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34 • COLUMN The Last Drop Voyage of discovery

Alan Shayne, founder of the US branch of the Society, on family ties and his ‘labour of love’


y family connections with the liquor business stretch back quite a long way. Our story starts in Glasgow with my uncle

Robert Whitely, and his brother William, who owned the Edradour Distillery in the early 1900s. It is also rumoured that, during the

prohibition era, my dad, who was in his late teens at the time, might have helped move some bottles here and there – although he never really went into details about that! When prohibition ended in 1933, he and

his older brother went to work in the liquor business full time for an imports company. Within a year, they opened their own merchandising company doing most of the spirit and wine displays in the New York area. After a spell in the police department

during the war years, my dad went back into beverage merchandising. In 1960 he opened Merit Display Company, which became New York’s largest merchandising company in the alcohol industry. My involvement started in 1965 when I was in high school and worked part time for my dad, running errands and installing displays. After graduating high school, I completed

a degree in criminal justice. At this time, in 1972, I decided to do something different and opened a wine bar – one of the first in New York. It went well, but my father encouraged me to continue in a law enforcement career. I ended up selling my stake in the bar after passing the test for the police department. I was assigned an undercover role with the police department dealing with organised crime on the waterfront, mostly carrying out surveillance and developing leads. It had moments of danger but thankfully I avoided any serious incidents. I did that for five years but by then I met my

future wife, Maddie – she didn’t like the idea that I was a ‘cop’ in a somewhat dangerous role so, in 1977, I left the police and went back into my dad’s business. Through the business, I developed a lot of

relationships with spirit import companies, one of which I later joined. I also learnt a lot about Scotch whisky. I heard about the Society through one of my


contacts and in 1993 I met [Society founder] Pip Hills for lunch in New York. He brought a couple bottles of Society whisky and told me about the Society and how he wanted to see it go international, and that he was looking for a partner in the United States. I thought it sounded like the next best thing

since sliced bread so I took a trip to Scotland to find out more. I met Pip at Troon harbour, near Glasgow,

where he had chartered a 42ft wooden trawler that looked like it was built before World War 1! We sailed down to Springbank in

Campbeltown to tour the distillery and have dinner with the owner. It was close to midnight when we finished and it was very cold and pouring with rain. I thought we would go to sleep on the boat but Pip wanted to head straight over to Islay. About half a mile out, it become more

treacherous, so I went down into the cabin, figuring it would be my last night on this Earth! I opened a bottle of Society whisky from distillery 53, drank about a quarter of

it and fell asleep. The next thing I knew it was daybreak and we were pulling into Port Ellen. We had a wonderful time on Islay and then

we went to Edinburgh to visit The Vaults and I thought ‘Oh my god, this is the centre of the universe, I have to do this’. When I got back to the States, I sold my

interest in the import company and started the Society. That was in 1993 – a lot of people in the industry thought I was crazy but I knew people would fall in love with the Society. SMWSA has turned into a family business

too. My wife Maddie started with us in 1994 – she handles our annual Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza tour and members’ tasting events. My older daughter Lauren joined six years

ago and does a wonderful job on the import and distribution side. Four years ago, my younger daughter Gabby also joined to help with the marketing side of things. Some people thought I was crazy to set up

the Society here but the Society continues to grow every year. It is truly a labour of love.

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