I was thinking about cocktail menus the other day and how some restaurants are trying so hard lately to have complex, esoteric, multi-faceted drink options, hoping to stand out from the average watering hole. It's getting pretty ridiculous at some establishments with their nine ingredients per drink, professional ice carvers, and blowtorched garnishes. What's funny to me, however, is that there's a certain uniformity in "standing out." When so many people try so hard to be different just for the sake of it, they end up with a similar result: passionless mediocrity. It's what happens when you do something reactive rather than because you want to.
What does that mean? Let me give you a few examples.
Back in elementary school my friends and I were obsessed with professional sports. However, being GATE students (Gifted And Talented Education - seriously, that's not a joke) we were obsessed with our own self-importance and originality. We wanted to stand out of the pack and to be interesting because that's what our teachers always told us we were: special. If every other school kid liked the San Francisco Giants and Will Clark (which they did growing up in California) we chose weird, distant teams. My favorite team in sixth grade was the Toronto Blue Jays and my favorite player was Joe Carter. My favorite basketball team was the Charlotte Hornets. I rooted for the Indianapolis Colts and followed the Montreal Canadians in hockey. I chose to support those teams because, in my mind, being a Blue Jays fan made me unique and different. However, when people asked me why I was a Blue Jays fan, I didn't have a real answer. There was no inner passion, nostalgia, or love associated with my fandom. It was all spectacle for the sake of it.
In high school during the mid 1990s, when teenage angst was in full swing, every kid I knew loved Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Green Day. I loved Nirvana in 1991, but when they blew up and every single alterna-teen in sight was wearing a Nirvana T-shirt to school, I didn't want to be associated with that image. If that nerd Ian likes Nirvana, what does that say about me? Nirvana became instantly uncool in my world, even though I secretly loved their music. I reached out for lesser-known, more alternative inspiration. I embraced Sonic Youth and more experimental, less pop-oriented material. I went industrial. I was only interested in music that no one else had heard of. However, despite my professed love for the underground, I wasn't as genuinely passionate about any of this music. I wanted people to think I was, but it never really touched my soul. Today, in retrospect, I'll get more excited listening to "In Bloom" or "Even Flow" on the car radio than any track off of Kill Your Idols.
As you get older you realize there's no shame in liking what other people like, or doing what other people do, as long as your passion is genuine. Individuality, respect, and coolness are not simply the result of wacky clothing, underground music, or a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. They're inner qualities that come from being true to your own affections and values. Just because some poser likes something you like doesn't make you a poser, too. Just because some hotshot drives the same car as you doesn't make you a hotshot as well. You can't fake the funk, if you know what I mean.
Our old wine club director Thorton Jacobs used to say, "There's a reason the great wines of France are the great wines of France." That always cracked me up. Everytime we read about some up and coming trend in the wine world, some new geographical region that was making great juice, some ultra-hip, gotta-have-it new producer in the Canary Islands or Tasmania, Thorton would always bust out that quip. In the end, there's a reason why certain wines from certain places have attained the reputation they now enjoy: they're really, really good. You can try to grow Bordeaux varietals in Montana, or pinot noir in Spain, but you just can't compete with centuries of trial and error. Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Alsace, and the Rhone have pretty much defined what cabernet, merlot, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, riesling, and syrah should taste like. That's why they're known as the great wines of France.
In a similar vein, there are certain cocktail recipes that stand the test of time. They're on every menu because they're classics and a large majority of people enjoy them - Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Daiquiris, etc. There's nothing worse than sitting down at a bar with a chip on its shoulder about standing out, being progressive, and modernly chic. Usually it results in some f-ed up drink that tastes like a hot mess, but that's what makes it cool, right?
If you don't like it, maybe you don't get it. (rolls eyes)
Ha! I remember that line! I used to say that to other teenagers as I took a drag off my cigarette and acted like I didn't care about anything.
Sometimes the booze world is like a giant version of high school, rife with all the same insecurities, solipsism, and fashionable trends. It has all the same score settling, all the same cliques and cool kids, and all the same pretentiousness.
And all the same pretending.