Whisky Conversations: Colin Hampden-White

Colin Hampden Whyte began working initially for the Scotsman, moving to London to work for The Times and Financial Times. During this time, he explored his love of wine and whisky, culminating in his series: the Greatest Winemakers and Greatest Whisky makers, exhibited extensively in London, including the National Portrait Gallery, and Manhattan, winning the Louis Roederer Award for Artistry along the way.

He continues to write about wine and spirits for LUX and Condé Nast and has won the Born Digital award for photography, is a Keeper of the Quaich, and is Chairman of the Circle of Wine Writers. Having been the founding editor for Whisky Quarterly magazine he is now the spirits editor at Winerist.

I caught up with Colin at the Keepers of The Quaich Autumn Banquet and we got talking about whisky, wine and future projects.

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AD: Can you tell me a little about your career so far?

CHW: I only started what I really wanted to do after I turned 30. My first job after being a Quantity Surveyor was at the Scotsman, as a photographer and occasionally writing. I moved to London a couple of years later and to The Times and FT before turning freelance. I started writing about fine wine and whisky specifically in 2009 for Condé Nast, and then LUX. I also progressed into fine art photography with representation by the Rebecca Hossack gallery in London and New York, exhibiting frequently, including in the National Portrait Gallery. 

In 2014 I began working for a good friend, Krzysztof Maruszewski, and became Founding Editor of Whisky quarterly. Having edited Whisky quarterly for three years I was looking for a new challenge. I had the idea of creating a TV show for consumers.

Having has the idea less than nine months ago, we are launching The Three Drinkers on the 26th of November on Amazon Prime! 

AD: How did you become involved with whisky and why did it develop into such a passion?

CHW: I started to get involved in whisky at a university tasting club but didn’t start to write about whisky until over fifteen years later when I moved to London. By then I had had quite a bit of practice! Like many things in life, the drinks writing came about a chance meeting. Mine was with the Editor in Chief of Condé Nast who asked me to start writing, especially in his own magazine LUX. 

I also consulted for a few businesses on buying and bottling casks, and one of those companies was Stilnovisti which went on to publish Whisky quarterly magazine.

AD: Your newest venture, The Three Drinkers is due out soon. Can you tell me more about it?

CHW: It is an entertainment show on Amazon Prime of which the first series is “The Three Drinkers do Scotch”. It is a travelogue style of show and whilst whisky is the centre of attention, we’re on an exciting boogie around Scotland, experiencing loads of great stuff from feeding reindeer to getting out on the waters of Loch Ness. What we’re about here is taking people on the journey with us, not just focusing on the intricacies of one expression or another. Our motto is: Zero pretense, 100% Entertainment. 

AD: How did you become involved in the project? 

CHW: I was looking for a new challenge to follow on from editing Whisky quarterly and I came up with the concept of The Three Drinkers. I had a great time at the publication, and I still do some freelance presenting work for the publisher, but I wanted to reach a bigger audience in a more personal and immediate way, so TV was the clear direction. 

The initial idea was to have a TV show that spoke directly to the consumer and was entertaining, not a documentary or purely educational programme. Very soon after having the idea I asked a good friend and drinks writer for The Independent, Aidy Smith if he would like to work on it with me. He was very enthusiastic and immediately suggested another good friend of ours: Helena Nicklin. Helena is another drinks specialist and we were delighted when she agreed to come on board too. One of the things I like best about The Three Drinkers is that we’re real friends, not a construct like the Spice Girls. Maybe I’m showing my age there!

AD: What were your particular highlights?

We’ve had an amazing time throughout the process, and filming in Speyside and Islay were particular highlights. And attempting to build a cask, visiting Macallan’s new distillery, and being taught how to cut peat, were particularly fun. 

AD: When (and how) will we be able to watch it?

CHW: It will be on Amazon Prime from the 26th of November (Today) in the UK, USA, Japan and Germany, and will roll out in other countries soon after that.

AD: Do you have a particular favourite distillery?

CHW: I’ve always had a special fondness for two and I can’t distinguish my favourite; Lagavulin and Balvenie.

AD: Are there any particular whiskies that you would love to try but have never found?

CHW: Malt Mill, but I’m sure lots of people say that! I have tried a blend from the 1940’s which is known to have a great deal of Malt Mill in it, and it was delicious. 

AD: What bottle of whisky will your own cupboard never be without?

CHW: Johnnie Walker Black Label.

AD: Excluding whisky (and wine) what would be your drink of choice?

CHW: Armagnac.

AD: Who are the most intense, whisky geeks or wine buffs?

CHW: I’m not really sure. I think many of us in the industry have the propensity to be geeky and massively enthusiastic about our particular area but I don’t think one has the march on the other. Most people have only their leisure time to explore, taste and experience the worlds of whisky and wine; not many people are lucky enough to have this kind of thing as their day job so we’re bound to be passionate! 

AD: Rate the following in order of personal importance: Complexity, Balance, Age, Spirit Character.

CHW: Balance, Complexity, Spirit Character, Age

AD: Ok now some quick questions, one word answers please…

Whisky or Whiskey?

CHW: Whisky.

AD: Bourbon cask or Sherry Cask?

CHW: Bourbon Cask.

AD: Red or White?

CHW: Red Wine.

AD: Malt or Grain?

CHW: Malt.

AD: Peated or Unpeated?

CHW: Unpeated.

The Amazon Prime Series, The Three Drinkers will be available on Amazon Prime from 26th November.

You can view the Trailer here.

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