James Atkinson's Ever-Evolving Drinks Adventures

Well, with a name like Drinks Adventures it shouldn't come as any surprise to discover there's a seriously impressive breadth to the topics James Atkinson has covered since we last featured his podcast and news site on these pages.

That was back in 2019, the year after he launched the podcast and was midway through his second season. Four years on and already he's into season 13 and has picked up multiple awards – he's the only two-time winner of The Crafty Pint-sponsored AIBA Best Media trophy – recognising the quality of his shows and ability as a communicator. 

His list of interviewees has grown ever more all-encompassing too: James has chatted to an impressive collection of people behind the drinks industry, including the winemakers Maynard James Keenan (yes, of Tool and A Perfect Circle fame) and Sam Neill (yes, of Jurassic Park fame). And, with the worlds of wine, beer, cider and anything distilled at his fingertips, James says picking who he speaks to next is among his biggest challenges. 

“It’s completely limitless,” he says. “When you meet someone and tell them you have a podcast about drinks, their response is, ‘How do you find enough stuff to fill that?’

“But I could never cover all the things I want to on this podcast. I always have a long list of people I never get to and who I will never get to because there’s just so much going on.”

Four years into his drinks adventures, he’s also built a solid base of listeners, most of who are from Australia but with fans in New Zealand, the UK and America too. Those listeners include people working within the drinks industry as well as people interested in drinks, some of whom might pick a whisky episode over one about sake and others who devour it all. 

“There is the audience that will listen to everything and they’re pretty open-minded or the most experimental,” James says. “That’s people like me because I do genuinely drink everything.

“I do think, generally, the drinker is always broadening their horizons a little bit more than they did in the past. That’s a trend within categories but across categories as well.”

 

James with Yamazaki's chief blender Shinji Fukuyo. Photo by LP Commercial.

 

That drive to keep things interesting both for him as host and for listeners is part of what’s driven the diverse mix of guests on Drinks Adventures, with more international names appearing now compared to the earlier episodes. Like many beer or spirits industry professionals in Australia, James keeps a close eye on what's happening elsewhere and likes being able to pick the brains of experts and producers from countries where those industries stand apart or are more established than in Australia. 

“I spend a lot of time listening to other drinks podcasts and reading from across the globe to follow what’s happening elsewhere,” he says.

“It evolved over time, so now there are a lot more international guests compared to when I started. That keeps it interesting for me, but also in Australia we’re always following what’s going on oversees and know some of the big names or brands.”

The pandemic has played a role in that change in focus too. While he featured voices from outside Australia before COVID struck, those interviews largely relied on his own adventures, or came about when people he was keen to interview made it to these shores.  

“The first few seasons were all done face to face, which is crazy to think about now,” James says. “But I hadn’t really figured out how to record things properly from a distance, and I was travelling a lot so was getting to sit down with some pretty cool people.

“But then COVID happened and I couldn’t do face-to face interviews anymore. So I had to learn how to record remotely, and once you’re doing remote interviews from home there becomes no limit to who you can talk to. Especially during COVID when everyone was sitting at home.”

James says among his more recent international highlights have been last year’s episodes with American beer writer Jeff Alworth, and with Harold McGee – an expert in the chemistry of food and drink whose book Nose Dive explores the fascinating science of smell.

But while the likes of the aforementioned Sam Neill and Maynard James Keenan, or drinks luminaries like Jancis Robinson are well known, there are more local guests he's particularly proud of featuring. Indeed, it’s his more narrative, documentary-style episodes that are particularly important to him, such as 2021’s episode covering the long career of craft beer pioneer Chuck Hahn.  

“I’m really proud of the documentary episodes I’ve done," he says. "The Chuck Hahn one I did last year was a huge effort and the McWilliams wine one.”

Another such feature was 2019's episode on Stone & Wood's origin and rise, which was among a number of stories that secured him last year's AIBA Best Media Trophy, which he first picked up in 2017 while editor of Brews News. He's also been a finalist in the Australian Podcast Awards in 2020, and won the inaugural prize for Best Wine Blog or Podcast at the Wine Communicator Awards 2021.  

It's a tough media market out there and exploring the world of drinks while producing something that's truly unique and high quality isn't an easy way to make a living. And James says winning that second AIBA trophy was particularly gratifying since it was mostly for podcast content and that he's now doing everything on his own.

“Drinks Adventures is still a solo pursuit and it takes a ridiculous amount of time, effort and expense to produce,” he says. “I have found myself wondering on more than one occasion if it is worth it.

“The AIBA recognition puts a bit more gas in the tank to keep going.”


To read James’ work or to subscribe to his podcast or mailing list, head over to Drinks Adventures

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