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

Posted on by Eric Burke

I first ran across Coop (Josh Feldman of CopperedTot.com) a couple years ago as I was starting to scope out the whisky blogs before I started my own. I was (and am) obviously interested in the topic and wanted to get other points of view. What I didn’t realize as I clicked on that link for the first time was that I was also going to gain a friend. We started talking on twitter. He and my wife started talking on twitter. We commiserated about the awfulness of watching someone we love suffer through cancer. He helped me get through it and helped my wife as well. Then, all of a sudden, one day he was gone from twitter. In a massive outpouring of goodbyes, I realized that my new friend was everyone’s new friend. And that he was a pretty special guy on top of that.

Fast forward a few years and Coop has been back on twitter for a while. He’s blogging again and though it isn’t with the frequency he had at first, the posts are longer, more thought out and more interesting. He hits topics dealing with whisky history, the treatment of women in whisky advertising, old dusty whiskies, and local New York whisky coverage. And he’s still a great guy. 

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

Hi Eric. I'm a dilettante - a person with many many passions and interests but who has lacked the ability to make a truly deep study of any of them. The downside of this is that I lack any advanced degrees, work in IT without being a master in any particular area, and partake in many subjects, ranging from whisky, climate science, jewelry making and design, astronomy, climate science, evolution and genetics, history and literature - all without an demonstrable expertise. The upside of my scattered (more generously, "Renaissance Man") approach is that I'm something of a polymath. My knowledge of many different areas allows me to make connections between areas that don't often get connected. When I encounter other writers and researchers doing that it really excites and inspires me. Examples include Adrienne Mayor's "The First Fossil Hunters" which is about how ancient myths of chimera creatures and the remains of giants actually represents how ancient peoples studied fossil remains of extinct giant mammals and reptiles. Another example is Stuart Kauffman's "Reinventing the Sacred" which is a fusion of philosophical commentary about the schism between religion and science in Western civilization and how the science of Emergence provides a way to knit up that schism because of the inherent mysticism in the science. A final example is Fred Minnick's "Whiskey Women" which fuses history and social commentary about the evolution of whiskey culture. Books like these can really expand your world view. That's what excites me and, I hope, is the silver lining my butterfly approach to my studies of things. I want to write like that. Recently I've found a voice on my whisky blog that brings some of this to bear.

I know you are a whiskey fan, you're active in the comments section of a ton of blogs, write your own, keep a Facebook group, etc. How'd you get into it?

When I was in college in New York I drank copious quantities of beer and bourbon like most of my peers. Having come from Berkeley's epicurean scene I knew a little about gourmet beer and undertook to taste ALL of the world's beers. I tasted hundreds and kept notes in a small binder - sadly now lost. After a while I realized the futility of the endeavor but along the way I explored, extensively, Scottish, English, and Irish ales, porters, stouts, and lagers, German wheat beers and lagers, Czech pilsners, Belgian Trappist ales, and so on. It was an object lesson in the creativity of diversity of the way brewers approach the craft of making alcohol. A few years later (late 1980s) I noticed that new single malts were being imported. I picked up a few: Glenfiddich Special Reserve (NAS), Macallan 12, Bowmore 12, Bruichladdich 12, and the Diageo Classic Malts Collection which in those days was Talisker 10, Lagavulin 16, Dalwhinnie 15, Oban 14, and Glenkinchie 12. I fell in love with Talisker right off the bat (how many times have heard that?) I was on my way. I didn't pursue Bourbon, however. I had drunk too much of it at a weekly card game where we made a point of killing a bottle before leaving the table as a display of macho stupidity. We were doing shots of what I now know was very good National Distillers Old Grand Dad, Stizel-Weller Cabin Still, Jim Beam White, 90 proof Jack Daniels and the like. In doing shots I missed the flavors. In getting drunk I established adversity. I didn't rediscover Bourbon until an event at Keen's steak house in 2006 when Paul Pacult had Wild Turkey take us through the line. Kentucky Spirit and Rare Breed were a revelation when properly aired, nosed, and sipped in a glencairn. I fell in love and my exploration of Bourbon began shortly thereafter. If only I had known what was coming I would explored the high end of Bourbon and the dusty world more vigorously in those days. So many things were available then which are absolutely gone (or insanely expensive) now.

You write about whiskey at CooperedTot.com. What's the history of The Coopered Tot? 

In the late 2000s I was a fierce Amazon reviewer. At my peak I made it into the top 50 ranking briefly. I reviewed a lot of different things, but also reviewed whisky. This was a frustrating enterprise as Amazon didn't actually sell whisky in the USA (as it does in the UK). They hosted listings from liquor stores and I put my reviews on those. These listings frequently expired and were deleted, and my reviews along with them (Amazon stopped listing hard spirits entirely in the US in 2012). To save my reviews I started a blog on blogger and just dumped the major portion of my Amazon reviews as blog posts. This is why I have a hundred or so reviews in my first few months of blogging. I wasn't expecting the social connection that the blog opened. Soon I was interacting on Twitter and Facebook with whisky people from all over the world. This led to a wealth of connections, learning, and great drinking. It has only built from there. This is the golden lining of Internet addiction.

