From Songs to Spirits

I have become totally fascinated by, and admire, the spirits writers who have come to play an important role in the booze business. When I started in the industry, and for much of the 1990s, there were not as many as there are today and I believe the spirits industry is better for their presence.

I enjoy reading and aspiring to write as well as people like Noah Rothbaum, Fred Minnick, Lew Bryson, Rosie Schaap, Dave Wondrich, Amanda Schuster, and others. With their willingness, I hope to write about them as I have in the past with Paul Pacult and Gaz Regan. So, consider this the first in a series about people who influence the business from behind their computer.

Photo by Gabi Porter

Tony’s Story

Simply put, I love reading what he writes and, for me, he was a top choice to focus on. I can tell you why in a long-winded manner, but I thought why not ask a mutual friend in the industry about Tony, someone who knows him personally and professionally. I turned to Joe Magliocco, President Chatham Imports, Inc. who said this:

Tony Sachs is a terrific spirits writer. He asks thoughtful and insightful questions, and writes with a very engaging style. His articles are always interesting. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of spirits, especially whiskeys, and an extremely sophisticated palate.”

Beyond his writing, Tony is very down to earth, an affable and fun guy to hang out with and have a few. I follow him on Facebook and love his posts about him and his family and especially the exotic trips and dinners with spirits suppliers. (Often as I read about these journeys, I’m reminded of the adage from back in the day — “You won’t become a millionaire working at Seagram but you’ll sure live like one.”)

Tony is a lifelong New Yorker with the gift of writing in his DNA. Both his parents were, as he puts it, Mad Men era type copywriters and he has a BA in journalism from NYU. Despite this, Tony had always been obsessed with music and, foregoing law school, opened a record shop in the Upper Westside of NYC. The store had a pretty good run of 12 years from 1993 to 2005. A business can flourish but if the environment for that business changes, it faces an uphill battle.

As the music business was traveling south around 2005, Tony set his sights on another passion he had, one which was growing at the time — the return of the cocktail culture.

He first became interested in the history of cocktails while running his store and read William Grimes“Straight Up Or On The Rocks: The Story Of The American Cocktail.”

As he explained it to me:

“A customer of mine dealt in rare books, and I built up a nice collection of vintage bar/cocktail books from him, long before most folks knew or cared about them. I also got to know about whiskey because one of the friends of the store worked at Union Square Wine and Spirits. He’d bring my partner terrific bottles, like Sazerac 18 YO or Rittenhouse 21, and my partner actually didn’t like them! So, he’d either give them to me or I’d trade him other stuff from my collection. It was a great education! Anyway, by 2005 I knew more about booze than your average consumer, even if I was still at beginner-level standards compared to titans like Gaz Regan or David Wondrich.”

Writing About Spirits

So, Tony knew about writing, knew about booze, but didn’t know about booze writing. The seminal moment came when he took a wine and spirits course from the legendary Harriet Lembeck. As he put it, “I found the wine part pretty uninteresting, but the spirits part really grabbed me.”

What followed was an immersion in the NYC burgeoning cocktail scene, getting to meet people like Gaz Regan, Jill and Dale DeGroff, and others, and some “toe in the water” articles for Huffington Post. An article on vermouth. Then an article on bourbon. Next thing he knew, PR folks were inviting him to tastings and he got a writing gig for The Liquid Muse. The rest is history.

His wall of booze

His articles

Tony’s articles have appeared in the Robb Report, Esquire, Serious Eats,, Whiskey Advocate, Whiskey Wash, among others. Here are some that you might enjoy reading.

Putting him to the test

In addition to the fun topics above, Tony is widely known for his spot-on product reviews. So, while we were talking about his career, I invited him over to taste the Mister Sam Whiskey I recently received. I had saved opening it for just this occasion. (See my reference to the brand earlier this summer.)

It was fun watching him work and he saw something I had missed — the AbV is 66.9%. His review is in Whisk(e)y of the Week, which appeared recently in Here is an excerpt:

Sazerac’s master blender, Drew Mayville, has his artistry on full display here. Dark fruit, most noticeably plums and cherries, mingle with brown sugar, gingerbread and baking spices, along with a fair amount of oak and rye spice. The finish is long and a little hot without water, but much more palatable than the high ABV would lead you to believe. A few drops of water turn down the heat and turns up the fruity and oaky notes without diluting the flavor in the least.

Actually, truth be told, his review depressed me a bit … There is no way I could write a review like that. All I tasted and smelled was whiskey. I guess I’ll just stick to stories.

Oh, and by the way, here’s part of the blurb about Tony that accompanied the story in

Stay-at-home dad, 20th century music enthusiast, eater of dumplings. Opinionated but generally pleasant about it.

I told you he was a mensch.