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In 'Make it A Double' Virginia author does deep dive on whiskey

Reservoir Distillery in Richmond makes award-winning whiskeys. And part of the small team behind the bar is Shelley Sackier, whose newest book details her decades-long love affair with the brown spirit.

Shelley Sackier first remembers tasting whiskey during a trip to Scotland in her early 20’s. And she says that initial handshake with the spirit wasn’t promising.

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Shelley Sackier
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Shelley Sackier, author and Director of Education at Reservoir Distillery

“I basically transformed into the female doppelganger of the green Mr. Yuck face,” she describes. “That sticker that parents will put on their poisonous liquids that we keep beneath our bathrooms in our kitchen cabinets so our children don't drink it.”

But it didn’t take long for a thoughtful bartender to change her mind. With patience and careful instruction, he set a more introductory option in front of her. He described a taste of vanilla, cheesecake, lemons and fresh cut flowers.

“I put up my hand, I said, you know, hand it over, you're making it sound like a marmalade cosmopolitan, now I really want this,” she laughs.

And with that, Sackier began a life-long journey now detailed in her newest book. Part travel memoir, part coming of age story the book walks readers through the science and history of whiskey making – alongside Sackier’s own shot-sized, laugh-out-loud, personal stories.

Like the time a bagpipe player christened her new home, or she went to the Virginia Scottish games.

“You can't swing a dead cat in Virginia without running into a Scotsman or a Highland Games event or something,” Sackier says – connecting the history between the two places she loves “And these people felt so familiar to me… having spent many, many, many years… 25 years back and forth… in Scotland. It just felt like home, like the best of both worlds for me.”

Sackier writes of the intoxicating magic of Scotland, and how learning to make whiskey became a way to bottle that magic into liquid form. She often persisted in that learning despite challenges. Including the time she traveled alone to Scotland for an internship, and was the only woman in the room.

“I would have to remind myself consistently that I deserved to be there, because I was fueled by curiosity,” Sackier says. “If one is discouraged, there are two paths, right? You either give up and find something else to do, or you dig in your heels and decide, nobody's going to lock the door to barricade me out of a place that I am desperate to be on the other side of.”

Eventually, she says, her enthusiasm and genuine interest won people over.

But in the end, finding a place to work in the industry in Virginia wasn’t easy. For years she focused instead on her writing. Working small whiskey and Scottish details into the young adult novels she’s published.

And one day, when doing research for a book, she came into Reservoir Distillery in Richmond. The owner recognized her talent and interest and eventually brought her on as Education Director.

Where - now - she helps newbies like me learn to swirl, sniff and sample. This is the work Sackier loves to do. Helping people pin down the unique taste and memories stored in these bottles. And avoid the disastrous first experience she had.

“I want to share that with people so that they don't see brown spirits or any spirit in general, as something you know, that you just slug back and find a chaser for,” Sackier says “There's so much to enjoy about life if we slow down and take a breath.”

And sip a dram. Or two.

Sackier’s book, Make it a Double, is out now. Fountain Bookstore in Richmond is hosting a reading and tasting event June 12th. 

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Mallory Noe-Payne is Radio IQ's Richmond reporter and bureau chief.