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Blog about a blogger who's blogging whiskey: Josh Wright

Posted on by Eric Burke

“You went on the wrong weekend, my man!” 

This was the beginning of my first in-person meeting with Josh Wright of SipologyBlog.com. I was extremely excited for my first visit to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and had tweeted out my order for my first drink of the week. After a little coversation we ironed out that it was ok that I was there the weekend before BourbonFest because I was there the whole week. Also, as it turned out, that I would probably be happening across his path since he was coming for the following weeekend. This was exciting for me. I’d been following Josh on twitter for a while and reading his blog for a while longer. 

You see, shortly after I took my love of bourbon online, I started looking for other blogs on the topic to read. I wanted reviews, tasting notes, and insight into what was going on in the world of whiskey. I started by looking at who other whiskey fans were reading. One blog that seemed to be on everyone’s list was SipologyBlog. I read it and liked it. The thing I liked best about the reviews was the fact that he tended to focus on american whiskey, beer and wine, things that I was also interested in. Things that I could get. And afford.  

As I followed him on twitter, I found out that he was more than just a palate and nose. He was a smart guy with interests remarkably similar to mine. When I first had the idea for a series of posts highlighting those people I enjoy reading and interacting with online, he was the first guy I thought of. So without further ado: Josh Wright.

Hey Josh, thanks for agreeing to be the guinea pig for this series. First things first: who are you, anyway?

You're welcome. It's an honor!

That's kind of a philosophical question.  I'm Josh Wright, born, raised and educated in Central Indiana, most of that time on the north side of Indianapolis. I mean the actual north side of Indianapolis, not a suburb. I graduated from Broad Ripple High School in 1994 and Anderson University in 1998. Both sides of my family have deep Indiana roots. I've lived in the Detroit Metro area since 2001. That was also the year I married my lovely wife Liz.

My current occupation is stay-at-home dad to my 3 year old daughter. I also blog about booze, of course and I enjoy screwing around on the internet in general. I consider myself a Christian and a democratic socialist, although I may not be a great example of either. I'm a craft beer lover, cocktail lover, wine lover and whiskey lover. I'm a writer although I've never been paid for it. I'm a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer. I have ancestors who came over on the Mayflower, some who were early settlers at Jamestown and one who was Daniel Boone's uncle. That's all of the answers I can think of right now.

The first time I thought "this is a guy I need to pay attention to" it was for a joke that combined a professional football player and an ancient Christian heresy. So it seems you and I have a lot in common: from a love of history and, at least a passing interest in, professional football to a love of bourbon. If we have this much in common, what else are you into outside of bourbon? I feel like I should be checking into things you like.

That's very kind. I love history, especially the history of Christianity and the history of pre-modern Europe. I love those two topics so much I have master's degrees in them. I got my Master of Theological Studies degree in 2001 (it was a big year for me) and an MA in History in 2013, concentrating in Medieval and Early Modern (Reformation through French Revolution) Europe. I wrote my final essay on Julian of Norwich. I still do a lot of reading in those areas and hopefully I will get back to writing in those areas too. I'm currently reading a book called The Orrible Synne by E.J. Burford. It's a history of prostitution in London from the Roman period to the time of Oliver Cromwell. It's a bit dated but a fun little book.

I enjoy the usual team sports, especially NFL football, MLB and B1G basketball. Despite living in Michigan for almost 13 years, I still don't understand or enjoy hockey. I blame my formative years in basketball-obsessed Indiana.

Music is my other big love. I sing in my church choir. I love classical music, early music, blues, reggae, rock 'n' roll of any era, hip hop, R & B, Irish folk, classic country and jazz. That's not to say I like everything in those categories, but I like some artists and songs from all those genres. I've been on a classic hip hop kick lately. I've long been a rabid Gang Starr fan and I also love Public Enemy, De La Soul, Rakim, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots and MC Lyte to name just a few. I'm also a big fan of the Afghan Whigs, Wussy, and PJ Harvey.

My other interests are homey type stuff. I love cooking and I do it almost every night. I especially love BBQ, southern style cooking and traditional Mexican cooking. I'm kind of a locovore too. I buy fruits and vegetables in season at our local farmer's market as much as possible. I love gardening especially native wildflowers, herbs, tomatoes and chilies.  We also have red currant bushes and strawberry plants in the backyard.

I love art and archaeology and comedy and TV and old movies too but this response is way too long already..

I know you are a bourbon fan, you're active on forums, blog about it, etc. How'd you get into it?

I've always had a curious mind and when I first started drinking alcoholic beverages after I graduated college I was interested in knowing where my booze came from and exploring the topic in general. My parents are teetotalers so I knew next to nothing about it. I started by reading labels and trying some of the popular brands. The internet was a much smaller place back then and there wasn't a whole lot of information on American whiskey around. One of the first things I noticed was that I liked Jim Beam better than Jack Daniels. From then on bourbon was my first choice.

I stuck with Jim Beam for a long while until I picked up a book entitled The Book of Classic American Whiskeys by Mark H. Waymack and James E. Harris (1995). It is part tasting guide and part travel guide. Not all the distilleries were open for tours back then and it was written at a time when Seagram's still existed and the only Four Roses product available in the US was the yellow label and it was only sold in Kentucky. There's a great story about Al Young of Four Roses taking them off into the snake-filled Kentucky woods to the site of the original Old Joe Distillery. It really captured my imagination. 

I used the book as a jumping off point to explore the bourbon landscape literally and figuratively. My wife and I planned our first Kentucky vacation in June of 2007. We managed to visit all the distilleries that were open for visits on that first trip, and also worked in visits to other tourist attractions in Kentucky. We went again the next year and I think we've been once every year since then. I also started doing tastings for our friends around that time. I don't do those very much anymore but I enjoy them a lot.

