Meet the expert… Hans Offringa
Hans Offringa is an author and journalist who has been writing about whiskey for the last 30 years. Here, we caught up with him to find how he discovered whisky and what a typical day in his job involves…
When I finished high school, my best friend poured me a glass of amber liquid. I’d only had beer and an occasional glass of wine, so was not acquainted with it. I immediately liked the colour, the aromas, the taste and the ‘afterburn’, and, possessing an inquisitive mind, wanted to know more about the drink. That was in 1974.
I went on a quest, partly liquid, partly in searching for reading material. In 1990, I first visited Scotland. I fell in love with the country, the people, the landscape and of course the whisky. For a while, at the turn of the century, I even co-owned a small publishing company in Elgin, Speyside, and yes, we published a whisky book. Since 1990, I’ve returned to Scotland at least twice a year, but often more. That’s when I discovered and visited many distilleries and met numerous interesting characters in the industry, who were all happy to teach me. In short: a first dram in 1974 and a lot of (liquid) research, visits, tastings and talks since then.
I have a background in English literature, history, business journalism and publishing. Originally, I wanted to become an English and History teacher, but somewhere along that road I got distracted. During my studies, I worked as a proof-reader and editor for a local publisher of magazines and newspapers. Never looked back.
First and foremost, I am a writer, having written about many other subjects before I turned a full-time whisky writer and became somewhat of an expert on the matter.
My other publications are as varied as courseware for the IT industry, three novels, a couple of historical books, among which the acclaimed Raising the Kursk (about the Russian nuclear submarine that went down in the Barents Sea at the turn of the century), a book on rum, two concise books on champagne, two short books on golf. I have written about 75 books to date.
I am an independent bi-lingual writer and publisher and happen to like whisky very much, ever since I was 18. I feel blessed to have been able to blend my passion with my profession and have been writing about whisky now for over 30 years. This activity resulted in 30 books on the topic as well as hundreds of articles and photographs in various magazines and newspapers across the globe to date. I’ve also translated whisky books from peer writers, among whom Charles MacLean, Dave Broom and Michael Jackson (†).
My wife Becky and I form The Whisky Couple. We develop marketing material for the whisky industry and are judges at various international competitions, among which the Scotch Whisky Awards and the World Whisky Awards. Companies for whom we work include Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Diageo, Edrington, Four Roses, Pernod-Ricard and Scotch Whisky International. Furthermore, I have been serving on the board of the International Chapter of the Netherlands of the Keepers of the Quaich as Secretary for the last five years.
When we don’t travel, we work from our home, each having a separate office. Usually I get up at 7am, bicycle to the public swimming pool, do laps for 1 mile, cycle back and have breakfast, reading an online newspaper.
Around 9am I settle behind my writing desk and start reading/answering emails.
Then, either I write an article, a column, or continue with the manuscript of a book, translate something, or do research.
I take a break around noon, have lunch with Becky, take a short walk in the neighbourhood and return to my writing desk at 1pm, continuing to work until 5pm. Then I go down and fix drinks for the Famous Spouse and myself. Becky loves to cook, I love to eat – we complement each other perfectly, in many ways. I prefer not to write in the evening, since at that time of day my head is too full.
When we travel, it is visiting places, interviewing people, doing photography or conducting research in libraries or archives. On such trips we combine whisky-related things with other points of interest and love to walk, visit historical buildings and churches, browse second-hand book shops, go to the movies, read and spend quality time with dear friends.
Whisky wisdom: quick fire questions
First whisky you ever tasted?
Ballantine’s Finest and shortly thereafter Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old, both in 1974.
Best whiskey you have ever tasted?
Too many whiskeys, too little time.
Who is your ‘whiskey hero’?
For Scotch: Michael Jackson, with whom I collaborated and whose work I translated into Dutch. He started off as my mentor and over time we became dear friends. He sadly passed away unexpectedly in 2007. We both loved jazz, so I dedicated my 2009 book Whisky & Jazz to him.
For Bourbon: Jim Rutledge, master distiller emeritus of Four Roses, aka The Professor of Yeast. Jim acted as contributing editor for my book Bourbon & Blues, and kindly wrote the foreword. He arranged the book launch at the distillery during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in 2011 and was instrumental in nominating me for the title of Kentucky Colonel. I dedicated the book to Becky, who hails from the USA, but descends from solid Scottish stock.
Who would you most like to conduct a whisky tasting for, dead or alive?
James May. I enjoyed his contributions to Top Gear and Toy Stories on English television. I’d love to meet him one time and think we could have a lot of fun, doing a joint program on the road – Whisky & Wheels – without drinking & driving of course.
Favourite distillery to visit?
USA: Four Roses
Ultimate bottling for your collection?
I do not really collect whisky, but I do have a collection of over 1,200 empty packagings, the oldest one ranging back to 1974. However, if I have to mention a specific bottling, that would be the soon-to-be bottling of our own cask of The Macallan, which we purchased in 2009. Having filled it with new make spirit, we were allowed to move the cask to the warehouse ourselves, at Easter Elchies Estate. Now, in 2021, it is a 12-year-old and we are planning to bottle it to celebrate my 65th birthday.
Favourite non-whisky drink?
G&T – just good old Gordon’s Dry Gin with Schweppes Tonic, nothing fancy.
Favourite whisky and food pairing?
Oysters on the half shell with a few drops of Talisker, preferably standing on the shore of Loch Harport while savouring them, in the company of my wife Becky.