During one of my undisclosed appointments yesterday, a producer asked if I would be willing to taste through a few whiskey samples and offer some feedback. I did as instructed, but I made sure to clarify between my professional and personal opinion each time. As someone who works in retail, it's my job to know what other people will like, even if it's not something I would necessarily buy for myself. I know others who work in the trade who don't think there's a difference—that you should only advocate for products that you yourself would consume—but that's always seemed like the easy way out to me. It's much harder to put yourself in someone else's shoes and ultimately I've found it more rewarding when I'm able to successfully do so.
For example, if one of my high end business clients asked me where I thought he should eat while visiting Kentucky, I would probably tell him to check out Butchertown Grocery, even if personally I might want to head out to Deez Butts. I've never been to Deez Butts, but it's easily the best name for a barbecue spot I've ever seen and—personally—I have a soft spot for places like this (if that name is lost on you, I can't really help you here, but you should definitely refer back to Dr. Dre's original Chronic album if you need guidance). I have customers who read my wine blog posts about dining through France and ask me for recommendations in Paris based on those parameters, but then I also have people who want my personal opinion about where I would eat—personally—based on what I like. There's a difference. I'm never going to turn down Haut-Brion and duck confit, but I also like Miller High Life and hot Cheetos.
Another example would be Wild Turkey distiller Jimmy Russell. That man knows more about Bourbon than me and everyone else reading this blog put together. He's a living legend and an encyclopedia of knowledge as it pertains to both whiskey and life. But if you ask Jimmy how he personally enjoys his whiskey, he'll tell you with lemonade. Or maybe it's sweet tea. I can't remember. The point is: one of the industry's most experienced master distillers personally prefers his Bourbon in that fashion. He also prefers it around ten years old, even if today's serious drinkers lust for the fifteen and twenty year old expressions. But that's not what some guys are looking for, nor is it what they want to hear. Some guys want to know what the best glass is for sipping whiskey, or which ultra-mature limited edition bottles are worth the hype. They don't want to drink Bourbon with lemonade. Or sweet tea.
But that doesn't mean we can't help these customers with their questions. Personal preferences aside, I think part of being a professional is that very basic skill. Otherwise, what good are you?
I'm sitting here in the car outside of Four Roses, waiting for my appointment to begin. I'll definitely be making both professional and personal decisions once we start tasting through casks.