Right before our first trip to Kentucky, I joined StraightBourbon.com. It's been a lot of fun connecting with other bourbon enthusiasts and I've made a lot of friends there. For my money, it's still the best place on the internet for information and informed discussion about American Whiskey. It's a very well-run forum.

You write about whiskey and other spirits, wine and beer at SipologyBlog.com. What's the history of SipologyBlog?

Sipology Blog started back in the spring of 2010. I came up with the name on my own. Sip-ology, meaning the ology of things people sip. I later discovered that a now defunct coffee house in California also used the name, so I have emphasized that it is Sipology Blog on social media. From what I've read the coffee shop self-destructed in a rather ugly fashion so I doubt they'll send lawyers after me for the name any time soon.

I got the idea for the blog shortly before my daughter was born. I had been writing a long, rambling series of wine posts on my old Live Journal blog and I had also been posting tasting notes on  StraightBourbon.com for a while. I had grown sick of LJ and people seemed to enjoy my tasting notes so I decided to start up a simpler, more focused blog in which I would review whatever I was drinking. That happened to be mostly Michigan beer, wine and bourbon.

There were a lot fewer booze blogs back then. I had read Sku's, Chuck Cowdery's, and a few others and while I liked them, I didn't feel like I needed to do what they were doing. I tried to do news early on, but it was too time consuming and too easy to screw up. I do commentary now and again, but the part of blogging that appeals most to me as a reader and a writer is tasting notes, so I've stuck with that for the most part.

A secondary purpose to Sipology Blog was the to keep up my writing chops. I had to take some time off from grad school when my daughter was born and I've never been very good at keeping a journal so I though a simple blog would be an easy way to keep writing so I could jump right back into academic work when I needed to.

Judging alcoholic beverages for what they are one of the things that I try to do with my reviews and that's why I always factor in price. A $20 bottle of bourbon should not be evaluated the same way as a $60 bottle. Some people claim that they don't factor in price when they write up tasting notes but I don't think that's possible. Tasting is like history in that respect. Total objectivity is not possible, so the best way to overcome bias is to acknowledge that it exists and move on from there. Not acknowledging that bias means that the taster (or historian) is a hostage to it. 

As a guy who follows this stuff, what's your take on the state of the bourbon industry right now? What would you like to see happen?

The overarching problem right now for all the big distillers is keeping up with demand. The distillers that have been hardest hit have been smaller macros: Buffalo Trace, Barton, Wild Turkey and Maker's Mark. What we've seen from them is price hikes, proof reductions (or attempted proof reductions anyway), the dropping of age statements and rolling shortages. Four Roses and Dickel may also be facing problems sometime soon, but all their regular products are NAS so that gives them more flexibility. I don't see an end to any of this anytime soon. The only hope of relief is if demand starts leveling off but to my knowledge there's no sign of that happening.

In spite of this, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic. Wild Turkey has a new, bigger distillery with new warehouses and on-site bottling now. Buffalo Trace is adding warehouse space and I don't think the quality of their products has discernibly diminished in the past few years (others may not share that opinion, though).  A new line of 1792 bourbons from Barton, including a wheater and a high rye, will probably be hitting shelves in the next year. Wild Turkey and Jim Beam have been releasing a lot of new, experimental-type products. Those haven't always been successful but it's still a good sign. Heaven Hill has also been maintaining age statements for most of their products and even adding one to Bernheim Wheat Whiskey.

The micro-distilling scene is also a mixed bag, but the wheat is starting to be separated from the chaff. The stocks of the micros are getting older and getting more consistent. Some of them even taste good now. The prices are still ridiculous for most. $50 or $60 for an 86 proof NAS rye? No thanks, brother.

Hypothetical question: A new bourbon magazine comes calling and offers you a column. Would you be interested and what beat would you choose to cover?

I would love to do something like that. I'd love writing tasting notes, of course but I think I'd also enjoy writing about bourbon fandom or historical topics relating to bourbon. I think there's a lot of material that still could be covered better in both those areas.

Plug time: where can people find you online and is there anything else you'd like to plug?

My blog is SipologyBlog.com My blog also has a Twitter account, @sipologyblog (home to all sorts of stuff not just booze stuff), and a Facebook page. My Spotify playlists are also open to the public, so anyone with similarly weird tastes in music can follow me there. My defunct blog on Christian Mysticism is anagnosis.wordpress.com My LJ journal is still out there but it sucks so I'm not telling you what it's called.

Everything on my blogroll is good, and probably better than my blog. If you like knitting and Detroit, visit my dear friend Amy's blog, bonneamieknits.wordpress.com. If you like cheese, Lutheran pastors or both, check out my college friend Katherine's cheese blog called Cheese Learnin': cheeselearnin.blogspot.com If you like theology, philosophy and heavy metal, check out my brother-in-law Lee's blog thinkingreed.wordpress.com. I would also plug your blog, but whoever is reading this is already reading it anyway.

If you like excellent, contemporary art by a living artist who is an amazing person, visit cherylpaswater.com and buy as much art from Cheryl as your budget will allow. If you like web comics, go to thebrothersgrant.com and read the brilliant and funny comic by my brilliant and funny friends Chris and Ginger. Everyone should also subscribe to the Bourbon Country Reader and buy Chuck Cowdery's book, Bourbon, Straight.  

I've never been interviewed like this before. I feel quite honored! Thanks!

Josh, thanks again for agreeing to this. Hopefully it was as much fun for you as it was for me.