Don’t Go Too Far

Like all hobbies, the appreciation of scotch can escalate to the point where diminishing returns set in. I’ve been thinking a lot about the “hobby” lately, and I’d like to take this time to discuss what’s been on my mind.

You can spot them a mile off. They have an Ardbeg t-shirt on, and before they tell you their their name, you know which ultra-exclusive impossible-to-get special release they just picked up. For a good deal, ‘cuz they know a guy. Within a few minutes of conversation you know the size of their “bunker”, and how they don’t buy Kilchoman anymore because it’s gone mainstream, and that they gave away all their Bruichladdich when Mark Reynier sold out to Remy. You know they have Pappy, but they don’t drink it because it’s not Stitzel-Weller anymore. They think it’s cute that you just discovered The Balvenie.

If you’re reading this blog, you at least have an interest in whisky that exceeds the average. That means you have the seed in you. If you let it grow, nurture it and feed it, eventually you might end up like the jerk in the preceding paragraph. Don’t go that far. There comes a point while expanding your whisky knowledge when you begin to forget what got you excited in the first place. You start chasing a high – looking first to special releases from your favorite distillery to calm the itch, and then independent bottlers and retail exclusive single-casks. Before you know it, you’re belittling someone on a forum for thinking this year’s release of William Larue Weller is as good as last year’s. This is natural, a slippery slope, and you have to fight it. You don’t want to be that guy (or gal).

I had been listless in my whisky drinking lately – thinking about expensive and rare K&L exclusives that are way out of my budget range, and that was making old standbys Lagavulin 16 and GlenDronach 12 look boring. Luckily, I had a rare moment of epiphany last night when, groping in my whisky cabinet for something to sip, I found a nearly empty bottle of Bank Note blended scotch. Shrugging, I figured that freeing up a space in my cabinet was worth slumming it for the night. Luckily, that Bank Note happened to be just the right thing to knock me out of my smug elitist mindset. I enjoyed it far more than I’d enjoyed the single malts I’d sipped the previous four nights. Hell, I can’t remember what I drank the previous nights, but I was still thinking about the Bank Note this morning, and how I needed to pick up another bottle. Is it because Bank Note is better than whatever the hell I’d drank previously? Unlikely, but it was the right dram at the right time. It reminded me that in between our K&L Exclusive Clynelish and our imported-by-a-friend-in-his-luggage Yellow Spot, we need to revisit those whiskies that now seem mundane, lest we lose ourselves. We need to occasionally get in touch with our whisky roots, and take a few moments to rekindle the original flame. Remind yourself what whisky tastes like, not just what some overpriced distillery’s whisky tastes like.

Go on, go buy another bottle of Dewar’s 12, or Laphroaig 10, or Johnnie Walker Black Label. Whatever made you want to start searching the web for more information about whisky, whatever gave you that first itch. Put it on ice, or mix it with soda, or drink it out of an old-fashioned bar glass instead of a Glencairn. Your tastes may be more refined now, but your taste memories are still buried in your brain underneath all those neurons devoted to Jim Murray’s latest scores and the percentage of Clynelish in John Glaser’s Spice Tree. Go dig them up. You’ll be a better whisky drinker, and maybe a better person, if you do.

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18 Comments

18 Responses to Don’t Go Too Far

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes– I, too, read David Driscoll’s blog.

    • This is either a shot at the fact that David often writes about whisky snobbery, or the fact that he wrote about it today. If you look at the timestamps, you’d see that I posted mine in the morning (actually I wrote it yesterday, it auto-posts after midnight), and David’s post went up this afternoon. If you’re accusing me of being derivative, I’ll just note that I often reference David’s blog in my posts, and that I have no qualms about saying that I get inspiration from him. This one, however, sprang out of musings over a glass of Bank Note. Take from that what you will, but remember this is not a literary journal. It’s a blog, and I can be derivative if I choose.

  2. Peter says:

    great comments- I am fortunate enough to have access to $30 bottles for Balvenie double wood 12 yr. it does not matter what I try- coming home to the Balvenie is always the greatest treat- One’s Whisky is where your heart remembers – not your thoughts go-

  3. Nozinan says:

    What if your first single malt Whisky wasn’t all that good? As proud as I am to be Canadian, Glen Breton is priced higher than its value as a single malt.

