EWA Alumni: Ricardo Tsai
Tell us a bit more about yourself.
My wife, two kids and I live in Costa Rica, land of volcanoes, sloths, toucans, rain forests, beaches and the Pura Vida lifestyle! I am a soccer aficionado but basketball practitioner. I worked in the IT industry most of my life. Then, in a land dominated by beer, rum, tequila, and wine, three years ago I started a company (Clan de Whiskeros, Mythical Cask LLC) to teach and share whisky culture. Today I am fully dedicated to whisky.
How did you first discover whisky?
My first time was the same way that most Latin American people discovered whisky. Someone shared a Scotch (in a glass with a lot of ice) and like most of us, the first experience was not exactly romantic. The first true experience? 2009, on a business trip. My flight was delayed and I checked into my hotel at almost midnight, a bit jetlagged. I needed a dram, so I went to the hotel’s bar and asked for my usual commercial blended Scotch. The bar was empty except for a gentleman sitting three chairs away. When he asked me if I had ever tried a single malt, I said no. So he asked the bartender to pour me a Speyside single malt and that started almost three hours of an incredibly interesting conversation about the whisky process, regions, different profiles, barrels, etc. That sparked my interest, real interest in the whisky world. Whoever that was, and if by any chance he is reading this, THANK YOU!
What attracted you to the EWA course(s)?
I was looking to confirm what I learned from books, so I travelled to Scotland and visited many distilleries, and the Glenfarclas Distillery’s tour guide recommended EWA during a conversation. I checked EWA and other suggestions and found EWA was the right choice by a long stretch. The structure, the experience and being accredited by the SQA made it the obvious choice, and it was the best choice I made in this new whisky voyage.
What aspects of the course(s) did you find most enjoyable?
The way it connected, progressively, every single aspect of whisky production, from grain to bottling in the easiest understandable descriptions but not diluted in simple words. It is fantastic for beginners to learn from scratch. But also, it helps to align previously acquired knowledge for someone who is a bit more advanced.
How might you use your new-found knowledge going forward?
Share it! The fun begins with someone who is curious about whisky and seeing their reaction when their biases and misguided myths are broken. However, everything I learned so far in books, with EWA, with tastings, in no small part, was very Scottish oriented and had to be “Latin-ized”. My enthusiasm to spread the whisky word had to be translated so my niche could synchronize accordingly with the Latin sensory and gastronomic experiences.
Where can you be found online?
I started with a Facebook group and later added a YouTube channel and then an Instagram account to teach tasting techniques, to break stigmas and correct wrong beliefs, but most importantly to teach how to enjoy this wonderful drink in a responsible and enjoyable way.
Today, I import and distribute Scotch and Irish whisky (no Travellers’ Editions) and offer private tastings. And through my different social media I am helping others and providing guidance to people in Latin America - from Chile to Mexico - who are reaching out for counsel, asking questions, and breaking whisky myths. Everybody wants to learn; my passion is to provide a structured “Latino” way to do so.
Finally, I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude to my wife, my biggest supporter. My friends, especially Alfredo and all my patreons. Literally, without them, this project would not be possible.
Whisky wisdom: quick fire questions
First whisky you ever tasted?
Johnnie Walker Red Label in a chicken soup (Yes, I know, go figure!) First whisky I genuinely enjoyed was Glenlivet The Master Distiller’s Reserve Small Batch.
Best whisky you have ever tasted?
Octomore 7.2. That night in a tasting bar in Inverness, for the first time (my first heavily peated) I experienced a range of nose, palate and finish notes I never found in previous whiskies. But I did it the right way so love can be found in first sip. I am getting goose bumps just thinking about it. So delicious!
Who is your ‘whisky hero’?
Truth is, despite the industry’s issue with their approach on a title denomination for a knowledgeable person in whisky; Daniel from Whiskey Marketing gave me a lot of perspective on how to treat others who are not whisky savvy. Like Daniel, I believe in teaching, bringing people to enjoy whisky, treating the drink with respect but even more to teach those who really want to learn.
Who would you most like to conduct a whisky tasting for, dead or alive?
Robin Williams (as Mork), Jim Carrey (as Ace Ventura), Eddie Murphy (as Prince Akeem), Ryan Reynolds (as Deadpool), Matt Leblanc (as Joey) and Jerry Seinfeld (as Seinfeld). Now, try to teach them something without laughing so hard that whisky comes out of your nose and avoid Deadpool doing… his weird things.
Favourite distillery to visit?
I could only visit seven Speyside and two highland distilleries in a short timeframe. But of those Glenfarclas was the best because of the story telling experience from my tour guide. I planned to do the Islands and Islay trip, but then COVID-19 hit us all. Let’s see what happens in 2022.
Ultimate bottling for your collection?
I have 160-ish in my collection and I don’t like chasing unicorns. So far these are my favorites from my collection: Talisker Port Ruighe, Bowmore 15, Teeling Single Grain, Lahroaig Lore, Aberlour A’bunadh, Penderyn Peated, The Irishman Single Malt, Glen Scotia 15, Macallan Rare Cask and Dunville’s Three Crown.
Favourite non-whisky drink?
Costa Rican coffee of course! It is celestial, it is awesome, it’s Fan – que cosa mas rica – tastic! I actually make a blend of several local coffee brands to get my balance of sour-ish, chocolate-ish and bitterness.
Favourite whisky and food pairing?
Talisker Port Ruighe with very thin slices of Serrano ham or prosciutto. The smoke is not overpowering and the ham’s fat just melts with the sip.