Anytime someone teaches a topic, the first question you need to ask is: “So why should this person teach me? Does this person have the knowledge and skills to improve what I already know?” The answer is absolutely. I originally studied chemistry and graduated in 1993 and then proceeded to work at a refinery research facility (Imperial Oil/Esso) for 7 years, which if you are unfamiliar, most of the products have some relation to distillation. From there I went on to work at a pharmaceutical company for a few years and then worked at the University of Western Ontario doing molecular pathology for 6 years.
Lab work is structured, routine and sometimes overly restrictive, so to provide some balance, and fulfill my interest in food and drinks—at one point in time I contemplated being a chef—I started bartending and writing about the experience, from there I took a scientific approach to cocktails and delved into the history of the soda fountain, which had many chemistry connections. Art of Drink started in 2005 an quickly became one of the top cocktail resources on the Internet at the time, counting at least 2 million unique visitors per year by 2008.
In 2007 I started public speaking at spirit and cocktail industry events and have presented on a wide range of topics, from the Science of Taste to the History of the Soda Fountain, around the world.
In 2010, I published Fix the Pumps, a book about the history of the American soda fountain, which appealed to me because the soda fountains from the late 1800s used a lot of science and chemistry to develop and produce their drinks. In 2011, it was nominated for “Best New Cocktail Book” at Tales of the Cocktail. The same year I was nominated for Best Cocktail Writer as well.
Once I started writing about cocktails and spirits, that’s when I developed a serious interest in the technical side of the products, namely distillation. From that point I’ve tasted and compared thousands of different spirits and taken many distillery tours in different part of the world.
The combination of technical understanding, as well as what tastes goods, is what will help you become a better distiller.