    I was pretty much a non-spirit drinker till I bought a couple of bottles of this because I figured it would rise in value when the SWA successfully made them change their name. When the SWA lost, I figured I’d crack one and see what it tasted like. But being a know nothing, I googled tasting notes to see what I SHOULD taste. I stumbled on Ralfy’s website and took it from there.

    Since then I’ve learned a lot and one of the early winners I tried was A’Bunadh, but it’s not entry level. I don’t think back fondly to the Breton. Most times I don’t thInk back to it at all.

    • I guess technically my “first whisky” was a shot of Jack Daniels a long time ago… but I consider Laphroaig 10 to be the first whisky I had that actually made me interested in whisky. Really, I feel nostalgic about any of the first half-dozen or so whiskies that I enjoyed.

  4. bryan f says:

    amen brother.

  5. PDB says:

    Great post. I’m a recent convert to whisk(e)y and I’m also a craft beer fan. What you’ve described is one of the things that has tempered my excitement in regards to craft beer lately. I don’t find any enjoyment in getting up in the middle of the night to stand in line for a special beer release in the cold only to pay an overinflated price for what many times is just an alright beer. Give me a well crafted pilsener over a barrel aged alcohol bomb 9 times out of 10.

    To me, in scotch as in beer, consistency in quality is the truest hallmark of greatness.

  6. Ben says:

    A very wise post. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, it’s best to grab something simple and enjoy it, remembering why you like whiskey in the first place. I’ve got tons of bourbon, but after a tough week at work a single glass of the Old Granddad BIB with an ice cube in it brings me more pleasure than a flight of five far fancier bourbons. Thanks for bringing us all down to earth.

  7. Briggs says:

    Wise words. True connoisseurs are nothing like the guy you just described.

    And I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to purchase a pappy bottle. I will let the rich dentists go for it so they have something nice to pour into their coke.

  8. Martini says:

    Was I meant to take this personally? Because I did. Because I AM the guy who buys the blended stuff and the JW Black. I DO like some of the cheap ones, and i’m not afraid to admit it.

    • Martini, read it again. I was saying it’s important to go back to the whiskies that got us excited about whisky in the first place, and NOT to become snooty single-malt drinkers that won’t touch the simple stuff.

      • Martini says:

        Yes, I totally understand. It’s the JW Blacks that got me into whisky! I think my comment didn’t come across the way it felt in my mind. When I said “taking it personally” it wasn’t meant in a negative way.

  9. Eric says:

    Great post. Not only can whisky as a hobby make you obnoxious if you go about it the wrong way, but it can be ruinously expensive too. Here’s how I keep myself in check.

    1) Unless there’s something interesting or unique about them, I let expensive, limited edition stuff go. The selection of affordable widely available whiskies is large and always changing – it’s enough that no reasonable person will get bored with it. There’s plenty of room to explore without going nuts on things beyond the $100 price range.

    2) I don’t talk about my whisky unless I’m prepared to pour a glass for whoever I’m speaking to. Just talking about whisky you have can be obnoxious bragging. Talking about your whisky AND offering to share it, on the other hand, makes it just as fun for the other person as it is for you. It’s hard for someone to think you’re an obnoxious douche for your expensive whisky if you’re pouring it for them to enjoy!

  10. nag says:

    I respect the impulse and the flow of emotion. I have less than 25$ a week to spend on whiskey and I drink it every day. I buy Speyburn 10 for 19$ a bottle right now and I love it. Someday I may be a billionaire but I will still get wispy when I drink this dram again and remember my children being small and first learning powershell. but I tell you something else my friend. I will respect the man with his bunker of whiskey. If he is wearing an Ardberg t-shirt and puts on a snobbish aire then that is because he loves it. his knowledge is gold and I will drink with him and listen to his heart. what is wrong with going deep into the whiskey rabbit hole if you’re having fun?? If you have the money then go for it! you won’t be sorry I bet. Is he having more fun with whiskey than you or I? probably!!

  11. AJW says:

    Great post, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. Thanks

  12. JayMon says:

    I used to drink whiskey more to get drunk than anything, it was easier to hide than beer and would get you drunk faster. JD, Canada Club, SC, Fireball, Goldschlauger were my regulars.

    Fireball got me initially interested in whiskeys, and JD Tennessee Honey eventually lead me to look into scotches. It was the first “real” whiskey that I enjoyed. Might have to pick some up after work…

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