Johanne McInnis

#Whiskyfabric, Dewar’s Slayer, Campaigner, Expert, Blogger & Dear Friend

Hi Johanne (@whiskylassie) thank you so much for allowing me to interview, it’s not only a genuine pleasure but also a real honour.

Whisky Lassie
Whisky Lassie

There are a lot of drinks out there, so what got you into whisky?

I fell into it totally by chance.  Had my father not had whisky in his liquor cabinet I may not have discovered it at all. Then much later in life, my partner and his dad introduced me to scotch and that’s where the obsession with learning about it really took hold.

What was your first ever whisky?

Of course, it was Canadian (Surprised, moi?)

Gibson 12 yo
Gibson 12 yo

When I was still in high school, a bunch of friends dared each other to steal liquor from our parent’s cabinet.  Just so happens that my dad drank a particular brand called Gibson’s 12 year old. It was all I ever saw him drink so it’s what I snuck to the dance that night.  It was heavenly and I really liked how it smelled and tasted.  To this day, it’s a staple in my collection.

Why did you decide to take the decision to start a whisky club?  How easy have you found this?  Do you get many members? 

Graham (@grahammackenney) and I had attended a few tastings in our hometown and he ended up saying every time: wouldn’t it be great if we had a society here in Saint John.  Being a project manager it was easy to start asking questions and the more he talked (he’s an idea person), the more I was able to put a plan together (I’m a doer). The next thing we knew we had an information session and we had 25 people sign up on the spot.  It’s been 4 years since then and we have grown into a great group of 40 with a waiting list of 10 for 2015.

It seems (certainly on Twitter etc) that Canadian’s are really friendly and that they often show great support together, is this the case?  And if so, how much do you think this helps spread the word of whisky?

I can only speak for the people I have met and know and yes we are super friendly, very supportive and all seem to have the same goal which is share what we own and know about whisky. You should see what happens when word gets around that a member of the #whiskyfabric is going to a whisky show near other whisky imbibers!?  The out pour of help, whisky samples, and debauchery is unbelievable but very heart warming.

You have a very strong sense of community (Johanne, is currently helping fund raise for a family, who tragically lost all but the clothes on their back in a house fire), is this sense of caring, and helping (Johanne has helped us in numerous ways) something that has always been within you?

Yes. I have a strong sense of giving back to others and always have. I tend to think it has a lot to do with being from the Maritimes. We are simply conditioned from a young age to be kind, think of others and share what we have, no matter how little that is. Iain MacCullum said once: “A raising tide raises all ships” and it’s become my motto with regards to whisky especially but life in general too.

The weather with you guys is pretty terrible right now (there is no way I would cope), does this lend itself to a tighter community and more get together’s to enjoy whisky?

When the weather dips below -35C we all tend to bundle up and “hunker” down.  Although Graham and I tend to see people all the time when it comes whisky, with tastings, classes, the society and our friends so I suppose we do get together often for whisky related outings?!  Hehehe

You are in high demand, and so busy, you are a keen tweeter, you run an excellent blog, and have been involved in many projects.  How do you find the time for all this, is it hard to keep a work life balance?

Having strong time and project management skills is how I stay on top of everything, that and I’m very disciplined so it’s easy to sit down on a Sunday, look at my schedule/calendar and plan accordingly.  It can be hectic sometimes and of course surprises can certainly throw wrenches into the plans, but in the end I have become quite good at gauging what can and can’t be done. It’s much easier now to have life balance because my children are grown and gone which means I have a lot more time on my hands these days.

What do you do for fun, aside from enjoy whisky of course?

Sailing on the High Seas

Everything! Life is too short.  I love to travel, sail, hike, sing, dance, write, cook, read, nap, play sports, spend time with family and friends and… what was the question again?  I love life and everything about it so there isn’t much that I don’t consider to be fun in my world and I’m willing to try anything at least once, twice or more if I like it.  If I see an opportunity, I’m not scared to speak up and grab the ring, so to speak.

It’s a well-known fact that you are credited for coining the phrase #whiskyfabric, how did this come about and what does this mean to you?

It’s another one of those moments in my life that I really didn’t think about, it just sort of happened.  I was giving an interview to a whisky blogger/writer and I was trying to describe the multitude of people from all walks of life and how we all seem to fit together in one way or another and “fabric” came to mind. We are all an individual piece of thread that when intertwined together is strong and supportive with the help of each other.  The “fabric” means so much to me. I have seen it with my own two eyes, experienced the kindness and support 100X fold, it’s real and I truly love it.  After the article was published a few other bloggers picked up the saying and the next thing we knew, there it was.  It perfectly describes how I think the whisky community is and if you look up the hashtag on twitter you will see it’s used regularly and has been for 3 years now.

You were one of the first people to bring the horrendous Dewar’s ad to the attention of the Twitter and the wider world; it didn’t take long for many others to show support.  What made you decide to fight this so passionately?

Actually it was two friends of mine Stephen Beam and Matt Franck who were having a conversation on twitter and I happen to be reading my feed when one of them asked a question directly to Dewar’s but when I read the response but it didn’t make any sense, so I watched the video and when it got to a certain part I literally gasped.  I felt that it was not only disrespectful but demeaning and that’s when I stood up, literally. The next thing I knew there were hundreds if not thousands standing with me.  It was truly amazing but none of it would have happened had it not been for Matt and Stephen. They deserve much credit.

