Taking the Proper Time

I'm a fast-operating person by nature. One might even call me impulsive or impatient. Yet, while all of my natural tendencies towards quick decision-making and even quicker conclusions do give me an advantage in the rapid-fire world of sales and marketing, they work against me in the ultimate evalution of the spirits I am ultimately selling.

Why? Because you cannot properly evaluate a spirit in a few minutes. Hell, I'd even wager to say you can't properly evaluate a spirit in a few days. A few ounces gives you a taste, but not an experience. A taste gives you the chance to write a few tasting notes, but who gives a shit about tasting notes if they're being written by a person taking three minutes to evaluate quality while moving through a long queue of twenty samples? The essence of a whisky can't properly be captured in this way.

Nevertheless, this is how most evaluation is done (as far as I know). The reps come into the bar, they pour us a glass, we do our thing, and then we write our notes. But it's not just us retailers, as few people I know in the industry have the time or the ability to spend a week thinking about one particular whisky before writing their review. Many other people writing online are often basing their notes and reviews on a teeny-tiny bottle they got in the mail that allowed for one small glass of enjoyment. It's enough to get the gist, but maybe not the entire picture. The same thing happens in the wine world as well. Rarely are these 90 point bottles sampled in the same atmosphere in which they will ultimately be consumed (do you think Robert Parker sits down to a steak dinner each time he reviews a new Cabernet?).

We live in an age where people want to be the first to market (or in this case the first to review what's new to market), so we quickly formulate an opinion to capitalize on the wealth of current interest. Speed is an asset when it comes to writing a blog, but not when it comes to understanding alcohol. How important is it, however, to grasp a bottle of alcohol on the most intimate level possible? Maybe it really isn't important at all.

But, nevertheless, let's look at these analogies:

- I didn't realize how amazing a movie Boogie Nights was until my fourth or fifth time through. I went from thinking the film was long and somewhat interesting, to heralding it as one of the top movies ever made in the history of cinema. One viewing simply doesn't allow the viewer ample time to catch all the nuance, or the incredibly-intricate acting on display from Don Cheadle and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

- My wife bought a pair of shoes a while back that she loved. She tried them on at the store and everything was perfect. Three days later she realized the material was a bit shoddy and was starting to rub her foot the wrong way. After a few days to properly evaluate her purchase she realized she didn't like the shoes.

- Most of the reviews I've read concerning David Bowie's work from the late-90s up to his most recent release The Next Day are unable to appreciate the music outside the context of Bowie's earlier work. After years and years of listening to Earthling, Heathen, Hours, and Reality that I've come to the conclusion that I appreciate them just as much, if not more so, than Diamond Dogs or Ziggy Stardust. There's such a beautiful atmosphere being created on in songs like "I Would Be Your Slave" and the musicianship of all performers is in such incredible sync. Plus, his modern covers of new classics like "Cactus" by the Pixies, or "Pablo Picasso" by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, are comparable in quality and originality to Johnnie Cash's late work with Rick Rubin. But, of course, I didn't come to that conclusion in a few minutes, or even a few days.

I could go on and on with examples like this, but you already know what I'm trying to say. Many of us do our best to write honest reviews that are released in a timely manner and serve as a guide for purchasing consumers, but there are so many variables at work that ultimately skew our ability to do so. Time, however, is the most important of these variables. I've given samples to friends who initially disliked a particular spirit, but days later came around and said the whisky grew on them (over time). I've tasted whiskies on a Tuesday and hated them, only to come back on a Friday to think they were fantastic (I just didn't taste them at the proper time, I guess).

I'm increasingly attempting to taste samples across larger spans of time for this reason. There are plenty of whiskies I've gone on to really enjoy after initially thinking them to be rather subpar (and vice versa).

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll