Barrel proof stories straight from the source.
In this interview, Chad Cadden (Whiskey Network Co-Founder) and Mark Pruett (Whiskey Network Writer) sit down with Scott Ian to discuss all things whiskey. Pour yourself a glass of your favorite whiskey, bourbon, or scotch and enjoy the ride. To view the video of our interview, click here.
Scott Ian connects to our virtual meeting and we take a breath to recognize the gravity of the moment. It’s actually him… with his trademark facial hair and infectious grin. He is a very casual and approachable person for a man who is: a founding member and lyricist for Anthrax (one of the “Big 4” metal bands), author, a spoken word performer, television star, and a member of several other notable bands (Motor Sister, Stormtroopers of Death, The Damned Things, Pearl, and Mr. Bungle). In his career, he has sold over 10 million records.
Best of all, he is a whiskey enthusiast.
“Photo by Cristina Arrigoni”
That One Night With Lemmy…
It’s an obvious place to start, talking about his journey into whiskey. Though, his path is not quite what you’d expect from a legendary thrash metal rhythm guitarist. Like many of us, it begins in his teenage years. However, he takes a much longer and, arguably tougher, path to achieve his current level of whiskey knowledge and experience. At the same time, there aren’t many people on the planet who can say that they were able to learn from two different legends.
His early misadventures played a role in giving him the focus and presence of mind to guide Anthrax down the path of success. Even with the stature of his own band, he’s still a fan like many of us. It’s not hard to understand why he treasures the memory of having a drink with one of his heroes, even if it did end the way that it did.
Chad Cadden - So let me start off by, some people say rap metal should never mix, but we know your stance on that. Whiskey and music go hand in hand. Tell us a little bit about your journey into whiskey.
Scott Ian - My journey into whiskey. Well, it definitely wasn't the normal path of finding out about booze. Like most kids, I certainly experimented when I was a youngster, whether it was trying to get older kids to buy us beer, or stuff like that. My journey was a different one because on my 18th birthday (back in 1981), the drinking age in New York was 18, and obviously I drank already before that. I had a fake I.D., and we would sneak into the McSorley's Ale house when I was 16. But I got so sick drinking cheap vodka when I was around 18 years old that I didn't drink hardly anything (not even a beer) for years after that. It was kind of good timing for me because it was the formative years of the band, which started in the summer of ‘81. All those early years of Anthrax, I was sober because the smell of any type of alcohol would turn my stomach. It wasn't until years later that I even slowly started getting back on the horse, and then I'd be able to drink beer again. In my late 20s or early 30s, I got introduced to drinking good wine, and whiskey even later. I didn't start drinking whiskey until I was 33 years old, because of another bad experience. But anyway, in ‘85 I was in London and I bumped into Lemmy in a bar, and he was my hero. I was wearing a Motorhead sweatshirt when I walked into this bar and there's Lemmy, and I finally got up the nerve to go talk to him. This is at the point in my life where I wasn't drinking; I was sober. I walked up and offered to buy Lemmy a drink and he said to me, ‘No, you're in my town, I'll buy you a drink.’ I didn't know how to answer the question ‘What are you having?’ I didn't know even what to say. I made the mistake of saying, ‘I'll have what you're having.’
He was drinking Jack and Coke, and I had never even had a Jack and Coke, or a whiskey at that point. I drank a Jack and Coke with Lem and it went down real easy, it was super sugary and sweet, like a Jack and Coke tastes, but I didn't know that at the time. Then I started having a conversation with Lemmy, my hero, and he drinks Jack and Cokes like water, so I just kept having another one, and another one, and another one until the next thing I knew, I was being dragged out of bed by my manager the next morning because we had to get on a plane to Munich for the next stop on our promo tour. I felt like I'd been run over by a truck. My manager had to fill me in on how I had run out of the bar and he ran out to see what was wrong with me. He thought maybe I was just going to be sick but I was diving into piles of garbage on the street and landing on concrete, and it was full on alcohol poisoning. So again, no more whiskey for me, for many years. It took me 12 years to have another whiskey, and that was when we toured with Pantera in ‘97. Dimebag Darrell taught me how to drink. I can honestly say I actually learned how to even just be a social drinker when I turned 33 years old. Drinking came much later in life for me, which I think is a very good thing.
When asked about his preferences for brands or flavor profiles, he is quick to point out that he doesn’t put a lot of limits on what he tastes and enjoys. It’s obvious that he’s tasted his fair share of whiskey and keeps it simple by following what tastes good. Over many years, he has put together a collection of favorites, with some notable bottles just waiting for the right occasion to be opened and shared. However, he’s still exploring new bottles, and has recently gravitated towards rye.
For a man of his resources, he is remarkably grounded and sensible about whiskey. It’s refreshing to hear him talk about the simple pleasure of enjoying it.
CC – Now that you've gotten into whiskey a little bit, or a lot, do you have any particular brands or distilleries that you favor?
SI – It just depends on the mood or what I have in the house. I go to the liquor store and that’s like going to Toys ‘R Us when I was a kid. All the bottles, the labels, and all the colors. I've got my regulars. When I first got into it with Darryl, his famous drink was the Black Tooth Grin, which was generally a shot of Crown with a hint of Coke. Again, really easy to drink. I quickly realized my palate was not into the sweet and sugary stuff. I figured there's got to be better whiskey out there. This was in the '90s, and that's when I got into Maker's Mark, as I think a lot of people did in the '90s when Maker’s kind of blew up. I would just drink straight Maker’s. That became my go to then, and even still now, once in a while because it still brings me back. It's still exactly the same. I just tried that Maker's 46 recently, and it took me back. These days, I would say Hillrock, because they make a great product, besides the fact that we're in business with them, and I've become great friends with the owners.
CC – They do. Tim does a great job up there.
SI – Their rye has certainly become my go-to of late, but I'm a fan of lots of rye. Right now, I’ve got a bunch of Barrell bourbon downstairs. Also, I've got some just for cocktails; but Hillrock rye I'm not making cocktails with - I’m drinking that straight. Stuff on that level. I just got this bottle of 9-year-old Barrell bourbon, which was delicious, and their 4-year-old rye which was amazing. Then, I've got this other Barrell Dovetail.
CC – Dovetail, that's a real good one.
SI – I just have a feeling that's going to be great, I haven't cracked that one yet. For cocktails, I use Four Roses Small Batch, Michter's (but not the fancy stuff, just general Michter's bourbon), or something like that. I just got my hands on a bottle of Unpretentious High Rye (they were nice enough to send it to me) from the distillery French Lick. I got to taste back in December. I'm friends with Fred Minnick; he sent me a little taster bottle of it, and it was so damn good. Then the guy that owns the distillery, French Lick, I guess he's a fan, and he sent me his last bottle of the stuff. I'm afraid to open it now because I don't want to finish it.
CC – I was able to try that about 2 months ago. A friend of mine who's traveling the country in a van stopped over with it and that was really a tasty whiskey.
SI – Yeah, it's so good. I'm totally drawing a blank right now on what else I have downstairs. I'm looking behind you to see what I recognize (Chad and Mark have bottles in the background).
CC – I only keep a few bottles out. Like the bowling pin bottle, that's a 1968 Jim Beam. It’s so good. What do l I got back here? I got my private barrel of Jack Daniels barrel proof, which is a very delicious selection. Just picked up the Woodford Reserve 17-year-old limited release.
SI – Oh nice. I love just regular plain old Woodford; it's great.
CC – Woodford does some great stuff.
SI – Just great, you can't go wrong. Back in the early 2000s, I used to go to this place called Vendome Liquors which was near where I lived. My regular bourbon was Blanton's because they would have it in there for fifty bucks.
MP – Good luck today finding it that way.
SI – I would also go buy bottles of Pappy, and they would have it in there. I've still got one bottle of 20-year-old Pappy from the early 2000’s and it might be my unicorn bottle. I bought it back then for $130.
CC – Right. Those unicorn bottles are fun to chase. I've been drinking whiskey a long time and we all have those special bottles. If I could find another bottle of E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood, I might give one of my kids away. I'm not sure, I got six of them so I could spare one. It is a fantastic whiskey. It wasn't reviewed super great, but for my palate it was. It sounds like you're a fan of wheated whiskeys. I'm a big wheated fan myself.
SI – I am, but I've probably drank way more rye in the last 2 years than I have bourbon.
“Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews”
Anthrax, Whiskey, and Hillrock Estate Distillery Partnership
The band has partnered with three different distilleries to release five different bottles of bourbon. The first was “Indians” in partnership with Jefferson’s Bourbon. The second release was “The Devil You Know” with Knob Creek. Releases three, four, and five have all been in partnership with Hillrock Estate Distillery and named “The Healer”, “Evil Twin 1”, and “Evil Twin 2”, respectively. Not many bands reach the milestone of a 40th anniversary, and Anthrax is deserving of something incredibly special to commemorate the moment.
Scott is eager to grow his partnership with Hillrock. There are opportunities soon for some exciting new releases between these partners. In addition, he is planning on growing his whiskey cred by delving into the process of making it. Some folks like to vacation on a beach, but Scott Ian wants to roll up his sleeves and make whiskey. His dedication and work ethic shine through here. If he sets his mind to something, it’s going to happen.
CC – You have done five barrel selections from what we've seen. You did a Jefferson’s, a Knob Creek, and 3 Hillrocks. I definitely see the rye influence. Do you have any more coming out of the woodwork?
SI – Not yet, but the 40th anniversary of the band is in July, so...
CC – Congratulations on that.
SI – Thank you. We did talk to Hillrock about doing something. So, those discussions are ongoing, but I'm sure it's going to happen. We just haven't really talked about what the juice in the bottle is going to be. Maybe they have something extra special that I don't know about. I was there in November, so I know they are sitting on some stuff.
I have my own personal barrel of rye there that needs to be dumped, by the end April at the latest. They don't want it to go any longer than that; maybe that will be the 40th anniversary juice. It's something I tasted out of the barrel and fell in love with. I tasted it again a couple of months later, and I felt like it had gotten even better. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to deal with it at the end of last year.
CC – I do a lot of barrel picks myself for our whiskey group. When I'm in the process of going to do a barrel pick, like our recent Sagamore barrel pick (a great rye whiskey), I always go to their standard bottles and kind of re-familiarize myself with it. Then, when I approach the pick, I try to find something in one of the barrels that kind of just really stands up and pops, and that profiles a feature of it. How do you go about your barrel picks?
SI – Just whatever tastes good.
CC – Tastes good? Yeah. Simple is best sometimes.
SI – I don't claim to have any great knowledge of whiskey. I just like the taste of it, and to have the opportunity to have met the Hillrock people and become friends with them is great. We've stayed at the distillery a couple of times, myself and my family, and it’s special. Just to have the opportunity to go in the rickhouse, use the thief, and take the whiskey out of the barrel is such an amazing experience for me. I had never done that before this last year. It's still all new to me, and it's just such a great experience. All that being said, certainly when you go from barrel to barrel and you're tasting, obviously I do taste different things.
When we were choosing these last two releases that we did, I had tasted eight barrels and all were good. But I had definitely narrowed it down to two ryes and I couldn't choose one. So, then that's when they said, ‘Well, why not… let's do two?’ I said, ‘Let's do two!’ So that's what Evil Twin 1 and Evil Twin 2 were. They did have distinctly different upfront characters, where one was more had this maple thing and the other one had this more of a spice thing. They're both great, but they were just different.
MP – Yeah. We have Evil Twin 2, right Chad?
CC – Yes, Evil Twin 2.
SI – That was the one where I felt like it really had this maple thing going on that I hadn't tasted before in a Hillrock whiskey, and I was very excited about it. I've gone through quite a few bottles of that since October, when I first got some. It's such an exciting and cool thing to get to be a part of because I'm going to go back to New York probably in May or June for the summer. I'm going to actually get up a bunch of mornings at 7am and work with them in the distillery. I want to work with the guys there and really learn it. I’ve seen it, and I obviously have an understanding of how booze is made; however, to be a part of it and go through every step of the way for a week, it's something I'm super excited about trying.
CC – I’d definitely be excited about that. It's such a cool process from getting the grain from the field to all the processes in between to the bottle. I find that industry to be very remarkable and enjoyable to learn about. Going back to you talking about the rickhouses, that's one of my favorite things. I’m going to be down in Kentucky in March because we’re doing a bottle of 1792. When you drive up to those rickhouses and that aroma, the angel share, comes at you and then you're getting the grains and the corns, and it’s just sensory overload.
SI – Yeah. It's so good. You know, at Hillrock they do a single malt, and they do it old school, like old school Scotland. They've got the malthouse and it's all on the floor. And then they dry and push it through this thing in the floor and then that goes down to where it gets the peat smoke. It's the smell of that in the small house with the peat smoke and everything; I could just live in there.
Baldini, The Healer, and Whiskey Superpowers
In the late 1990s, Anthrax was preparing to go on tour with Pantera. At this time, Scott made a decision that changed his relationship with whiskey forever, and for the better. Enter Dimebag Darrell, the second legendary guide on his journey. Again, this is where Scott demonstrates that if he makes up his mind to do something, it’s getting done. In this instance, he met the right mentor to get him out of his comfort zone.