Rules of the Road
I get a lot of emails from people who want to know what the rules of drinking are. I'm also subjected to endless opinion where people say ridiculous and sweeping statements in unrequested quests to either enforce these rules or fully reject them. Normally I try to evade these rabbit holes as lightly as possible with quick and breezy responses because it's not a subject I enjoy, but after someone forwarded me an article about ice in whiskey this morning, I felt a bit of diarrhea building up in my mouth and I had to let it out.
If someone told me they never put ice in their whiskey because they didn't like it, I would probably shrug and say "to each their own."
But when most people say "I never put ice in my whiskey" it's usually followed by a haughty rationale that has something to do with how much respect they have for the craft and the heritage of whiskey. It's usually some sort of melodramatic hogwash that makes you throw up in your mouth just a little bit.
Rejecting the rules or taking a more liberal mindset—a laissez-faire approach, if you will—doesn't necessarily work either. There are moments in life where having at least some respect for decorum and tradition is important. If I'm visiting the queen of England, I want to know what the expectations are for my behavior. If I'm dining in Tokyo with the heads of Suntory, I'm going to brush up on Japanese dinner table etiquette. Not because I want to impress these people, mind you, or show them that I'm cultured, but because I don't want to do something to upset them or embarrass myself.
It's the intention, in my opinion, that separates rule followers from one another. Believe it or not, many people follow rules not to avoid attention, but rather to welcome it.
When I was finishing up my BA in San Diego, I took a number of political courses in which my fellow students were practically tripping over themselves to show the professor how much they understood and agreed with his opinions. In one particular case, the more they followed the professor's lead, the happier he was and the better he treated them. If you voiced an opinion that was contrary to their mindset, you were immediately attacked by the gang of sycophants (and you think you're sending your kids away to be cultured and have their minds opened!). The rules of the classroom were no different than the politics of life, which is ultimately the same foundation for the rules of drinking.
The rules you should follow in the wine world depend entirely on who you want to impress. The French snobs? The Napa cabernet bros? The natural wine hippies? Or the food and wine sommeliers? The same goes for whiskey. Who are you trying to fit in with? The Bourbon geeks? The single malt maniacs? The cocktail crazies? There's a completely different set of rules for each group, just like high school. You wanna hang out with the goth kids, go buy a Bauhaus t-shirt and ten pairs of black Levis. You wanna be down with the Bourbon crowd? Pick a fight with an NAS whiskey producer on social media and needle them about transparency. You'll be welcomed with open arms.
I'm happy to help when people ask me about simple booze protocol because I understand that no one wants to embarrass themselves by not understanding the guidelines. The people I try to avoid, however, are the ones who want to understand the rules in order to embarrass you! They're the strictest rule followers of all and the most stringent of enforcers because they live to point out the various faux pas of others. In their minds, the rules are there to be mastered not abided.
It's a contest, and I'm not interested in competing. I'm here to drink.