Everyone needs a break now and again, but since booze is my full-time job there's no time to slack off when it comes to the latest trends and products. It's not easy staying well-informed with all genres of distilled spirits. It's a serious commitment. In my three years as spirits buyer I've watched some of my most passionate customers disappear without a trace. One day they were huge booze fans, the next they're completely out of the game.
I was flipping between the Giants vs. San Diego in a spring training game and the U.S. vs. Puerto Rico in the WBC last night when I realized I didn't know half of these players anymore. I used to watch baseball religiously as a kid (and play it, too!). I knew every player, their batting averages, which teams they had played for, and whether they were right or left-handed. Now I'm lucky if I can name just the San Francisco roster. The same goes for music. I used to know the names of every member of every band out there. Now I'm lucky if I even know a song from a handful of modern groups. I had thousands of CDs at one point and all of my money went to new music. Today, I still enjoy listening to music and going to concerts, but I'm far more choosey with my time and efforts. In both cases, I used to identify myself as a baseball fan or music supergeek. I felt like losing either one would completely obliterate my persona. I worked hard, spending all of my free time to keep up with the pack in both of these worlds.
In any topic of interest (including the two mentioned above) there will always be people who work harder than you. There will always be people who are incredibly nice, with whom you can bond over your mutual passion for your shared interests. There will always be people who obsess over knowing more than you so that they can hold it over your head ("Oh, you haven't tasted the new Yamazaki? I had it in Japan last week, but it's no big deal"). There will always be times when you don't know something you should (I told a customer yesterday that I didn't think Powers 12 Year Old Irish was being imported to the States, but David OG had it in stock in LA). There will always be people who disagree with you or feel differently (I saw that Serge from WhiskyFun wasn't a big fan of the new Ealanta whereas I think it's the best whisky I've tasted so far this year). Within the world of booze there are tons of people spending tons of their energy to get you to pay attention. You have to really care about booze in order to keep up with the latest events and sometimes it can seem like a huge waste of time.
Baseball seemed like a waste of time after I got cut from the varsity team in high school (being a chain smoker wasn't helping my first base sprint). Music seemed like a waste of time when I realized I was spending so much money on staying home and listening to music that I couldn't afford going out to actually meet people. At the first period in my life I felt quite depressed – if I wasn't a baseball player then I wasn't me and people would feel differently about who I was. However, when I sold all my CDs to Amoeba back in 2005 (after backing them up on a harddrive, of course), I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders because I was free from having to be me, this music person who knew more than the average Joe. Identifying with a hobby or genre is fun. Passion is exciting, but if you lose yourself in the process it can be suffocating.
I get dangerously close to falling back into that hole every now and again with liquor, but my former experiences help to keep me balanced. There are times when I just want to come home and drink everything – by myself! – simply because I'm interested in learning more. However, no one wants to be that person who spends all their money on booze and never has enough cash to go out to eat with friends (Sideways actually touches on that element a bit when Miles steals money from his mother to pay for his fancy wine habit). You can be passionate about whisky and wine, but remain grounded to your regular life. It's not an all or nothing game, no matter how badly you feel like you should know this stuff.
I still know grown men today who can tell you the batting average of any player in the MLB. I still know people who catch every show at the Independent on Divisadero, hoping to say, "Yeah, I saw that band back before they made it." I still get at least one email every day from someone who knows more than me about booze and wants me to know it. Ten years ago these things might have driven me into a frenzy – a flurry of self-doubt, inferiority, and insecurity. Today, I let it pass. You don't have to know everything about whisky. You just have to enjoy drinking it.