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.