Jan 262015
 

“I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” – Tom Waits

 

Sorry for the long time between posts, friends. I’m still fighting through the last of a cold that just doesn’t seem to want to let go. Whisky reviews are, of course, out of the question, and lest I become known as the squeaky wheel or the malcontent (too late), I figured it was best to shy away from the next of my planned ‘sure-to-be-controversial’ topics of discussion until we lob up a few softballs first. Those more ‘discussion-inducing’ posts will come, but let’s space ‘em out a little bit, aye? There just seems to be too much industry apologism of late to not address these things, but…all in good time, as they say.

So…Instead of stirring it up again so soon, let’s share some thoughts about something else that is probably fairly relatable to any of you who are currently with me on this pilgrimage from whisky neophyte to enlightened sage (or credible bullshitter, at least). Something that has more to do with feelings than arguments over fact or opinion. Before you start thinking I’m getting all sappy and stuff, let’s just dive in. Nothing too controversial here; just a little bit of sentimentality and rose-coloured nostalgia.

I recall years back, when I started to fall head over heels for the single malts, the wonder of going out hunting for a new whiskies to buy. Trying to find something to impress both my senses and my friends with whom I’d be sharing.  Every bottle was bought with the intention of being opened that evening. There was no thought to putting aside for future days. Every experience was a shared one, because the bottles were typically cracked beneath the warmth of heat lamps on my deck with a few friends and some good music. I’m sure many of you can relate to this, but man…those first ever sips of Laphroaig or a’bunadh or Octomore were nothing less than a revelation. A deliverance. (No…no inbred banjo pluckin’ or…ummm…’manlove’ implied.)

A couple months back, a good friend of mine – still in the early days of his own malt-ucation – drew the perfect analogy to those early days of whisky experimentation. He said he now goes into whisky shops reading labels and ogling the tins and bottling strengths with the same excitement as he once had in music stores while flipping through album covers.

I’m a music junkie. I’m 36 years old. That’s old enough to have been through vinyl, cassettes and CDs. I know exactly what he’s talking about. I remember buying KISS ‘Destroyer’ on big beautiful wax at about the age of 7 just because of that artwork!

After a while we all move further along the path from our knowledge basis of ‘sweet fuck all’ to a place from where it’s pretty certain we’re making informed buying decisions. Seems like the right direction, obviously. So why do I seem like I’m down on this state of educated grace? I’m not. Trust me.

I’m extremely grateful for all that I have now and all that I’ve been able to try along the way. Would I change anything if I could go back? Nah…not likely. I think every experience in life contributes to the here and now. I’m just at a point of looking back, though, and saying ‘man…I miss them good old days’.

I’ve been rather blessed with a perfect storm of things that have brought me to where I am on my whisky road. Good friends who were happy to come along for the ride and have been great traveling partners ever since; a hometown that is a hotbed for single malt enthusiasm; friends and industry folk with much more experience to guide, educate and illuminate the path ahead; an educational background in critical thinking, writing and relatable beverage industry experience; and probably most importantly…a very understanding wife.

I’ve put in a lot of hours and effort in order to have tasted what I have, but I don’t kid myself…I stand on the shoulders of giants. And hopefully I have adequately thanked them all at some point along the way. I’ve also learned that in a strange way, the most appropriate way you can thank them is to pay it forward to others. Counterintuitive, I know, but that’s the way it works for us whisky enthusiasts. But having said all of that… it occurred to me that all of the glorious whiskies I’ve tried over the years have been bought at the expense of simple innocent excitement. A ‘Sophie’s Choice’ that I never knew I was making, if you will. I drink great whisky quite regularly, but I am excited about it far less frequently than I used to be. No less grateful for it, just less ‘over the top’ excitement.

Going forward from here, I do plan on changing the way I approach whisky. I want that thrill back in the game. And I think there may just be a way to recapture some of that ‘kid at Christmas’ anticipation and ‘not knowing-ness’. I talked about this very subject with another mate of mine just a few days back. The one way you never really know what you’re gonna get – and can still find that surprise almost every time – is in the independent bottlings. Especially from some of the more obscure distilleries and bottlers. Chances are good that these malts will also tick off most, if not all, of my personal whisky preferences: cask strength, age-stated, non-filtered, etc. This also leans more to the ‘drinker, not collector’ approach, which I like as well.

