Drinks with Tom Turner: Master of Whisky

Drinks with Tom Turner: Master of Whisky

Do you like scotch? I do! I actually love scotch. I don’t care where it is from, either. Sure, I like the smoky and peaty stuff… But I also like the smooth and rich flavored stuff. Heck, I will drink a blend as far as I will drink a single malt. I can afford blended scotch, that’s for sure! A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a scotch tasting at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. They have a new Scotch Library at Kierland, and are working on offering the largest selection of scotch in the country. It is an impressive, and expensive, collection. The tasting was led by Master of Whisky Tom Turner and I learned SO much… That, and I got to sample several scotches that I hadn’t had before. I also learned why people like to use ice cubes and/or a splash of water in a glass of scotch. It was an eye opening experience, and I am hooked. I actually just finished a bottle of Smokey Joe last night.

Since that night, I have stated in contact with Mr. Turner. We have emailed back and forth and I asked him for an itnerview to learn more about his obsession with whiskey. Or is it whisky? Regardless, this guy knows his stuff. Oh, and we talked about vodka, too. He has a history with that spirit, as well. Basically, I really enjoyed the experience and it was an honor meeting and speaking with him. So, without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Tom Turner, Master of Whisky.

I did a Google search for, “Tom Turner Scotch” and the I’m Feeing Lucky result was the Crown Royal website. Are you connected with Crown Royal?

Crown Royal is one of the many amazing whiskies that I get to represent.

You are a Master of Whisky. What does that mean, exactly?

I teach people how to responsibly enjoy whisky. This includes understanding the differences in type, style and taste. I also give tips on how to drink different whiskies (ice, neat, in cocktails).

Some people spell it whisky while others spell it whiskey. Can you explain the differences?

The Irish spell it “whiskey” and the Scots “whisky.” In Canada they mainly use “whisky.”  In the USA we use both but mostly “whiskey.”

I like vodka. You have a history with that spirit. Discuss your relationship with vodka.

I was the Brand Ambassador for California for Smirnoff.  I enjoy vodka… But almost always shaken with ice.

There are a lot of great bars in Scottsdale. Do you have a favorite?

My favorite is always one that has whisky… But I enjoy Citizen R+D, Az88, and Mabel’s on Main for great whisky cocktails. Kelly’s at SouthBridge also has a nice selection of whisky and a lively atmosphere at night.

I attended a scotch tasting at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa a few weeks ago. Tell me more about those, how you got started doing those, and what they offer to someone that hasn’t had the pleasure of attending one.

It is what a great portion of my job entails. They vary from intimate (like the Kierland event) to huge (every year I do an dinner in Reno for 500 people). It’s the way that I teach people how to become their own Master of Whisky.

I like smoke and peat. What is your favorite region?

I honestly don’t have a favorite region. The great thing about scotch is you can chose a whisky for what you’re in the mood for. Dalwhinnie when I want a Highland, Lagavulin for Islay, Oban for coastal highland, and Craggenmore for Speyside are examples of great whiskies form all over Scotland.

What is your favorite distillery?

Bushmills!!! It is the only Irish distillery in Scotland that you can actually visit and it is beautiful. All the others are museums or “whisky experiences.”  Cardu is a great Scottish distillery as well.

Can you explain the difference between blended scotch and single malt?

Single malt means it’s from a single distiller and made from “malted barley.” A blend means the whiskies are from different distilleries (and types such as corn or wheat) and they are “blended” together. Think of one being a cookie (blends) and the others the individual ingredients like butter, flower, chocolate chips, etc. (single malts). Scotch is a whisky made in Scotland.

Is scotch whisky?

Scotch is a whisky made in Scotland.

Can you explain the difference between Johnnie Walker Black, Red, Gold, and Blue?

Go back to my chocolate chip cookie analogy. They are different cookies. A big misconception is that they are all the same with just different prices. They are actually different blends that have their own unique flavors.

What is the most you have ever paid for a single pour of scotch? What scotch was it?

The most expensive scotch I have ever tasted was the Johnnie Walker Queen’s Jubilee. It retails for $160,000 a bottle!

What scotch are you drinking tonight?

Johnnie Walker Black Label. It is like an old friend… And my desert island whisky!

Tell me about the process… From start to finish, how does a distillery make scotch?

Such a long answer I will have to send that to you later!!!

Wait… Tell me more about your history with tequila.

I have toured distilleries in Jalisco and have hosted tequila events for Don Julio and Jose Cuervo.

There are 15 Masters of Whisky in the world… Do you guys hang out?

We do… And for the record there are also 4 women on the list. We see each other once a year in NYC when we do additional training. We also taste all of the new whiskies that Diageo will be releasing. We see each other in smaller groups a whiskey events around the country.

Do you have any whisky barrels at home?

NO! Way to big and they aren’t much use to me without the whisky in them!!!

Does whisky pair well with food?

Absolutely. I host whisky dinners all over the Valley.

I am new to scotch. Where do I start? What does my journey look like?

Don’t pay attention to age! Pay attention to style you like. If you don’t like smokey scotches you won’t enjoy a rare 30 year old Port Ellen nearly as much as a Cardu 12. Dalwhinne 15 is one of my favorite scotches and one that I always recommend to newcomers.

What is next for Tom Turner?

In addition to Phoenix… Las Vegas, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Boston, Kansas City, LA, and Atlanta… And that’s just through May.

In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. A guy that makes a living tasting whisky is an artist in my book. Go.

Remember to always drink responsibly, and as long as you are the one paying for it… You drink your whisky HOWEVER you’d like!!!