So tonight I caught myself with my pinkie finger sticking up while tilting a Glencairn of Speyside malt into my mouth. Holy crap, I thought. What am I doing?! Pretension is a big part of the luxury spirits industry. A lot of money is made on pretension. Just the right leaded crystal tulip glass to concentrate aromas. Nothing but the finest filtered Scottish spring water to reduce a cask-strength. Only closed scotch distilleries and organically-farmed US microdistillates, please. Stitzel-Weller… but only from Jefferson’s bottles filled before everyone else started drinking it.

It’s hard not to get sucked in to the culture of luxury spirits – you’re paying enough for a decent bottle, you may as well act like you don’t care what it costs, right? It only makes sense to follow up that investment with a series of supportive investments – the books, the glassware, the imported water… pretty soon it’s possible to be drinking scotch not because you’re enjoying it, but because it’s what you’re supposed to be drinking. A modern man (or woman)-about-town such as myself, we think, can’t be seen knocking back Coors and Jim Beam at the local watering hole. If we’re not drinking the best, we feel, we may be slipping back down the social ladder.

Peer pressure doesn’t help matters. When you discuss fine drinks with others who enjoy fine drinks, there tends to be an air of one-upsmanship. Macallan 18 isn’t cool anymore, because it’s mass-produced and well-known. “You’re still drinking Lagavulin 16? Please. I moved on to Kilchoman and old Port Ellens.” “You haven’t tried the new Yellow Spot? Oh, I know a guy in the U.K.” Pretty soon, any conversation about whisky becomes a minefield of possible faux pas and the awful probability that people will realize I get all of my opinions from Jim Murray and The Whisky Magazine.

I think we all need to relax. Pour a little Glenlivet 12 or Macallan in a rocks glass and just drink it. Open that special bottle you’ve been hoarding and share it with some people. Don’t tell them it’s special edition, limited release, single-cask… just tell them it’s good. Saving up for a $400 splurge on a bottle of Glenfarclas 40? Give yourself a break and buy something cheaper (or several somethings!). I think if we all drank our fine whiskies with more attention to the enjoyment of the drink, instead of the pretension attached to it, we’d all be a little less stressed-out. And for God’s sake, put your pinkie down.

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  • That third paragraph is why there’s always a place for “The Scotch Noob” – to break the stereotypes and make us noobs feel welcomed. Sure, people may drink Macallan 18 an then move on to something else and say, “I’m over that one.” but if they’re respectful about it, there’s nothing wrong with that.

  • You’ve totally missed the point, Noob:

    Holding the pinkie up accentuates the flow of air coming from the top of the glencairn – enhancing the amount of spirit aroma striking the “pons glora” – the bulb of olfactory nerves near the rear of the sinus chamber. This effect is enhanced if the whisky was produced by manual methods which introduce variations which strike resonances in the neural cell walls. Such methods were primarily used in distilleries which have subsequently been destroyed by giant conglomerate with no respect for sublime flavor – prime examples include Port Ellen, Brora, Sitzel-Weller, St. Magdelaine, Rosebank, Effing Station, any rye ever made in Pennsylvania or Maryland, and, of course, the brandy bodega St. Bastardo.

    In fact, none of the distilled spirits you can obtain at any normal liquor store or supermarket is capable of the proper psycho-neural stimulation except, perhaps, for the extremely rare and sought after single cask edition of the sublime Ron de Jeremy. However I expect that all examples of that will be long gone by the time you read this… of course I’m enjoying a bottle right here – but I’m not sharing.

  • You’re still using a Glencairn glass? Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose. At least for the less challenging Islays.

    Personally, I use bespoke glassware sourced from an artisinal glassblower.

  • Great post!

    I remember being at a high end whisky festival and someone asked what I enjoyed as a regular dram, and I replied Teacher’s. There was a pregnant pause of like a minute. The pompous jerk was speechless because he knew i was not joking.

    We need more people like you at the festivals.


    • That would have been worth seeing! As to the pretension issue, I had a conversation with my friend (and tasting event co-host) Jeff the other day about glassware, and he mentioned that he had these heirloom leaded-crystal tumblers that he absolutely loved (he also has some Glencairn glasses) just because the tumblers had this “pretension” factor – that he could imagine himself as a business man from the ‘Mad Men’ era, sitting around a mahogany boardroom table drinking Macallan 18 from these heavy, pretentious glasses.

      In all seriousness though, as both you, and the ScotchNoob, have pointed out, if you take yourself, or your particular hobby/interest too seriously, then you risk making an ass of yourself.