Q&A: Adam Wells, drinks writer

Adam Wells writes about wine from nine to five, then goes home and writes about whisky and cider for an increasingly large gaggle of magazines, both printed and online. You can find most of his scribblings about drinks on Twitter, where he started out as The Whisky Pilgrim but now goes by the handle @Drinkscribbler. When not writing about alcohol he’s often to be found falling over on one of Reading’s amateur stages. He is the careful owner of one spittoon, and shares his West Reading home with several hundred bottles and one geophysicist.

What have you missed most in lockdown?
Probably the ability to just go somewhere. To just walk out of the door. Doesn’t matter what it’s to do or who it’s to see. Just the fundamental, liberating act of leaving the house for a non-essential purpose.

What’s your favourite thing about Reading?
The independent scene, especially restaurants, but specifically the way that the people in Reading who know and care about these places gather around them so tightly and champion them so fiercely. It’s something I see a lot on your Twitter and at your lunches and I think it stems from the sneers that occasionally float this way from people who don’t know Reading, who think it’s just grey and bland and a place that’s on the way to other places. There’s such a depth of pride in the independents that are here. They’re not taken for granted, and I think that’s special. If I’m allowed a least favourite thing, glass not being collected with recycling is a runaway winner.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
It was very recent, in San Sebastián. Part of their “txotx” season, when the new ciders are tasted from barrel – every cider house does it and the menu’s the same at each place. Chorizo in cider and honey, salt cod omelette, cod loin with peppers and onions, t-bone steak (half a cow, really). The food was incredible – perfect – but the occasion and the theatre of it was what lifted it to my top spot.

You write about wine professionally, you then started blogging about whisky and now you write a lot about cider, and are working on a book. If you could only drink wine, whisky or cider for the rest of your life which would it be?
Wine. It isn’t a substitute for cider or whisky, but as a whole category wine scratches more itches in more ways than the others do.

What’s your earliest memory of food?
Primary school dinners, aged about four. They were cartoonishly horrid – they defied exaggeration. The memories are all the more vivid for a vicious bully of a teacher among whose many dictatorial pleasures was not letting children get up until plates were clean. I don’t think she cared much about allergies or real, deeply-held hatreds of certain food. I remember classmates being properly, bawlingly upset, sat by these plates of utter filth for an hour a few times a week, occasionally being sick, this teacher snapping and scolding and shouting the whole way through. I think parents thought she was some wonderful, characterful old battleaxe, but she was a Trunchbull, and every kid in the class loathed her. It was an early insight into absolute power, and it put me off certain foods for life.

What is the worst job you’ve done?
Packing envelopes. It was only for two days, but I felt every second.

From your pictures on Twitter your drinks collection frequently puts most pubs to shame, but what’s your favourite Reading boozer?
The Nag’s Head. I think there’s a lot of room for their ciders to improve but I still think they do more things right than any other pub in Reading from an interesting booze point of view. They’re also my local these days, which often sways affection. If I lived the other side of town the Weather Station or the Retreat could easily be my number one.

Where will you go for your first meal out after all this?
Sapana Home. It’s our in-town staple, especially when we’ve not planned anywhere specific beforehand.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
David Mitchell’s probably a bit too old. Is there a younger equivalent?

Which writers, living or dead, do you most admire?
Shakespeare (clichéd, I know) and Martin McDonagh for plays. Terry Pratchett and Harper Lee for novels. A.A. Gill for non-fiction, although I’d put an asterisk next to “admire” in that instance, as I know you wouldn’t approve.

What is your favourite smell?
Really good, mature claret. Doubly so if someone else is paying.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I’m not sure, although I daresay my readers could give you dozens. It’s a bit niche and pretentious, but I feel I write and say “caveat” a lot. Probably precisely because it’s a bit niche and pretentious. It’s also a cheap get-out, a bit don’t-blame-me. It’s quite a cowardly word, I suppose, especially for a reviewer.

What one film can you watch over and over again?
Just one? Alright, In Bruges then.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure when it comes to food?
Salt and vinegar crisps – the Co-Op’s in particular. I resent sharing 150 gram bags, and mistrust people who take more than one sitting to see them off.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
My closest friends. There’d be no conversation otherwise; I’m appalling at talking to people I don’t know, and I can’t imagine the embarrassment of meeting all of my heroes at once and stammering awkwardly through a meal. I bumped into David Mitchell in the street once and literally ran away. I wouldn’t make it through the aperitif if there were four or five of them. In any case, if we’re talking dream dinner parties I’m more interested in the food and drink than the guest list.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Nothing and nobody lasts forever. You can’t reclaim lost time. Use it properly.

Tell us a joke.
Two cats are swimming the English channel. One’s called “One-two-three”, the other is called “Un-deux-trois”. Which won? One-two-three. Because Un-deux-troix cat sank.

It only really works aloud.

What’s the finest crisp (make and flavour)?
See my answer above, but it absolutely bears repetition.

Where is your happy place?
The Great Glen. I’d say the highlands generally, but that’s far too broad. I used to live in Inverness and getting out into the hills around Loch Ness was how I spent most of my free time. The Isle of Arran would be a close second. Our family holiday go-to, growing up.

Describe yourself in three words.
Worrier. Overthinker. Writer. 

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