Letters to the Editor
An anonymous reader sent this to me yesterday concerning my dinner with Maurice Hennessy and I about jumped out of my chair laughing:
I'm so glad you wrote this, David:
"You may not know this, but I'm a big fan of Hennessy Cognac. I don't often recommend it to customers or write about it on the blog... but nevertheless I always have a bottle of Hennessy at home."
Me too! I love Paradis, but have long loved/dreaded it silently. Like Dorian's portrait under a tarp in the attic. I make absolutely zero mention of this watered-down, colored, additive-laced over-priced delight to my whisky acquaintances. Not because I care what they think, but because it takes years off my life processing the passive aggressive, subversive responses.
Paradoxically, the few people I've met who've mentioned (to me) liking Hennessy have nearly always seemed kind, humble, fun-loving people. The kind of people completely lacking in awareness that there exists (within booze appreciation) a rich tapestry of zealots, conspiracists, and run-of-the-mill buttholes whom all seem to primarily feed off their snarky moral/personal judgements of other's booze preferences. One of the nicest people that I've ever met inside a wine/spirits store introduced me to Hennessy.
This was during the late 1990's when most liquor stores were still organized so that vodka, gin, and Crown Royal occupied the first aisles -- with all the brown stuff in some corner by the aromatic bitters. Anyway, one Saturday afternoon I was loading-up a cart with booze, intensely reading labels, etc. Basically I had no idea what I was doing. As luck would have it, an older gentleman who happened to be in the store--writing on a clip board--says, "Son, can I help you?"
I said, "Oh, no... I'm just looking."
He replied, jokingly, "Did you notice all the liquor in your cart?"
Now I'll add here that during the 1990's customer assistance was not yet a thing in most liquor stores. So this guy's offer felt odd and suspicious. He goes on, "I don't work here, but I have spent 30 years working for the distributor that supplies most of the stores around here. I'd be glad to help you. Are you building a home bar? Or just not sure what you like?"
I pointed to my cart and said, "Have you ever tried any of these?" He smiled.
He grabbed the front of my cart and said, "Come with me."
He proceeded to put every bottle in my cart back on the shelf. When he was done he asked, "How much do you want to spend?"
I said, "Well... if it tastes great then I'll buy it."
He goes and puts my empty cart away, comes back, walks-over to the bourbon aisle and puts a bottle of Blanton's in my hand. Then has me follow him to another aisle, opens a Plexiglas case, hands me a bottle of Paradis and says, "That should do it." He was beaming. He added with 100% conviction, "These are delicious. The Paradis is expensive, but you will never again find it for less."
I said, sheepishly, "Okay."
Walking out of the store, having just spent more on one bottle of booze than I'd ever spent on a home appliance or a lawnmower, I thought, "Well, either I am the stupidest person on Earth, or this is going to be great." When I got home and tried them I was floored by the quality. Just stunned. I could taste the Paradis ten minutes after swallowing it. I was hooked. And there were no bloggers, forums, or horrible people at tasting events to illuminate the idiocy of my purchases.
Since then whisk(e)y's just exploded. I've tried and bought all kinds of interesting and delicious stuff. But to-date Paradis and Blanton's are my sentimental favorites. I've just never told anyone, nor told them why. And that's just wrong.
So there you have it! The lesson? Don't be afraid to let your freak flag fly! Or, in this case, your penchant for booze that doesn't exude cookie-cutter cool. It reminds me of my first week in film class when I used to tell others that my favorite movie was "Ski School." At first they scoffed. Then they laughed and said, "Oh I get it! You're being ironic."
"No, I'm not," I answered.
What's funny is that the anonymous author above also dropped a link to this week's Salon piece about David Foster Wallace and irony -- an article I really enjoyed. The quote he emphasized was:
He could see a new wave of artistic rebels who "might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels… who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles… Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue." Yet Wallace was tentative and self-conscious in describing these rebels of sincerity. He suspected they would be called out as "backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic." He didn’t know if their mission would succeed, but he knew real rebels risked disapproval.
I genuinely think "Ski School" is a great movie, just like my anonymous friend and I sincerely enjoy a glass of Hennessy every now and then. There's no reason to be "tentative" about these things. People these days understand and can see who the real poseurs are.