Eleven years ago, the Rev. Christopher Thoma saw the light: Whisky wasn’t so bad, after all.
The Danville native had always preferred beer, but a London shop owner in 2004 gave him a taste of high quality whisky — and thus, he was converted to the exquisite spirit.
In 2012, Thoma — a Lutheran pastor in Linden, Mich. — started an online blog called The Angel’s Portion, where he reviews different types of whisky, and which has more than 51,000 hits.
Those reviews are woven into easy-to-read stories about his family and church, and musings on life in general. Some of the essays are imaginative, such as: what would Barbie drink, and what does Santa reach for after his annual gift-giving trip is over?
He's reviewed close to 200 types of whisky.
Now, his essays have been gathered into a paperback, “The Angels’ Portion: A Clergyman’s Whisky Narrative,” which has been getting national attention.
“I wasn’t intending for this to become as popular as it has,” Thoma said, who has been enjoying the ride.
Since the book was released, he has given interviews on radio stations in Detroit and St. Louis; an ad for the book appears in the June issue of Whisky Magazine; and World News Daily and Washington Times have featured him. In addition, he’s been asked to be a guide for a distillery tour in Scotland next year.
Still Danville fan
Thoma grew up in Danville, the son of Edwin and Sharon Thoma of Morton, and has relatives in the area. He attended Danville High School until the end of his sophomore year, when his family moved to Peoria.
“Danville is my home. I miss it so much,” he said in a telephone interview.
Thoma, 42, has been pastor at Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hartland, Mich., since December 2007.
What makes his book so unique is the fact that a pastor would publicly share his appreciation for the beverage.
Thoma said his congregation supports his hobby. Of course, he doesn’t promote drinking to excess; rather, he recommends just enough sips to savor whisky’s subtle flavors.
“I drink it for pleasure,” he said. “It’s something I appreciate.”
In fact, he said, “If the Lord Jesus had been born in the 14th Century, he would have chosen scotch instead of wine.”
He added, “Scripture says alcohol is a gift from God.”
One member of his congregation, Joel Hornick, said of the book, “It’s great. It has a lot of stories about his family and the (whisky) reviews. It’s just like him.”
Not only is the book informative about whisky, but there’s a lot of humor in it, as well, he said, adding, “It’s very interesting.”
A whisky for everyone
A man of German descent, Thoma didn’t appreciate Scotland’s national drink until 2004, when he had a stopover in London from Russia where he had been teaching. He went into a whisky shop, and, when asked, told the owner he had never had a taste for the drink.
The shop owner answered, “Well, you’ve never had the right kind.” He then gave Thoma sips from a few open display bottles, and the pastor realized the owner was right. The bottles he experienced that day were all aged 18 years and older.
Thoma left the store as a devoted disciple and the proud owner of a bottle of William Grant & Sons Limited Rare & Extraordinary — Twenty Five Years Old.
In the same vein, Thoma said many people don’t appreciate whisky because they’ve been drinking cheap bottles from the liquor store.
“If they’re willing to spend $40-60 rather than $6, they’ll see what they’re missing,” he said.
Thoma suggested people take a sip from a cheap bottle and then a taste from an expensive one, noticing the subtle undertones such as sugar and chocolate. When they take a sip from the cheap bottle after that, he said, they’ll find it tastes like toilet water.
“You have to see the distinction side by side,” he said. “I truly believe there’s a whisky for everybody.”
Bottom line, he said: “If you don’t like whisky, it may only be because you haven’t danced with the right bottle.”
Thoma’s book contains not only reviews and narratives, but imaginative scenarios — all meant to entertain — such as: Darth Vader prefers Lagavulin. Santa Claus keeps a bottle of Caol Ila on the shelf. And Scoresby was squeezed from the very veins of the devil.
Most whisky reviews by others, he said, are mechanical — talking about nose, palate and finish. Instead, his reviews are entertaining.
The book also details the difference between “whisky” and “whiskey,” and explains what “angels’ portion” means (the portion of whisky that evaporates during the aging process). One chapter even tells how to remove labels from bottles.
Thoma has written three other books, “Kids in the Divine Service,” “Feeding the Lambs: A Worship Primer for Teachers of Children,” and “The Homiletical Canvas: Poetry in Service to Preaching.”
He’s also a poet and hymn writer, and has published multiple articles in various publications. He is a regular contributor to theological blogs, as well as political activist groups, and contributes to www.liquor.com (Drinkwire).
He has been a guest presenter at liturgical conferences and symposia for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and has had multiple guest appearances on radio stations. He is deeply involved with issues pertaining to the role of the Christian Church, and has visited Washington, D.C., in order to engage and connect with national leaders.
He holds a theology and education degree from Concordia University in Chicago, which he earned in 1994, and a master’s in theology, special exegetics and mission ministry through Concordia Seminary, based in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Thoma and his wife, Jennifer, have four children, Joshua, Madeline, Harrison and Evelyn.
His 385-page book, “The Angels’ Portion: A Clergyman’s Whisky Narrative” is available on his sites and www.amazon.com. It's self-published through CreateSpace.