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Thursday
Jun162011

Drinking For Pleasure

If you're one of the few people that happen to read this blog, but don't make it over to John Hansell's site as well, then today's posting will make a great starting point in developing a relationship with the Malt Advocate editor.  What I loved about this recent entry, entitled "The Way to Drink Whisky," is that he kept it brief and to the point, while touching on a very serious theme that grips many a whisky geek on a daily basis - the fact that drinking should be fun.  The best part is that John lists three recent drinking experiences of his own to illustrate the point - one where he actually added an ice cube to his glass of the pricy and super-rare Ardbeg Alligator ("Heavens NO!" screamed many a malt nerd upon reading that line).   On a fishing trip he actually added ginger ale to his bourbon ("What!? This guy is nuts!  That totally messes up the purity of flavor!").  It's nice when someone who I consider a world expert takes the time to share his own relaxed experiences concerning booze because it reinforces and adds credibility to the idea that drinking should be about enjoyment.  No one can claim that John doesn't really appreciate bourbon, so if you think his drinking habits reveal something about his lack of appreciation for good booze, you would be mistaken.

While John kept it brief, I'll add a bit of filler because I think it's an important subject to revisit from time to time.  Because K&L is a store that caters to true connoisseurs we have a duty to understand and appreciate the nuance of great wines, beers, and spirits.  We get people asking us for our advice everyday and from these experiences I am sometimes able to glean a bit of information about other people's drinking habits - namely, that they can seem rather devoid of fun.  For some people, having a drink isn't about relaxing or having a good time.  It's like a vacation where you end up coming back more stressed out than before you left.  There are sometimes too many rules to follow: the wines need to be paired with the perfect food, the bottles must be stored at the correct temperature and opened at the perfect time, the whisky must be sipped neat because any water or ice will dillute the purity, the beers must be craft-brewed from a small brewery and aged in barrel, and on, and on, and on until all the fun has been completely squeezed out of it.  At the end of a long day at K&L, all we want is something cheap and cold because it's easy and we don't have to think about it.

Just like I "discovered" with my vodka experiment last week, there are other reasons to drink besides basking in the greatness of unique and rare booze.  People lambast vodka for it's lack of flavor, but it's the perfect spirit for a night of dancing and drinking because it seems to intoxicate without disorienting. Cold, cheap beer is still a refreshing way to finish a work shift.  $5 Spanish garnacha is delcious in a home-made sangria.  Those of us who work at K&L spend all of our day analyzing booze, so the last thing we want to do when we get home is break open a 35 year old single malt and sit in front of the T.V.  That's not to say that I don't have a bottle or two of some special occasion stuff sitting inside my bar cabinet, but those are spirits that require time and appreciation.  Campari and soda is much more appetizing to me once I open the front door and set down my laptop bag.

Why is it necessary to remind ourselves of this from time to time? Because people can take drinking very seriously - to the point that they don't allow themselves any ability for enjoyment - notes must always be taken, photos snapped for archival purposes, blogging and posting on message boards to invite further discussion, more bottles must be hunted down and acquired to complete the perfect collection, arguments on message boards for the sake of ranking the greatest whiskies of all time, and on, and on, and on.  I get emails from people who are heart-broken, crushed, outraged, indignant about the fact that the cult bottle they wanted so much went in and out of stock without them.  I visit restaurants where people are unable to order the food they actually want to eat because it doesn't pair with the wine.  I listen to beer fans wax about the merit of Pliny the Elder and refuse to try anything else because it just isn't as good.  Is this making anyone's life happier?  It sounds like more stress!

At the end of John's article he writes:

In all three instances here, I wasn’t “John Hansell the whisky reviewer.” I was just someone enjoying whisky in a way that seemed appropriate at that given time.

The key word there is "enjoy."  Don't forget to enjoy your drink.  People first began drinking because it made them feel good.  Alcohol is not supposed to be a trophy, a mortgage, or a stress on your daily life, but rather relieve you from those things and help you to put your worries aside. 

There are many merits to fine wine and great whisky - just like literature or anything else.  However, you don't always have to read War and Peace.  In the privacy of your own home, you can read Twilight and enjoy it because you don't have to prove anything to anyone.

John Hansell, a man who rates fine whisky for a living, drinks bourbon and ginger ale in his free time, so we're all free to let our guard down as well.

