It’s been pretty clear here and elsewhere that there are rumblings of discontent in the whisky blog nerd space (a whopping 100 or so people, truly a horde indicative of broader societal change). We’re in a time with embarrassing riches: companies are listening; sometimes they even release things that reveal proof of it. There’s any number of whiskies available at any number of ages from virtually any distillery out there; in any number of cask pedigrees. Want something finished in a high-end Bordeaux? No problem. Barolo? Done. Dessert wine? Sure. Herring finish? Been done.
Despite all this choice, there’s any number of negative reactions. For those who think the industry does no wrong, there’s the fear of missing out on something. This gets even harder when there’s some oddball one-off or batched releases or overseas/travel exclusives.
There’s the contrary view: quality is declining, price is increasing, and times aren’t what they were. This speaks for itself: a sense of loss compared to a perceived time of plenty – really, missing that time before things got more popular, and the attendant shifts that come out of necessity for physical goods when popularity arrives.
There’s all kinds of other things to complain about: Packaging; wooden corks; screw caps (though you’d be wrong in this case); various personalities; breathless retailers; jerkface bloggers; secret clubs; not so secret clubs; exotic tastings; blogs covering the same shit as everyone else; blogs talking about irrelevant shit like pancakes or carnitas; Europeans; Americans; Serge’s connections; etc. etc. etc.
There’s really no shortage of stuff to be pissed off about. So what the heck do you do to counteract that? Find new avenues to appreciate, advocate, and then fall out of love with? It seems like that cycle has burned through most of the facets that exist in whisky appreciation. You’re forced to ask yourself at some point, “Do I still enjoy this? Do I enjoy this in the same way as I did a while ago?”
A while back I started looking for things to replace the holes in my blog reading after I stopped following the majority of the whisky writing out there. It’s way too easy to become hyper-insular when all you do is read, digest and discuss the same content as everyone else in a small subculture. It’s even worse if you’re prone to obsession or geekdom. Suddenly, references, thoughts, and ideas outside the narrowly constructed box become a point of contention. “Why does Sku write about stupid Los Angeles restaurants? Why does Driscoll always talk about pro wrestling? Why does Serge always have some aside about music?”
The obsessed mind loses context. A picture, generally speaking, needs a frame. It sets the contents apart from the gallery walls that surround it, but tacitly acknowledges the space the picture is displayed in. It provides the boundaries for the work which invite you in further to ask questions – for instance, in the photography of Garry Winogrand or Henri Cartier-Bresson: what was just out of frame? What was happening around what I see? What happened just before and just after?
At a minimum, these things help provide context and information about the person writing. You can’t hardly throw a stone without reading a review of Buffalo Trace bourbon, for instance, but it’s just tasting notes and a score. There’s no sense of the who or what of the review. Is the person a bottom-shelf drinker? Are they attracted to flashy labels or packaging? Do they thrive on novelty? Do they have the underdeveloped palate of a two year old? If I have an objection to scores, it’s this. I don’t know anything about who’s writing, their experiences, or where it comes from.
But context is important than that. It’s a speed bump to keep you from going too far in. They help remind you that there’s more to life than some controversy about whatever the latest scuttlebutt is about Pappy or what some tour guide at a Diageo distillery said. It’s a reminder that, hey, maybe you should get out. Live life. Give yourself the space necessary to determine what is worthy of your time, because not everything is worth it.
I spent a lot of time away from whiskey. I’m unplugged and clueless about the latest news, aside from the occasional smartass quip on twitter. I lost myself in other interests I’d set aside and cultivated new ones. And it’s brought a lot of perspective.
One of my ongoing projects I’ve discussed here is paring down my possessions. Initially, this was a response to a feeling of wastefulness and overconsumption. Then there was a self-reinforcing sense of accomplishment as things started to dwindle. Now it’s reached a new and very interesting thing: as some of these sub-projects wind to their logical conclusion, there are new perceived gaps and purchases. It’s not a need to re-buy everything in the closet after throwing 70% of it out, it’s realizing there’s a missing middle-ground in shoes, for instance. It’s not buying another snare drum because, hey, a cool one came out, it’s the one you’ve been chasing for years on end has finally surfaced and it’s exactly what you were looking for. And perhaps there’s an element of understanding that even this moment of need will pass and the “need” will no longer exist. And you’ll get rid of the thing: either by selling it, tossing it, consuming it, or wearing it out.
I learned about a great idea/practice in my non-whisky-blog reading of the last few months and I think it’s applicable back to this long winter of discontent in some whisky circles, especially if you’re in the “everything is great” camp or the “everything sucks” camp.
The French Wardrobe
What in the hell? What’s this got to do with anything?
Read enough about clothing, wardrobe selection, etc. and this will pop up sooner or later. It’s a really great idea and one I’ve been trying to apply to my interests in particular but my life in general.
The basic idea is that in any given fashion season (of which there are two: Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer), you limit yourself to five purchases maximum to keep your wardrobe fresh and current. Shoes count, accessories don’t (if they’re inexpensive), and basics (underwear, etc) are exempted as they’re assumed to be a necessary baseline. You’re encouraged to buy for quality and longer life than just the season as well. Some have even advocated taking this down to five purchases a year instead of per-season.
Certainly if you’re more or less set and you’re content to wear underwear until it turns into vapor, this won’t seem like a challenge. But the idea is applicable beyond clothes and towards your passions in general. What if you limited yourself to two nicer bottles in one year, during exclusive season? What would you do with that? Obviously you’ve got your existing stash to drink against, and let’s say you have a $30 per bottle limit the rest of the year. Is it uncomfortable? Suddenly you can get creative. What if you buy one bottle of, say, BTAC, and another friend buys another and you do an enjoyably social thing and have a tasting or sample swap with a few other like-minded friends?
What if you pick the dream bottle to celebrate a milestone?
What if you stopped worrying about keeping up with everything coming out because your consumption changed in such a way to tacitly acknowledge that you won’t even try, and you won’t get bent out of shape?
It’s a good balm for the fear of missing out. It also forces you to re-appraise what you’ve got, which for many people is more than they realize. I spent time going through my cabinet, giving bottles away and purging, and emerged with a much smaller subset of bottles I’m excited to open, enjoy and share. What do you get for the whisky enthusiast who has everything? You challenge them to focus and choose.
I think this was reinforced for me by my plan of avoiding the hunt for exclusives this last fall. I managed to find a bottle of the Four Roses exclusive just by sheer luck, but beyond that, no BTAC, no Woodford, nothing. And I didn’t mind a bit. I instead tried to find my “core” whiskies, as it were. And I’ve managed to find a few that I can happily return to and aren’t obscenely priced. Sure, there’s variety here and there, but I’m not feeling any pressure to get ever more exotic.
If you’re looking for something new to try, maybe restraint is the ticket, both in purchasing as well as content consumption. I’ve discovered blogs I love, but I’m finding it more fun when they go off-script and you see real passion shine through. Don’t lose sight of that!