Whisky Around the Globe: Exploring Corn Variations in Rural Mexico and Historic Distilleries in the Isle of Islay


Photo via Jeff Bradford Youtube

Chances are that if you’re old enough to read about my adventures with spirits, beer, and wine, you probably also drink them. If that’s the case, I’d bet you’re also old enough to know who Michael Rowe is. Yes, that’s the guy from Dirty Jobs. Now more than ever, I feel like Mike, but in a man-in-the-alcohol-industry-nomad-distiller kind of way. 

I hope that description offers more of an understanding of what I’m doing here. So often people think that reviewers in the alcohol industry, whether that is someone who reviews beer, wine, spirits or what have you, are these guys with their feet kicked up while they swirl a glass and throw out adjectives to describe the beverage in hand. 

For myself, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I sold everything I had for a chance to obtain a wealth of knowledge. After completely uprooting myself and moving to a different country – something that sparked from my days in the army and I’ve done multiple times now – I selfishly get to learn from experts and take some of their knowledge. Selflessly, though, I always have my video camera with me so I can film my journeys and share them with all of you via YouTube. 

There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes, too. Right now, I am in Mexico. For the past few months, I’ve been here learning Spanish so I can uncover the best stories about Mezcal and the other wonderful spirits produced in rural Mexico so I can share them with you all. 

I’m also learning more about corn whiskey while I’m here. When we think about corn in the United States, we all recall a yellow whole-grain plant. Here, that looks different. Mexico is the birthplace of corn, and that really comes to light when you see the rainbow of the crop. It’s not just yellow. It’s red, it’s purple, it’s blue. More important than the color are the flavor profiles that accompany those colors. In the US, we don’t get to experience those flavors as much. Don’t get me wrong, Americans love their bourbon and whiskey, but only a few small distilleries in the US capitalize on the varieties of corn. Why so few? Because it is much more cost-efficient to mass produce with yellow corn than it is to diversify the flavor palette of the spirit. 

But that isn’t stopping distilleries in Mexico. They’re shaking the tree, shucking the corn, or whatever you want to call it, and I’m here for it. Soon, I’ll have my foot in the door and will start working with corn whiskey. I’ll also be living with Spanish families, who generously let me hike the mountainsides of Mexico with them to get the full Mezcal production experience, starting with personally harvesting the agave. Obviously, I’ll have my camera with me so I can share those experiences with you all soon.

But before I am able to share those experiences with you guys, I want to tell you about my recent time in Scotland where I observed and produced scotch at some of the most famous scotch distilleries in the world. I was originally interested in moving to Scotland because of the gem that is the Isle of Islay. With nine working distilleries, I think Islay piques the interest of more people than just your alcohol nerds like myself. Just thinking about Americans alone, it is no secret we’ve had a huge whisky craze hit the US in the past years. So much so that the United States has become one of the largest importers of scotch! 

It is more fun to learn when you can put an image with the information, so I’ve chronicled my experiences with my camera to piece together a documentary. I hope this documentary brings to life the stories behind the drink in your glass like it did for me when I lived in Scotland. You’ll learn how these famous distilleries got their start and how they were able to withstand trials and tribulations within the industry. Most importantly, you’ll take away that Islay wouldn’t be where it is today without whisky, and whisky couldn’t be where it is without Islay. The full episode is out now, and you can watch it here.