeys presented to us by Gillespie and Reserve 101 owner Mike Raymond, including in-house exclusives from Old Weller Antique 107 and Knob Creek. As a special treat, there were also tastings from Denison company Ironroot Republic Distillery, whose distinctive sips have already won major awards in their first years in existence.
For another bonus, Gillespie is bringing back the Whiskycast Virtual Tastings, and this reporter was asked to appear on the first episode of the return. We recorded after the actual tasting, sharing notes and ratings on three whiskeys Raymond selected. Keep an eye out for that appearing in September.