And if you’re curious…no. Nothing much will change here on ATW (though you may or may not see a few more indie reviews tossed into the mix). My personal buying will likely morph a little bit, and that’s about it. Not gonna lie…the prospect is sort of exciting. Some things change when you grow up. But there are ways of recapturing at least some of the magic.

No matter how rare, old, expensive or exclusive the malts you’ve been blessed to try, I imagine this sentiment of reflection is rather universal after a few years of doing what we do. Do any of you ever feel the same? Ever wish you could step back and experience that naïve thrill of the hunt all over again? Do you remember a few years back going to whisky shops and scanning the labels when everything was foreign and exciting? When you had no clue what to expect out of the bottle, but had to take a flyer based on what the sales guy said or by the appeal of the packaging?

If you have no clue what I’m speaking of, I envy you and raise a glass to your own journey.  Actually…either way, I raise a glass to you.

And by the way…I hate KISS.

 

– Curt

 Posted by at 3:30 pm

  11 Responses to “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”

  1. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my experience is that the hyperbole in whisky could well be reduced, particularly in the current era and especially in connection with what the average whisky drinker can now find and afford – these are not the best of times. I wish I could be more enthused about the entire current “direction of the industry” backdrop which forms the context for this discussion – and we still may effect change on NAS – but the solution may well be to look away from the OBs (and even to other spirits) until the industry gets the message.

    I think I do understand where you’re coming from the larger sense, however. While you can’t ever really go home again – and that it goes against the idea of “the journey” in the first place, the point of which is to actually travel some distance from where you began – I understand wanting to recapture the openness and the perceived potential of the beginner state (in Zen, the Shoshin, or beginner’s mind, something I think you touch upon in the post “Unlearn”). I remember the thrill of looking at rows upon rows of bottles, all mysterious, unknown and equal in that I knew nothing about any of them (and one better remembers the thrill of those days past rather than the disappointing “what the fuck is this stuff” incidents best forgotten), and I’m currently more interested in exploring than in going back to the known, even the known to be good. If, for you, that means more indies, I certainly understand the drive.

    • Exactly. Part of that sepia-drenched hue we remember with seems to obscure those less than stellar experiences along the way. I remember being sorely disappointed with a couple early on that others quite favored. Ardmore Traditional Cask, BenRiach Curiositas and anCnoc 12 come to mind. Then of course, feeling like I wanted to sandblast my tongue after trying McClellands Islay, JW Red Label and Black Grouse. Easy to forget these in favour of the recollection of the first cask strength sherry bomb or popping the cork on an Uigeadail.

      Your point is well made though. There is always somewhere to go from ‘here’. Something along the lines of ‘there is no destination…only the journey’.

  2. I think my journey has been a lot different than yours. Although I think I’ve refined my purchase pattern from the beginning, I never really went on a buying and drinking spree, at first, especially with entry level malts.

    The guy who got me started, and I’d love to sit down with you and a solid dram to tell you THAT story, recommended that I start with a bottle of JW Red, then black, and so on… Of course that was before I had even started.

    Years later when I began in earnest, I knew I would never be a big drinker. If I did what my patron recommended, I’d never make it to the Macallan 25 he had given me, so I did a lot of homework before I even started (thanks Ralfy) and aside from one ill-fated Glenfiddich Solera, the rest have mostly been successes.

    I decided to, essentially, skip the training and go to the main event. My first tasting session included A’Bunadh!

    This has been a successful strategy. I’ve avoided a lot of entry level malts that would have stayed, unfinished, in my cabinet for years (I still have a few from early tastings that I LIKE that are still around 4 years later). I was able to give away the ‘fiddich Solera. My palate is slowly catching up with my “book knowledge”.

    The idea of putting away for the future always resonated with me in 2 ways: First, if I found something I liked, I’d try to get more of the same batch. This is why I have bottles of Bruichladdich PEAT and a few older A’Bunadhs. I knew they wouldn’t be around to buy when I finished the bottle (still on my first bottle of the Peat).

    Second, using this site, Ralfy, and others, I discovered malts I wanted (in some cases still want) to try, and bought them to drink when I was ready. As you say, the Octomore was a revelation when I tried it in the shop. I knew I wasn’t ready for it yet, but it would not be around when I was. The irony is that Coop had it for $30 cheaper the next year I was in Calgary (same batch 4.1). There are many still on the waitlist.

    It’s only recently that I have had the confidence to buy many of the same expression for future use, after tasting, of course. This was a successful strategy with the Springbank Claret Wood and with Bladnoch in particular, two examples of things that may never be available again in the same form.

    But I’ve also found that while my consumption has plateaued (1-2 small drams a week when I’m able), my acquisition has jumped almost exponentially over the last 4 years, the tipping pointing being my exploration of Calgary in Dec 2013. This site and others fan the flames of excitement about the topic, and, I think, encourage the serious anorak (I just saw a vintage Dr. Who episode on Netflix where they WORE anoraks) to buy more than he or she would normally do, a better job than any marketers could do.

    I now find myself in a position where I have more than I’m likely to drink (and share) in the next 30 years, and I’ve only been at this 4 years. I know I need never buy a bottle again and I will never go without, yet I’m drawn to get something new and exciting all the time. Thankfully the LCBO has little to interest me except when they get something special. Goodness knows how I would restrain myself if I were in Calgary.

    And it’s not Diageo or Edrington fuelling this. I have no interest in the OB Mortlach, or the Macallan Ambers etc… It’s the IB to try, the Amruts, other cask strength expressions I read about, the Wellers and Staggs. And it’s from the community, not the sellers. I have more bottles of Forty Creek than I ever thought I would want because of a friend I made who encouraged me to try them with his enthusiasm.

    Even now, as I make a distinct effort not to buy anything, I have in my mind the exceptions that I would allow myself. Some are forbidden here now (Amrut CS, A’Bunadh 50), others just rare (Stagg and Weller), and I’m hoping this will help my will-power. What would it be like to end the year with fewer sealed bottles than I owned at the the beginning? I’m already up by 4…

    I think still have a lot more to learn. But I have enough in my cabinet still waiting to be discovered to last a long time. I really don’t need any more.

    To be 100% clear, this is a reflection on me, and no one else (I am now judging no one but me). I DO want to grow up. Because right now I want more, and I know that grown-ups know when enough is enough. Don’t they?

    Whisky is a great hobby. I enjoy hearing, reading about it, and occasionally tasting it. But I can’t help wondering what my life would be like today if I hadn’t met the man who got me interested in all this. Do I regret it? The lack of self control…yes. The friends I’ve made….no.

    • A few of us were fortunate enough to have those ‘mentor’ figures. Sounds like you had a great one. That’s kind of where I was going with the comment about paying it forward. There’s something to be said for Karmic alignment.

  3. Hi Curt,

    Another thought-provoking post “From the desk of… ATW.”

    “I don’t know what I want to be ‘if’ I grow up,” I always say.

    Your thoughts come about two weeks after a revelation I had about reading whisky blogs. You see, I’m a bit starved, not for whisky, but rather for interaction about it so I visit many whisky sites along with my morning coffee. I’m not a card-carrying anorak so I track the goings on of the world through a wide variety of experience and knowledge levels.

    About two weeks ago I read a relative newcomer’s review of a whisky with which I’m familiar and not necessarily a big fan, but I read the post for the potential to glean that one perspective that’s different than my own rather narrow view. The reviewer wrote, “This is my first whisky from (very well known) Distillery.” I wondered to myself, “Why do I read this rookie’s thoughts?”, but ….

    He liked it. He sent me back to my own notes on that particular whisky (I didn’t care for it at all), and then came the enlightenment.