-David Driscoll

Reader Comments (10)

"What aims at reality is better than what aims at appearance. We may define what aims at appearance as what a man will not choose if nobody is to know of his having it."
--Aristotle

June 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

I was trying to tip-toe around that point. :)

June 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

Understood. And I'm all for folks being astute about their beverage choices... just keep said astuteness to one's self. Oh, and I would add to the commentary on John's piece that if one genuinely wants to play superlative cop and hand-out tickets for pinky wagging and showing-off, then the spirits industry should've been cited first.

June 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRN

I like Hansell's commentary because it is usually punctual,and to the point. I think some experts like Roskow and Broom embellish their words enough to sound a little cheesy sometimes. I think one of them described the nose of one whisky as "church on an Easter Sunday." Well great, I've never attended church, so I wouldn't really know what that means...Is it sterile? Does it smell like old people? This also applies when they reach for a too many specific scents/flavors when I consider more generalized terms like "green fruits," "nutty," "seaspray / maritime" or "malty" is closer to the truth.

June 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEugene

I adore most muscat wines, and moscatel/muscatel as well. That's my "knock back" wine. I don't know that I have a knock back spirit, but before I could stand the tannins in red wine (and now a good zin or cabsauv is such a delight, well-aged and rounded), or had discovered the sweeter whites, there was bourbon, or rum, with coke. Being a sweetfiend, there were liqueurs--Tuaca may have been my first. When I was not quite 21, I ordered chartreuse at a restaurant that didn't card me, because it's NOT the sort of thing most underage drinkers will order. It worked.

That said, I am very serious about my ginger beers and ales, because I do like me some strong ginger. Blenheim ginger ale is more intense than any ginger beer I've ever had--and it comes in hot and hotter (and the diet version doesn't have the aftertaste of sweetener, either). It's so hot that some people thinkit's got pepper in it, but that's because they've never had any ginger past mild. I've never had a Moscow Mule, and I wouldn't have one with Schweppes, Reed's, or the more common, too-mild, brands. Even a Dark and Stormy needs a strong ginger kick. I miss Bruce Cost's Ginger Cafe that used to be in the Stanford Mall--but the ginger ale made with jasmine tea that he sells these days is not bad, just not as good as the freshly made ginger ale at the restaurant.

Maybe I should try some Blenheim with an Islay malt...and bourbon doesn't have to be of the caliber or price of Pappy Van Winkle's 23 to be darned good of an evening.

June 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterA. Marina Fournier

I recently got a surprised look when I ordered whisky with dinner instead of after dinner. I've never fully understood why whisky + food pairings were so taboo.

June 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEugene

I think once whiskey (or spirits) becomes a serious commitment, we tend to look on it as a job or investment rather than as something to be enjoyed. We've been told that adding anything other than a few drops of water to that $80 limited edition Islay malt is wrong. If you add ice then you "just don't get it." I remember when whiskey & soda and then whiskey & rocks was the norm. I wasn't thinking about the nuances of the nose, but about enjoying the liquid. I won't be dumping Pepsi in my Pappy 15, but perhaps relegating it to only be enjoyed in a snifter neat is the wrong approach to take.

June 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAllen

Allen - good post!

June 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

Eugene, I do remember Mr. Heinlein saying something about whisky/hard liquors deadening one's tastebuds and interfering eith the true savoring of a fine meal. Cocktails for before, and I guess "hard" spirits after desset, coffee, and cheese.

That's just his theory, though.

June 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterA. Marina Fournier

This post inspired me to stop treating whiskey like a delicate flower this weekend and to think about how I would most enjoy it at the time. I think if you are only enjoying whiskey out of a glencairn neat you may be getting all of the nuances of the spirit, but perhaps you aren't enjoying it as much as might be possible. I certainly enjoyed taking pulls straight from an Evan Williams black label bottle in my hotel this weekend, and I didn't need a glencairn to focus the nose before doing so. I'm starting to think that if you limit yourself to drinking as an amateur reviewer all the time then perhaps we have deviated from what drew us to drinking and enjoying whiskey in the first place. I've realized that I can enjoy whiskey in a plastic cup with ice just as much as my Ardbeg Uigeadail in a snifter. I guess I've started to take whiskey a little too seriously and lost my way a bit.

June 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAllen

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