Last October, Forbes published an article on the world of "Whiskygram", the burgeoning social media space for a new breed of lifestyle influencers who work primarily in the world of whisky. They called it the "dream job", and yeah, besides that $150,000 a year "caretaker" role on Hamilton island – which entailes lying on a beach, hanging with turtles – we can't think of many better ways to earn a living.
Pete Stevens is one of the lucky (and hardworking) ones , fast making a name for himself as a whisky influencer. This month, his Instagram profile passed 70K followers, making him one of the most followed whisky influencers on the platform. You should seriously smash that link and follow Pete's adventures if whisky is your jam (or dram, baddum-tish) or you're curious to learn more about the centuries-old tipple.
The following is from an interview we did with Pete for the Sex Issue of Penthouse. We talk about his love affair with whisky, his transition from a regular nine-to-five into the world of social media influencing and the Gentleman's Cabinet, his ongoing pursuit to get as many people as he can to start their own whisky journey.
For the uninitiated, a bottle of Jack Daniels with the Amy Winehouse treatment (extra coke and ice) may be their sole experience of whisky. We’re not judging. It’s a bewildering world for newcomers, peppered with archaic slang, abstract Gaelic fonts and industrial processes straight out of the dark ages. The keepers of whisky lore don’t mind retaining the mystique that surrounds the drink, leaving the rest of us scratching our heads.
That’s where Pete Stevens, whisky expert and founder of the Gentleman’s Cabinet whisky and cigar events agency comes in handy. He’s been working with whisky since before he could legally get into a bar (there wasn’t much else to do where he grew up, he says) and is more romantic about a good dram than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s with me today to talk about his passion for one of the world’s most famous tipples.
“Whisky for me is so much more than the liquid in the bottle,” he says, as he drops a bottle of Hyde on to the table in front of us. “For me when you throw down a bottle of whisky with a mate and potentially throw them a cigar, it’s not just the financial commitment. What it says is ‘here’s an hour and a half of my time, let’s just chat and connect.
“Whisky is counselling for men.”
Image: Hyde's No. 6 President's Reserve.
Our gracious host is the Doss House in the Rocks. It’s the ideal location for a whisky tasting. The Chesterfield lounges, dim lighting and roughly hewn sandstone walls practically beg you to while away the day with a glass of Ireland’s (or Scotland’s or America’s, Japan’s or Australia’s) finest.
Pete tells me after working for almost every major whisky label and distributor in the country, he chose to go off on his own and start the Gentleman’s Cabinet. His inspiration for doing so goes beyond escaping the monotony of working for other people, though. He says whisky saved two of his friend’s lives. When their relationships fell apart, it was a cigar and a bottle of good whisky that provided the basis for “connection and counselling with like-minded individuals”. It’s plain to see that Pete loves a good yarn, but he looks deadly serious when he tells me this. Even if he is exaggerating, by my second glass, I’m starting to believe it.
“The whole idea behind Gentleman’s Cabinet was to get that message and give people the skills, knowledge and awareness so they can sit down with their mates and do exactly the same thing we did.”
But what do you say to people who’ve sworn off the stuff, maybe after a bad early experience?
“I usually say to people: what do you normally like to drink? It’s super important because you have whisky that's been aged in ex-red wine barrels and Madeira casks, bourbon casks, sherry casks, port casks, there are mineral malts with heavy minerality in the water like a Scapa…” he cuts himself short, “I’m a big believer that there’s a whisky for everyone”.
I start to tackle him on some of the pervading whisky myths. First, age. How old does it have to be before I should take a whisky seriously?
“Older isn’t better,” he states bluntly. “Whisky is so diverse and people don’t realise. It’s about dispelling the myth behind it so you’re not just picking the prettiest bottle or the highest age statement for the dollars.”
We get to talking about Johnny Walker’s recent “Jane Walker” campaign – a marketing initiative in celebration of International Women’s Day. Its chief goal was publicity, of course, but also to recognise women's contribution to the famous drink.
Do you think there’s a perception that whisky is a man’s drink, I ask?
“Whisky is for everyone.”
“When I started Gentleman’s Cabinet we had two per cent female attendees, and now we’re sitting at about 30 per cent. That’s in four years.
“It’s about going on a journey. You find enough familiarity that they’re comfortable and enough originality to challenge them a little to start that journey.”
We finish up the afternoon with another tasting glass of Shelter Point Canadian Single Malt. I ask Pete for some quick and dirty whisky dos and don’ts. “Do try it neat first and do add water to taste,” he begins. “Don’t whack ice in something super expensive – buy cheaper whisky,” he continues. “Don’t walk into a bar and order a Japanese whisky because it makes you feel worldly, like a 25-year-old finance f*ckwit. Do know what’s in the glass and why you like it.” And finally, “Do invest time in learning about whisky, and do buy a bottle, and start your journey today.”
WHISKY PETE’S FOUR STEPS TO DRINKING WHISKY
Roll the whisky around the outside of your glass. The longer it takes to form drips down the side, the more ‘legs’ it has – this is a measure of viscosity. “Non-chill filter whisky like Hyde is thicker and more viscous, which means you taste the flavour for longer.”
Nosing your whisky. Place the glass under your nose and take some time to appreciate the aroma before you drink it. “You’ll get something different out of it each time. Start with the lighter citrusy notes, then go to caramel and toffee, then I hit the stone fruit characteristics like plums and peaches. Each time you go to it, you get something deeper and richer.”
“The first sip isn’t your first sip. It’s about palate preparation. Take the first sip and we’ll roll it around in the mouth and coat everything. Gums, roof of the mouth, under the tongue – everything. Keep it in for about 20 seconds – think less violent mouth wash.”
“Generally wait about a minute and then take your second sip – this is your real first sip. Focus on how much more expansive and complex it tastes.”