Do you think that everyone who became involved and showed support, particularly men, were all genuinely appalled or do you feel that some may have shown a public support purely to curry favour?

I guess I never really considered that? I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and always look for the good or positive in people until they prove me wrong.  So, I would have to say the people were genuinely appalled.

Have you seen much of a shift in attitude towards women, not only women who enjoy whisky, but also with more women working in the industry?

I’ve been doing this for close to 20 years so yes I’ve have seen many changes. Women are much more visible in all aspects of the whisky industry but what I love the most is that the biggest change is men and women’s attitude.  We have all been conditioned, mostly by society and marketing to believe it’s a man’s drink when the reality is, women have enjoyed whisky for many generations. Now if we could only make the marketing and PR people see that?

Do you feel you have to work harder as a woman, or you’ve been accepted just the same?

When I first started this fabulous journey I really thought that it was because I was a woman that I would have to work so much harder, but over the years I’ve had a dose of reality.  It has NOTHING to do with being a woman and everything to do with proving that you actually know something about whisky.  Yes, there are still assumptions from time to time that stereo typically I should know very little, but within 15-20 minutes into a discussion with someone (anyone) I think that misconception starts to go melt away and people realize that I have a pretty good base on the subject matter.  It’s one of the things I love about our local society, there is no gender bias.  When you walk through that door, it doesn’t matter who you are or what walk of life you came from, you are an equal and there to learn and share our passion.

You and your partner Graham used to blog together, you have since branched out by yourself, how easy was that decision?  Did it put any strain on your relationship, do you still enjoy most of your whisky moments together?

Lassie 1
Cask Love

It was not one that came easy.  I had been contemplating for months how to even approach the subject with Graham and it was a relief when I finally did.  Although the conversation was difficult it resulted in my leaving Perfect Whisky Match and branching out onto my own as Whisky Lassie.

It did put a bit of a strain on the relationship in the beginning but like life, we worked through the awkward moments and have come through together.

I love the fact that we still enjoy many whisky experiences together. Other than no longer blogging together, we pretty much still do everything else: Society, whisky events, imbibing and sometimes reviewing.

What’s your favourite whisky memory so far?

I have several. My most recent was one of those surreal moments where you realize where you are standing and you say to yourself, dear Lord take a mental snapshot of this moment because it will never happen again!!!

I was sitting in the very famous St. Andrew’s bar in New York City in October.  The beer was flowing as were the conversations and I looked around the table: Jonny McCormick, Lew Bryson, Dave Broom, Dominic Roskrow, Gavin Smith, Davin de Kergommeaux, Sam Komlenic, Ann Miller, Bill Lumsden, Allison Patel and John Hansell. Everything sort of went into slow motion and I just sat there in complete and utter amazement. How could I not? I was sitting there having the best conversations with people I not only respected but admired. It was like being seated with whisky royalty. It truly was one of the most memorable moments of 2013.

If you could only have one whisky for the rest of your life, which would it be? 

This was by far the hardest question you have asked me, hehehe…  I struggled and wrung my hands out for days trying to narrow it down to one. It’s a bit of a surreal question to consider because I am not anticipating a zombie apocalypse anytime soon, although I am ready for one, just in case, hehehe…(As the most organised person I know, this would not surprise me one iota!) 

My love and passion started with Canadian whisky so in the end if I was told I was being put on a desert island and could only take as much whisky as I wanted but only one kind I would have to say Forty Creek. I LOVE every single bottling that John Hall (@FortyCreek_John) has released and there is something comforting in his whiskies.  It may be somewhat nostalgic but I have many fabulous memories of John, his family, the distillery or really great moments involving drinking the whisky with friends.  That would be my choice: Canadian and Forty Creek.

What’s on the cards for you in 2014?  It’s no secret that you are finally coming over to sunny Scotland, so other than having a dram or two with me, what will you be up to? 

I started 2014 with a bang, as usual, hehe.  I was a judge for the Canadian Whisky Awards which took place on January 16th in Victoria British Columbia.  I had to work my way through 58 blind samples.  It was a fantastic experience!

I have started working on an article which will be appearing in Whisky Magazine sometime in the very near future.  I am very excited about that endeavor and look forward to seeing what everyone thinks.

spirit of speyside logo
Spirit of Speyside

And… although you are not the first to know that I am indeed coming to Scotland in 2014 but you are getting the scoop that I will be appearing at the Spirit of Speyside Festival (@spirit_speyside) in May.  It’s all still in the development phase and more information will be forthcoming in a few weeks but essentially there are four lovely whisky women preparing something very special for the festival this year.  This has never been done before: a day entirely presented by the women of whisky. Once it’s up on the festival website, I will provide you with more information. (We are so excited and honoured by this).

And of course the trip doesn’t end there; I am staying in the UK & Europe for an additional 8 weeks and visiting 8 countries total.  I would have to say this is the most exciting part of 2014 to come as I plan on documenting the trip into the core of the #whiskyfabric and every adventure I have while I’m there.  How could I not be excited? I’m going to meet so many people and do wonderful things. Of course, you and I will be taking loads of pictures and dramming together as well, and I can’t wait!!! (I can’t wait either, will be my 2014 highlight).

The rest of 2014 will be spent doing the things I enjoy most: Blogging, travelling a little more and continuing with the journey into this thing we call whisky.

And that concludes our interview, thank you once again Johanne, I can’t wait until I finally get to share a dram with you.

Kirsty Clarke (@kirstypryde1)

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