Interview: Sam Snead and Nigel Kelly from House Of Whiskey

Get Frank pays a visit to Sam Snead’s House of Whiskey in Auckland’s Courthouse Lane and spoke to owners Sam Snead and Nigel Kelly.

Cool shop guy’s, how long have you been here?

Sam: We opened in September 2011… we have just confirmed an amazing line up of 25yo Whisky’s to celebrate our first birthday.

So, I noticed that your spelling of Whiskey is the American one? How come?

Nigel: Well it’s also the Irish spelling and with a surname like Kelly… and with Sam here being from Montana in the States it just seemed right

But you’ve obviously got a heck of a lot of Scotch Whisky as well – what have you got, like 500 or so?

Sam: Well, it is more about the quality, then quantity. We don’t carry every Whisky from every distillery just yet, we are quite selective and there is a very rigorous process we go through before purchasing any new Whisk(e)y… normally over a Whisky or three.

So exactly what is the reasoning behind the different spellings?

Nigel:  t’s one of those things a little shrouded in the mists of time but pretty much it comes down to how our language developed and the translation of Uisge beatha (isshga baha) a Gaelic word into English. As a rule of thumb the Scots spell it W-h-i-s-k-y and the Irish and the Americans W-h-i-s-k-E-y

You recently appeared on TVNZ’s Good Morning show – How did you get to be ‘Whisky Experts’?

Nigel: Well I dunno about ‘Experts’ but Sam and I have in excess of 40 years experience between us so we certainly have a pretty good understanding (laughs). I think the biggest thing is that we are fans first and retailers second.

Sam: Yeah,  the shop kinda started as a hobby, I suppose you could say, and one day we hope to make a living out of complaints so far.

There seems to be a lot going on in the world of Whisky at the moment why is that?

Sam: There is a massive ground swell of demand for whiskiess all around the globe. Many emerging nations are getting involved and the growing demand is requiring increased production. Many distilleries that have been ‘silent’, like Glen Keith, are re-opening – so yeah it’s fair to say that whisky is definitely riding the crest of a wave right now.

OK, so with more than forty years in the business what has been the best Whisk(e)ys’ you have tried?

Nigel: Crikey that’s a hard one, cause you know it’s often as much about who you were with, and where, as the product itself.

Sam: Exactly, Nige & I got to try the legendary Bowmore Black 1964 with the equally legendary James McEwan and the amazing Ardbeg Provenance 1974 with Mickey Heads at Ardbeg.

Nigel:  I got to try the Chivas Regal 25yo with Master Blender Colin Scott was pretty special and also trying the Glenlivet 1969 ranks right up there too!

Sam: Oh, and getting to try Lagavulin 1966 – my birth year – right outta the cask at Lagavulin with Ian MacArthur was pretty cool too.

Wow, it sounds like you guys have had some great Whiskies over the years. What advice would you give to someone just starting off in their Whisky drinking? I mean look at this huge range – where would I start?

Sam: Typically we would wanna find out what you have tried in the past and maybe get you to try 1 or 2. Whisky is such a personal thing. You don't need to go out and buy a whisky because so&so says it’s the best. We tend to like cask strength whiskies and the big ‘peaty’ Islay malts – this doesn’t mean they are right for you, especially if you are just getting into whisky. Come down and see us and we will find something for your individual palate. As they say, "there is something for everyone".

Great, sounds like you guys are on to something. Thanks fellas.

Sam Snead’s House of Whiskey is located at 50 Courthouse Lane – right beside the Metropolis Hotel in Aucklands CBD (09) 215 2033 or on the net at

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