Whisk(e)y drinkers go through the same type of evolution that most children do--from young, excited, and bright-eyed, to sarcastic and anti-authoritarian, and eventually into a more reserved and experienced status of self-awareness (hopefully). It's fascinating to watch, actually. As someone who talks to dozens of different drinkers on a daily basis, and hundreds more via email, it's interesting to see where each particular person is in their development. Some people are hard to read because they're simply asking for advice, not telling me what they think. Others are constantly talking about themselves and have no interest in what I have to say whatsoever. Whiskey can be one of those things we allow to define us--something we take pride in understanding and want to share with others. Some of us want to be experts and to have people think of us as such. Others just want to enjoy themselves.
Not everyone sees themselves the way others do, however. I've learned a lot about myself by watching the behavior of others. Then I'll go out to shop for clothes or something and realize I'm doing to one sales clerk exactly what I didn't appreciate from one of my own customers. Whoops! What a hypocrite I am! We're all human after all. To see where you're at on your path to whiskey enlightenment, try taking this little quiz I've put together and see how you score:
1) You're browsing the whisky selection at your local retailer. A sales clerk you don't recognize asks you if you need help with anything. You answer:
a) Actually I do. Have you tasted the new Glendronach cask strength? I was wondering how that was.
b) I just got back from Scotland actually and my friends and I went to a few distilleries and we tasted a whole bunch of old and rare whiskies that don't make it over to the states. I've pretty much had everything available in the U.S. so I was checking to see if you guys had anything like that.
c) Yeah, I've got a list of the Whisky Advocate's "Best Whiskies of 2013," and I was hoping to get one of each.
2) You're curious to see if you can track down a bottle of the new 2013 Brora 35 year old release, so you call your local retailer to see if they'll be getting any. You say:
a) Hi, I was wondering if I could put my name down for a bottle of the new Brora if you thought you might be getting any.
b) Hi, I'm a big fan of Brora and I've been collecting whisky for the past few years and I've managed to get a bottle of Brora from every single release so far. I thought the 2011 release was better than the 2012--have you tasted them? I told myself I wasn't going to buy one this year because the prices are just stupid, but I read Serge's review and I think I still want to try and get one. Any chance?
c) Hi, I'm looking for the Brora 35. You don't? Well do you know where I can get one? What other stores? Can you get me their phone numbers? No, I've never used Wine Searcher. Can you just call for me?
3) Your local store is releasing a new allocation of Pappy in a few weeks. You're curious to see if you can score a bottle. You go in, talk to the spirits buyer and say:
a) Hey, sorry to be a pain in the ass--as I'm sure I'm the 500th person to ask you about this--but do you think there's a shot at getting a bottle of Pappy this year?
b) Yeah, I mean, I heard Pappy was coming out, but it's going to be super hard to get. I'd take a bottle if I can get it--even two. I think that stuff is like super-overrated and it's totally not worth all the BS you have to do to get one. I mean--I've had Stitzel-Weller whiskey so many times already, I probably don't need another one. But, nevertheless, I'd like to get one, so can you put me on the list?
c) Hey where do you guys keep the Pappy? Is it like in a jewel case or something or is it all in the back? I heard it came out this week so I know it's gotta be here somewhere. Can you get me a bottle of Elijah Craig 18 while you're at it?
4) You go out for a drink with a friend to a local whisky bar. The bartender comes up to take your order. You decide to order some Four Roses for yourself. You tell the bartender:
a) I'd like a pour of the Four Roses please. Thank you.
b) Hi, can I get a glass of the Four Roses? It's totally one of the most underrated whiskies available today. I know people are always trying to find Pappy--God, it's so annoying--but I think Jim Rutledge is the best distiller in the business. We actually went out the the distillery last year and took the tour with him. Amazing guy. Amazing whiskey.
c) Hey, can I get a glass of the Four Roses and a shot of sweet vermouth on the side? (You turn to your friend and whisper) "Dude, if you order a pour and the vermouth on the side it's two bucks cheaper than ordering the Manhattan off the cocktail menu!"
5) You're checking out at the liquor store and the person ringing you up notices the bottle of Glendronach 12 in your basket and says, "Nice choice." You respond with:
a) Thanks. I'm a big fan as well.
b) Yeah, I've been drinking this for years, before anyone knew about it actually, but now that Glendronach's getting popular I'm a little annoyed that everyone's drinking it too. Hopefully it doesn't become the next Macallan.
c) I know. I only drink the best.
For every time you answered A give yourself one point. For every B answer give yourself two points. And give yourself three points for each C answer.
5 to 8 points: You're comfortable with yourself and your understanding of whiskey. You're not afraid to ask questions either because you don't see asking a question as a sign of weakness or stupidity. You also don't feel the need to let others know that you're smarter than you may appear. You've found whiskey peace.
9 to 11 points: You understand whiskey, you've obviously done your homework, and you know what you're talking about, but you're not comfortable with that knowledge yet. You can't help but use each interaction with someone who works in the trade as an opportunity to show what you know, rather than simply interact on a more friendly basis. After more people start behaving this way towards you you'll likely become more self-aware and hold your tongue more often.
12 to 15 points: You seem to know something about whiskey, but you also seem to lack basic human relations skills. There are many other whiskey drinkers out there besides yourself, but this has yet to dawn on you. You're likely to rub people the wrong way and ruin your chances of finding great bottles rather than improve them.
I have gone through this entire evolution myself. I was once a young punk kid who thought he knew everything. Then I was a young punk kid who knew a little. And now I'm just a punk who tries to listen more often.