“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.