You've recently transitioned from straight reviews to taking more of a historical bent. You've recently covered advertising, sexism, historical bourbons, etc. As these are my favorite posts, I have to ask, what's the cause of the switch?

I don't have time to write and do tasting notes on a regular basis. There a large number of great blogs out there doing tasting notes far more comprehensively and better than I can. I thought about what really interested me - and it's the history and the social context of whisky, distilling, and the culture of drinking. When I look into these back stories I find I'm able to make novel connections and really say something of value that's new. This excites me tremendously. I feel like I've found my voice as a whisky writer with these topics. I have a ton more in this vein in the works. Upcoming pieces include a riff on a 1994 academic paper by Adrienne Mayor about the iconography of the female body in Western art related to alcohol. I studied the topic and found I was able to extend her thesis (which begin in medieval European art) back to the ancient Greeks and forward through belle-epoque France and into the modern era in a host of areas ranging from fine art to stripper's dance acts. I've also indulged my obsession with the topic of how whisky expressions have changed over time by assembling a number of flights of certain brands that span many decades. I have bottles and samples of Old Overholt from Prohibition through the modern era. I have similar flights for brands ranging from White Horse, Teachers, Johnnie Walker Red and Black, Old Forester, Jim Beam, Old Grand Dad, etc... Some of these flights have big gaps (please send me samples of your dustys!) I'm a big fan of the bloggers who have done similar work - in particular Tim Read of Scotch and Ice Cream, Steve Ury of Sku's Recent Eats, Oliver Klimek's Dramming, and Serge Valentin's Whisky Fun. I'm also studying the pre-Prohibition and Prohibition era of American whisky. Important blogs for me in this area include John and Linda Lipman's Ellenjaye, and Jack Sullivan's Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men! I hope to eventually be able to contribute something new and important in the history of American whiskey space - particularly in the area of rye. There's a whole lot of stories left to tell. 

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? 

It's an incredibly exciting time for Bourbon and American whiskey as a whole. Rapid growth has produced a mess, with Bourbon producers cutting age statement expressions and (related or not) a reduction in quality in many expressions. At the same time the explosion in American craft distilling is producing some fabulous new creative whiskies (Balcones, Westland, MacKenzie, Koval, St. George, and Charbay come immediately to mind - among many others). While, at the same time NDP producers threaten to confuse consumers and muddy the waters for the people legitimately doing the hard work of creating whiskey. The backlash against NDPs threatens collateral damage against rectifying houses that are doing real valuable and creative work (such as High West, Smooth Ambler, Angel's Envy, and Big Bottom). Chuck Cowdery, in particular, has been attempting to light a fire under regulators to enforce laws that make the State of distillation known on the label. I'd love a law that required the name(s) of the actual distilleries where the whiskies were sourced from to be listed. Marketing that makes confusion is obviously adaptive in the short term for building market share but is ultimately unhealthy for the American whiskey market over all. Object lessons include Michter's, who bottled amazing whiskies on the way to setting up their own distilling operation while generating ill-will from the Bourbon enthusiast community which is a shame, given the excellent stuff that they have out there. Other examples are Widow Jane, Whistlepig, Templeton, Calumet, just to name a few. Some of these places are actually making whisky, but have hopelessly muddled their names up with dishonesty about what their whiskies actually are. The one distillery that seems to have negotiated these perilous waters in an exemplary way is Willett's/Kentucky Bourbon Distillers - who have played all the roles, from broker, rectifier, blender, NDP, and distiller of their own stuff - in a fairly open and straightforward way. It doesn't hurt that the Kulsveens have excellent palates and have bottled a bunch of great bourbons and ryes. In the end the market will shake out of its own accord, but in the absence of clear intelligible laws and any kind of consistent regulatory enforcement, consumers and enthusiasts have been confused and misled and a lot of unnecessary anger has been produced. If you want to feel some of that anger, I highly recommend reading Bourbon Truth.

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?

This would be a dream come true for me. I'd absolutely love it and would do it if I could. I would love to write about American whiskey history, the whisky blogosphere beat, whisky in a wider cultural perspective, or, heck, tasting notes! I'm in love with all of it.

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

My blog is The Coopered Tot I have a bunch of great content on the blog (and don't miss checking out the blog roll on the left) - but I also have a ton of additional content related to tastings and my thinking and the accumulation of ideas for future posts on various other social media sites:

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/cooperedtot/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheCooperedTot

Instagram: http://instagram.com/cooperedtot

I help administer a closed Facebook group for whisky bloggers, vloggers, journalists and writers called "Whisky Bloggers". Any bloggers on Facebook who aren't members should consider joining. A URL is required, however, so if you don't have one, don't bother to apply.

A great open Facebook group for whisky bloggers to link their latest posts is "Whiskey Blogroll". I encourage everyone to check that out and join.

I would like to thank Coop for taking the time to answer a few questions and encourage everyone to check those out. I can honestly say, he’s one of my favorite people I’ve never met in real life.