Born in Michigan and raised in New Jersey, Ethan Kelley started his career in Spirits early. Beginning an exhaustive journey through the world of beverage alcohol, he got his start behind the bar. . Eventually he teamed with Flavien Desoblin at Brandy Library.
Earning his BA at Elon University, Ethan found his real education from visiting distilleries, cooperages, copper smiths, and farms.. Ethan took his passions and helped to build distilleries from the ground up, and began to learn how to build brands and create effective marketing strategies. Getting involved on the importer and supplier sides of the business , he became a well rounded resource for new producers and distribution teams alike.
He has been a judge for both the NY Spirits Awards Competition and judged alongside industry legends in Paul Pacult’s Ultimate Spirits Challenge. Ethan has also been featured as an industry expert on The History Channel, MSNBC, FOX News and multiple appearances in the NY Times.
A native of Burgundy, France, raised in the countryside, Flavien Desoblin is Owner and COO of two unparalleled lounges in Manhattan: Brandy Library in TriBeCa, and Copper & Oak on the Lower East Side.
He received his Masters in Business of Wines and Spirits from Dijon School of Management, and continues to expand his education, earning a Diploma in Distilling from the UK-based Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD), with the best paper on the “molasses” of module 2, and completing both the Lallemand Alcohol School program and the distillation course at the Centre International des eaux-de-vie (CIEDV).
He has been a judge for both the American Distilling Institute’s Competition and the NY Spirits Awards Competition since 2010, and was named Cognac Personality of the Year for 2010. He received the Compagnie Des Mousquetaires d’Armagnac distinction in September 2013 and was inducted Keeper of the Quaich in spring 2014.
How did you get into the world of spirits?
E: My parents kept me chained to a stone wall in the basement, not unlike Chunk from the movie, Goonies. The only difference, they raised me on a steady diet of European cheeses, finely peated Scotches and perfectly matured Armagnacs.
F: I got to realize very early the power of sharing tipsy moments with my friends…in turn I got expelled from boarding school for this at age 17 and moved right away into the proper appreciation of wines, then spirits, and decided to study these topics thoroughly and make a career out of it.
What do you love about choosing bottles for people?
E: It is an absolute blessing when you are credited for changing someone’s life. When they look beyond the drunk, beyond the initial impressions, when they make a clear choice to explore, to learn, and to taste. The biggest joy is when those people meet up together. Knowing that you helped facilitate a special moment is a feeling we should all get to experience once.
F: The mind-reading part…no, seriously, it’s a lot more difficult when the person is not in front of you: you have to rely on cold data alone: male/female, urban/country side living, age, existing level of expertise, centers of interest/passions, disposable income, market availability etc. Eventually she/he falls in a category and there is a bottle right there that will bring joy and excitement. But nothing replaces the direct, physical, face-to-face moment: when you read stress and witness deep sighs at 6 pm on a customer ready to order, you know a barrel proof Bourbon or a peated single malt is going to do the trick. 10 minutes later you watch her/him ‘living again’…you know you’ve done good.
How did you curate the Spirits Network selection?
E: I am not a follower of ratings, the bottles that were chosen are because each one of them resonates with me on an emotional level. I can recall so many moments in my life when I look at those bottles. I chose them because I want to share those memories with you.
F: I think of the selection as being the result of accessibility, uniqueness, and emotional connection. Plus, even if we don’t need to cater to all the crowds, but rather only to our niche-crowd, we always keep in mind the variety of moods and occasions one must be ready for.
What is your favorite spirit/bottle right now?
E: I can’t drink like I used to, nor should I. But, I do partake in little touch most nights. These days I have been nipping on the always classic Talisker 18 year.
F: Lagavulin Distiller’s edition 2019 bottling, it ticks all the boxes right now. But when I don’t feel like having a rich and smoky malt, I either go for a playful and easy Japanese highball or an always reliable and safe Glendronach 12 years. On the American side, Weller Special reserve and Evan Williams single barrel vintage 2011. All neat.
I’m interested in spirits but I don’t know where to start. Suggestions?
E: Just start! But here’s the deal, have a friend or several with you, start within your budget. Pick a category based on a broad subject that you love. History? Start with Bourbon. Fine Art? Cognac is your best bet. More of a meditation type of person? Armagnac. A little bit of everything? Scotch Just remember you will not like it all, so don’t let one bad experience knock you out of the game. Remember, it’s just a drink, have fun with it!
F: Go to your local bar and do flights. Venture out of your neighborhood and go to specialized bars early in the evening to get some education from the bartender (tip well!) and go to specific events, from the casual and free tasting in liquor stores to that well established whisky event in the nearest big city.
I’m a spirits enthusiast, but I’d like to be more of an expert. Suggestions?
E: Read a book. Go to a distillery. Remember that you were an amatuer once too, be helpful for the people with less experience. Promise, their questions will do more to make you more knowledgeable than you realize.
F: Taking this logic of education further, join a whisky club, attend a rum festival, etc. But above all, make like-minded friends and lead at-home tastings and read books…when you’re not watching Spirits Network! On top of all this, the ideal is to combine your vacations with distillery visits: long lasting couples have forged their strongest bonds during these ‘cultural’ trips…