Formative Years

I was back at Hakkasan in downtown San Francisco last night for another booze event, this time celebrating the American launch of Kavalan Taiwanese whisky. While I have a lot of interesting information to tell you about those whiskies and my positive experience at the event, I'll get to all of that in a different blog post later today. What was actually most inspiring about the dinner at Hakkasan was the company I sat with, primarily my time spent with Tim Zohn who heads up the bartending at AQ on Mission Street. We were talking about our formative years with drinking and all of a sudden the conversation opened up into a much larger philosophical discussion.

I've been getting a lot of feedback concerning the two Lessons of the Industry as Told Through Popular Film Sequences posts that I've put up over the last week. People have been interpreting them differently and it's been interesting to see the various reactions. I was primarily struck by what readers had to say about yesterday's Ratatouille moment -- one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever. While most readers thought I was reinforcing the idea of taking a step back and simply having fun with one's whisky, that wasn't really my intention at all. I was actually trying to stress the fact that sometimes the most pleasurable things in life are the ones that remind us of being a kid, or the things we enjoyed during our formative years. But there seems to be a keen desire in the wine and spirits world to emulate the pleasurable experiences of others, hoping that through sheer mimicry we can create our own positive associations with the various fads and trends. In my opinion, however, you can't fake what isn't there.

It's entirely possible that, because I spend the majority of my time dealing with wine and booze, I'm disposed to a greater number of these scenarios (which may be why some of you are left wondering at my obsession with them), but let me share one example with you that highlights where I'm coming from. My wife and I were recently at a wine tasting, chatting with the representative from a famous California producer. I can't remember exactly how it happened, but at some point during the conversation my wife and I joked about having started our drinking with Boone's flavored wine and jugs of cheap Gallo. We then asked the girl pouring what her first wines were, to which she answered with a total deadpan:

"I actually started my drinking with the great wines of Bordeaux before challenging myself with Burgundy."

Come on! Why would someone lie like that? Do they think that's impressive; to never have tasted anything from the bottom shelf? She might as well have followed that up with "I never watch TV, I only read books." There are people who lie about their formative years everyday in the Bay Area booze business. They disown their pasts, pretend they were pros from the very beginning, and research extensively what they should or shouldn't say when questioned about the issue. It's like every social encounter is a test and they need to have the right answer prepared in advance.

What I appreciated about Tim Zohn was that, without me ever saying a word about this subject whatsoever, he launched into nostalgic memoir about how he started getting into whiskey with Maker's Mark, and how today that Bourbon still gives him a happy feeling every time he pours a glass. I immediately told him about my obsession with the Ratatouille sequence and how there seems to be a mindset that wants to deny these very authentic impulses. I told the story of my friend from high school who missed out on music during his formative teenage years, so he tried to make up for it by downloading every important album off of Pitchfork's Top 100 list. He listened to music like he was studying for a test, trying to impress upon others his longstanding-love for Sonic Youth and the Pixies, even though that "love" was synthetic and processed. We progressed further into the idea of cramming three seasons of television viewing into a few days -- how it's simply not the same as having to wait a week between episodes and a year between seasons. In the end, we agreed that if you didn't create positive associations, memories, and foundational experiences during your formative years, you might be left scrambling to create them later on in life, which made us both very sad.

And that's what the Ratatouille moment really signifies: that ultimately the best things in life inspire an emotional response from a real place inside of you. You can't make those moments happen, they have to exist there naturally, embedded organically from the culmination of your formative years. To pretend like you carry those associations for the purpose of impressing others is silly; but to deny those very real responses and pretend like they don't exist is heartbreaking.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll