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Thursday
Nov292012

Generalizing/Categorizing

I'm now sick, fighting a sore throat and cold, and dragging myself out of the house to go process more orders before we open. Yet, I'm still in a rather ponderous mode.

We did two staff training events last night. One with Steve Beal and Johnnie Walker (after the public tasting ended) and one after work with Spanish Rioja. In both cases, we were looking for commonality between the booze that may or may not exist. We were looking for patterns – characteristics that would help us understand what makes blended whisky what it is, or a way of describing why these particular wines taste the way they do.

What is Highland whisky? Is Highland whisky light and heathery? Some of it is. But Glendronach isn't. Glenfarclas isn't. Ardmore Peated isn't. Old Pulteney 21 isn't. Glenmorangie Artein isn't. I could obviously keep going.

What is Islay whisky? Is it peaty, smoky, briny, and full of the sea? Bruichladdich 10 isn't. Bunnahabhain 12 isn't. Bruichladdich Organic isn't. I could keep going here as well.

People look for patterns to make generalizations. Generalizations help us to grasp certain concepts and make us feel more secure with how the world works. However, in the case of booze, they may be holding us back. Categorizing certain wines or whiskies by saying, "Lowlands are this, and Islands are this" just isn't really all that true. Maybe it was at one point, but it certainly isn't now. The same goes for Rioja. We were trying wines from different villages and, while there were some similarities, most of the wines were their own individual thing based on whatever that particular winemaker did in the vineyard and the cellar.

Stereotyping and racial prejudice work the same way. A racist will say that all white people do this. Asians are always doing this. Black people are prone to this, but we level-headed people know this isn't true. The truth is that each person in the world is a product of whereever they are from and the environment in which they were raised. It has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. Booze is pretty much the same - each household is entirely different. You can't make generalizations. You can't lump Speyside or Lowland whiskies into one type of group.

I think that people who are learning about wine and whisky do that because it takes a compliated subject and somehow makes it more managable. To think that you would have to judge, evaluate, and learn about each individual distillery on its own, every wine and winemaker on a singular basis, is simply too overwelming. It's frightening. Therefore, we look for commonalities. Bordeaux is this. Burgundy is this. Single malts are this. And so on.

I'm not so sure that's the way it works anymore, however.

-David Driscoll