    Envision a map of any country (no, you can’t use your on-board gadget or your I-phone’s ‘app’ to help you with this). You see roads meandering from border to border, starting, stopping, intersecting…. Every road is a beginning; every one an end. We each hop on the roads at different junctions and with different destinations in mind. No one of us is on the “right” road or the “wrong” road; we’re simply going our own way. We see the road signs–information offered by others who’ve been down this road before–and we decide whether to follow or blaze our own trail. (As Yogi Berra suggested, “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It.”)

    Sometimes taking the same road a second time gives a new perspective. The day–and therefore the mind–is different, the song on the radio has changed, the sunlight shows features never seen before.

    So for me, reading the blogs of the (due respect intended) rookies is like taking that same road again but with fresh eyes (nose, mouth, etc.). I’m interested in those new takes on the same old theme. TV shows (and fortunes) have been made about asking children their take on the world. Agree or disagree, the answers help keep us young and engaged.

    Boredom is a choice. I choose not to be bored.

    Slàinte,

    Bob

    • Nice post.

      I too would choose not to be bored, if I were given the choice. Though a little downtime would be ok. I wonder if I’ll have to resort to spending my time drinking David’s oversupply once my kids leave home and I have nothing to do at night…

      • Agree. Very nice post. And great analogy. There’s a refreshing enthusiasm in the bloggers new to scene that helps offset the cynicism that sets in with some of us who have become a little disillusioned. You can sort of liken it to one of my cardinal tasting precepts: first impressions are the most important. When you’re new to it all, everything is relevant and not so easily dismissed. Some of the so-called rookies have led me to some nifty drams I’d likely not have tried otherwise.

        Rookie hubris is something I’ll touch in a future piece. We all have it at some point (or most of us anyway). It’s sort of all about recognizing it and knowing how to backtrack with grace and make corrections as you go. Recalibrations, in a sense. Now I’m rambling. More to come…

  4. This was a cool perspective to see! It’s easy for us to assume that those we look to as authorities (read, experienced persons with trusted palates) are happy to sit up high and bask in their opportunities to try rare and expensive malts that most of us are still chasing. Indeed it seems that there is a level where the journey and the excitement of the chase must plateau and develop into a “can’t beat where I’ve been” attitude.

    I have seen people become cynical and pretentious with regards to our favorite drink, simply because they think they have been there and seen it all…it’s nice to see there is more to look forward to than being like that just because we feel like we’ve “made it”. Not sure If any of that made sense but I tried…

    It’s only been a year and a half since I randomly bought a bottle of Laphroaig QC. Before then I thought “whisky was whisky”, and realizing the beauty of single malt whisky was nothing short of an epiphany for me.

    I know a year and a half doesn’t seem like much compared to people who have been at it for a decade or more, but since that time I’ve jumped on the bandwagon pretty hard, having 40 bottles in my collection now and over half of them unopened. The reason I state that is because even for someone with very limited experience like me, I’ve noticed an inclination to buy bottles, just because you need one for your wall. You know what to expect from them but you are less excited to drink them than you are to add to your collection.

    I guess the reason for me stating what I did in the last paragraph was to assure you of the relevance this post has to all of us. It’s good when people can find words to write between whisky reviews that are more than just filler, actually worth reading!

    Anyway thanks again for sharing.

    • You hit it right there. The thrill of the hunt and seeing your collection grow in depth and breadth is intoxicating, sometimes more do than what is in the bottle…

    • Appreciate the kind words, and the devotion of attention span to listen to my natter. Glad to have you dropping a line too. The shared experience and interaction is what was alluded to by Bob above (two-bit cowboy). That’s the prime driver right now this site.

      Cheers.

      Curt

  5. Great Post.
    I think I hear you, the concern is not about the loss of thrill or excitement, it’s about stagnation – or a lack of moving towards new things. Although I too have always related my interest in music and single malts like you mentioned, my level of experience with music is significantly beyond my experience with single malts. If I ever have a concern of my interest level with music, it’s about being in an area that is not growing or I had enough of and wondering where I can go next. The solution is what you are looking to do – change course a little. Perfect.
    Most importantly, your passion is obviously still high – more than 90+% of the rest of us can claim.
    Thank You.
    -Joe

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