Use This One Weird Trick

If you've used the internet for five minutes in the last year or two, you've inevitably stumbled upon a headline on Yahoo, or an ad on the side banner that includes the words "one weird trick." It's obviously become some sort of phenomenon because when I Googled it before writing this post this article from Slate magazine popped up. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, let me explain: there's a series of ads and fake headlines all over the web that say things like "how trainers use this one weird trick to flatten their stomachs," or "Michelle Pfeiffer's weird trick for staying young." The strategy itself is a "weird trick" meant to cater to our innate desire for simplicity. We want easy solutions to complicated issues. If someone could just summarize everything difficult in life into one basic answer it would make everything so much more managable!

Not only do these commercials cater to our desire for simplicity, they also give us a sense of certainty. This "weird trick" is not only a basic answer, it's the basic answer to navigating the mine field. Certainty is a big deal in the wine and spirits world where the fear of making the wrong choice or getting screwed over is often more powerful than the desire to drink something tasty. If you don't know what you like, then it's hard to know what you want. So people use all kinds of "weird tricks" to simply avoid the bad stuff, rather than get something they actually fancy. They only buy bottles with 90 points or higher, or they stick to 15 year old whiskies. "Get a dry wine," their friend told them. "Don't get a merlot," a movie once said. What we have is a series of tricks and tips that offer little understanding and are meant to simplify an enjoyable activity into a game that can be won or lost. The more I work in this business, the sadder this type of experience makes me.

I spend most of my day trying to reassure people that the bottle they're buying (and know absolutely nothing about) is delicious and of quality, but I never know for sure if they walk away completely believing what I say. If someone says to me, "Can you help me pick out a good bottle of wine?" I'll invariably answer with, "Of course! What do you feel like drinking?" To me, buying a bottle of booze should be like shopping for groceries: it's not only about what's good, but about what you're in the mood for. Salad? Meat? Pasta? Wine and whisky are no different than food. You drink what you're craving, and you pay what you feel like paying for the quality you feel like having. However, it's tough to be in the mood for something if you don't know the difference between cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, or between Ardbeg and Glenlivet. If you ask a butcher for a "good" steak, he'll probably ask you in return: "Are you in the mood for New York, T-Bone, or fillet mignon?" Eating and drinking are about preferences, not posturing. The only way you'll ever know what you like is to try everything you can. Spend the money. Get your education. There's no way to avoid making a mistake because this whole process is about trial and error.

Drinking isn't about getting it right, or choosing the "best." It's also not a war between you and the whisky companies where you try to avoid getting screwed. Sometimes I feel like my head is going to explode when I hear that defense: "Well, I can't trust the greedy liquor companies, so at least I can trust the age statement or the 90 point review. It's better than nothing." That's a load of crap. Shit is shit, whether it has a 12 on the bottle or the name of a mythological Norse viking instead. Shit is shit, whether it comes in a fancy diamond-studded decanter, or in a cheap flask with a twist off cap. Shit is shit, no matter how many points it got on The only way to avoid drinking shit is to first drink the shit, and then decide you're no longer going to drink that shit. If you're not willing to drink some shit, you'll always be stuck in the same shitty situation: trying to figure out what is or isn't shit by looking at the exterior, instead of just putting that shit in your mouth and figuring it out for yourself.

"Well, I don't want to pay for shit," people will say. Guess what? I don't want to pay for shit either. But I've drunk enough shit to know that 12, 15, and 18 don't mean shit. I've had plenty of shitty single barrel shits. Plenty of blended shit. Plenty of hand-crafted shit. Plenty of small batch shit. Plenty of expensive shit. In the end, I've realized that there is no "weird trick" to avoid taking a shit, but I only came to that realization after taking lots of shits. Spend your life trying to avoid taking a shit, and you'll wind up scared shitless. No one wants to drink whisky with someone who constantly avoids taking a shit. They're anal retentive, and uncomfortable, and gassy, and just plain unpleasant. I don't want to be around that shit. You need to just shit or get off the pot sometimes. Just go for it, and stop worrying about all this shit. If you don't shit, then you're never going to know shit about shit.

There's another ad I heard on the radio recently for some new smart phone where the woman giving her testimonial says something like, "With the speed of this new phone I can find out about that cool new band before my hipster sister does, and impress my friends on trivia night by getting the right answers faster!" I about rear-ended the car in front of me. "Are you kidding me?!" I screamed to myself. "A commercial that actually encourages people to be a giant douchebag as a selling point? What are we coming to?!" Smart phones in a sense have become that "one weird trick" for people who don't know anything, but want to act as if they do. In the end, we're stuck with an entirely new world of advertising that basically says: you don't need to actually work hard or do the heavy lifting in order to be successful. Who wouldn't want to buy into that? It beats putting shit in your mouth.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll