I spent last night watching HBO documentaries On Demand while sipping an expensive Russian vodka. I had an absolute blast. The vodka was delicious and it went down easy. It hit the spot. It quenched my thirst. It relaxed me. It didn't send my head spinning. It didn't spawn comparisons to other vodkas I had tasted this week. It didn't make me want to write a new blog. I'm tempted to do it again tonight!
How is this possible? Why are we talking about lowly vodka on the fine spirits blog? Aren't we here to talk about flavor and history?
The first thing you're taught after you're jumped into the super geek spirits street gang is: you don't drink vodka. Why don't you drink vodka? Because it doesn't taste like anything and we're all about flavor. If you don't like flavor then we don't like you. Intimidating! However, after a few years in the super cool spirits street gang, I decided that I was tired of the rules and the "you're supposed to like this" mentality, so I decided to go rogue and become a part-time vodka drinker. Part of it was the rebellious side of me that steered toward the exact opposite of whatever authority told me to do. Part of it was my inquisitive nature that simply asked: what are people getting out of this that I'm missing?
Then it hit me.
I was talking to my mother on the way home from work last night (yes, I was wearing my hands-free mobile device) and we were discussing an NPR podcast about Bertrand Russell. My mother said to me, "I thought about you in that philosophy program and the fact that I wouldn't have been able to handle those subjects – was something in the cup, or next to the cup, or or outside the cup." The gist of her statement was: I just don't get it so I must be missing something. Originally, I had felt the same way. I had entered a graudate philosophy program because I wanted to know the secret. All of these philosophers throughout history – Plato, Descartes, Wittgenstein – who must have so much to reveal! I couldn't wait to delve deeper into their genius. After a solid year of dense manuals, pointless arguments, and condescending colleagues, I transfered to the German department. I still loved philosophy, but there was no secret. The reality was that I was a romantic in a semantic world.
Jumping into the world of wine, I hoped every romantic ideal that never materialized in the philosophy world would be found in a store full of exotic bottles. What happened was more quixotic. I charged in, ready to discover that wine was a pedagogical paradise, full of people literally thirsting for more knowledge. Wine would be that lifetime's commitment I was searching for, like a monk entering an abbey, that would take decades of hard work and tasting to truly master its meaning. However, the whole pair-this-with-this, you-can't-drink-that-with-tacos, you-must-use-the-proper-glass, this-must-be-aged-at-least-ten-years thing started to wear thin on me. More rules. Were people actually enjoying this rigid ideology? I tasted some of the world's great wines and watched others revel in their splendor. I thought they were decent wines, but nothing to write home about. What were people getting out of this that I was missing?
Then it hit me.
There is nothing to get. There's nothing to get about philosophy, other than these guys have a lot of time to think about shit that you and I don't have time to think about. There are many great lessons in the tomes of the ancients and I was understanding them perfectly fine. They just weren't as illuminating as I hoped they might be. Wine and spirits were no different. In my mind, the world's great wines were supposed to make one weep. In reality, they simply tasted like wine. Good wine, but hardly enough to change my life, inspire me to move to a foreign culture, purchase a rustic ranch home, spend five weeks sputtering bad French to the locals, then write a travelogue about how I know everything about French culture which might one day get turned into a Julia Roberts film.
There's nothing to get about vodka either! It's just a clean, easy-to-drink spirit that makes you feel good after you drink it. I'm not sure if the wheat or rye makes a big difference, or if the still type changed the texture, or if the filtration removed any corruptive cogeners, or if the purity of the water worked in conjunction with the base spirit. I don't know any of these things the way I know them about whisky. My point is: I don't think it really matters. The secret to enjoying vodka is the secret to enjoying your life. You have to relax. You have to take your mind off things. Get a few shots up in you. Stop worrying about flavor.
The moment I stopped worrying about flavor, it all made total sense. Vodka is here to take your mind off of itself. Vodka is here to ease my pre-conceived booze tension. People hate vodka because of marketing schemes where packaging and price make more of a difference than quality, but that also happens with whisk(e)y, Cognac, Tequila, and rum. Secretly, I think experts hate vodka because they can't make any money off of talking about it, the same way a professor can't make a living off of John Steinbeck. It's all right there, in your face, obvious to anyone – you don't need a guide to understand it. They want you to read James Joyce because that shit is so confusing they can get a whole semister's work out of teaching you what it means! Vodka is about drinking though, not about thinking. The Eastern Europeans figured that shit out long ago.
I drink, therefore I am.