It seems I'm not the only person in the liquor industry who's worried about the current trend of drinking "only the best." A customer recently passed along an article from the most recent Malt Advocate and I was quite startled to find Lew Bryson had written about something quite similar. Unlike me, however, Lew had the guts to just come right out and say exactly what he felt:
"We - you and me - are the people new whiskey drinkers learn from. When we're excited about the Antique Collection, Birthday Bourbon, Parker's Heritage, or the Knob Creek Single Barrel, the aspiring whiskey drinker short-cuts to them, fixates on them, and never realizes that there are bourbons for all times. They have bypassed learning their own bourbon tastes to get right to "the best" - what someone else has told them is the best. We've failed them. They don't know what a table bourbon is."
Quite a compelling statement, eh?
Speaking solely from retail experience, I have repeatedly worked with customers who conveyed to me their interest in taking wine more seriously and were therefore ready to invest in a gigantic, $10,000 wine storage unit, plus an additional $5,000 to fill it up with whatever I thought was good. That's a lot of dough and a lot of trust for someone just starting out, but who am I to argue? What I have usually said, however, is that a wine storage unit is really only necessary for someone looking to meticulously age their wines over a 15-20 year period. "Do you like to drink mature wines mostly?" I would ask. "I'm not sure, I haven't had that many," was the usual response. I would then attempt to convince the customer to start with a selection of older Bordeaux and California cabernets, taste them over the course of a few weeks, and then decide if this was what they were interested in. Otherwise, why not just keep your wine in the closet and spend ten grand on something more worthwhile?
I'm not sure if other generations were the same, but many people today under the age of 45 have a desire to dive head first into everything. I am one of them, but I have worked very hard to scale back this enthusiasm and focus it into acquiring actual wisdom. I've listened to cycling enthusiasts in the Bay Area mock the newcomer who shows up on the first day with a $10,000 bike and $500 worth of new clothing, despite never having ridden a day. I've heard amateur golfer friends ridicule the guy with the $5000 bag of clubs, but zero ability to actually use them. There's an idea out there that beginning with the very best therefore makes you the very best, but it isn't true. Being able to afford something is very different than actually appreciating it. It's far better to start slowly and listen to those around you before making any serious declarations.
Going back to Lew's statement, the part that caught my eye was the addition of "what someone else has told them is the best." Every purchase or experience in life that I value was probably at some point recommended to me by someone I trust. Whether it was a restaurant recommendation or what type of car to buy. I don't see anything wrong with listening to other people's opinions. We just have to make sure that we don't derive our own pleasure through them. If I were to go out to dinner and someone told me that the wine we were drinking got 92 points, I would probably sigh because there's no actual passion behind a statement like that. If that same person were to just tell me that he or she thought the wine was really good, I would be much more excited.