Nate Woodruff couldn’t have chosen a more challenging time to begin a whisky road trip around the United States than he did. But perhaps it was just that juxtaposition and desire to show off the beauty of his home country during one of it – and the rest of the world’s – most difficult years in recent memory that endeared him to his followers, which now number over 81,000 on Instagram alone.
The founder of Whisky With a View decided long before the pandemic hit that he was going to take to the road to showcase the varied landscapes of the USA and its numerous whisky distilleries. The pandemic just made things ever slightly more difficult to get the road trip off the ground, which he details in this month’s VCL Podcast.
Woodruff’s photos are striking and often taken during long expeditions out into the mountains where he finds he is most at home and comfortable. A quick look at his Instagram account shows various scenes of rolling Wyoming landscapes – where he now bases himself – sunsets filtering through whisky bottles, snow-capped peaks looming behind a favourite dram, and, more frequently, his dogs Skye and Jack hanging out by various bottles. It’s warming, comforting, homely – all things that we need more in our lives given the tumultuous nature of the previous 18 months.
But how did a New Jersey native find himself becoming a whisky influencer, with tens of thousands of followers?
Woodruff started his career in the bar industry, before a job opportunity arose at William Grant & Sons as an on-premise whisky specialist. It was there that he began seriously delving into whisky, before he moved onto work with Whistle Pig. In his spare time, he would write whisky reviews, but it was when he started taking photos of whisky and his hiking trips for his personal Instagram account that things changed. One day he grabbed a bottle of Glenfiddich Age of Discovery 19 and took a photo of it balancing on a rock in a river during his hike.
“I noticed that picture got a tonne more traction compared to my normal reviews, and I realised I was onto something. It took off from there,” he says from him outback home in Wyoming.
Speaking on his rise to popularity, Woodruff pins it down to doing something unique and consistent, and encouraging others to join together to share in the success.
“My big thing is that I don’t look at myself as a businessman or competitor so I encourage others to work with whisky brands, give them photography tips, keep it very much in the community and keep it a happy place where others can share their work rather than making it something where everyone is fighting over brands – my favourite thing in the world is hearing from others that my photos have inspired them to go outside, to go out and hike and take photos,” he says.
But, like many things in life, the rise to whisky popularity did not happen overnight. There were many long days, setbacks and struggles en route, including when the major sponsors for his road trip pulled out at the last minute.
“I had two weeks, I had put in my notice, was leaving my home, had quit my job, so had no choice. Thankfully with some help from the whisky community, I managed to work with some smaller brands to make it work,” he explains.
He’d just gotten things sorted and purchased his van when Covid hit, creating a further setback. To be able to keep to his plan, he managed to find work as an essential employee, helping a distillery in Georgia make spirit for hand sanitiser for key workers.
Along the way, he was joined by a trusty sidekick, Skye, who he rescued at the age of ten weeks, and who featured heavily in his stunning outdoor photos from the across the United States, one week with the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee in the background, the next with the rolling beaches of California alongside the whisky brands he was working with.
“There was this freedom and experience of having sponsors trust that I would get the photos done, and I got to live every day the way I wanted to, which was pretty incredible,” he adds of the trip.
Major forest fires in California, a van which kept breaking down and restrictions around visiting distilleries as planned added to the more challenging parts of his trip, but he says the experience also gave him a huge amount of time to reflect on the world, himself and where he wanted to be.
In the end, this led him to settling down in Wyoming, a place he feels is massively underrated in the United States.
“My backyard is a mountain range, and I’m in an amazing spot, but in under half a day I can also be in some of the other most beautiful places in America, which is pretty awesome,” he adds.
Growing up, hiking was a normal part of life and he says that hitting the trails is what keeps him sane. It’s also what has inspired his collaboration with Earn Your Booze, a setup that promotes a balanced lifestyle by encouraging exercise every day – the idea being that if you want to enjoy a whisky, you should work a bit for it.
Moving forward, Woodruff hopes to inspire others to find a connection with nature, work with more craft producers like Wyoming Whisky, and highlight the importance of balance in the day to day.
“I can’t imagine myself working in any other industry in the world, but my main thing would be just make sure you’re in control. If I’m not active for an entire day, I don’t reward myself with booze anymore, there needs to be that healthy mindset too,” he concludes.