What the (bleep) do we know about Scotch?

April 4 2015

Sometimes at Scotch Lovers events I feel stupid. Generally speaking, I am not stupid, in fact, I am usually thought of as intelligent. But you can always find someone smarter than you with very little effort. I love getting people together for fun events. Once the event is underway, I like to listen to the different conversations, floating from group to group, sometimes participating, and sometimes starting my own conversations. People who love Scotch can really have strong opinions about the topic, and topics related to Scotch. Of course Scotch is not the only topic that is discussed at events, but it is usually a good place to start. “How did you get into Scotch?” “Have you been to Scotland?” “What is your favorite?” “This is a rare bottle that I own”. Then we morph to “What do you do?” “Are you married?” “Do you have kids?” These are all legitimate questions and normal ways we start conversations in our society. Why do I feel stupid, then? I am a deep thinker and hold strong opinions about how the world works, how to improve ourselves, and the nature of the unseen part of lives, what you might call the divine or metaphysics. These are all topics I can discuss for hours, but don’t generally come up in conversation at Scotch events. That is ok as these topics can lead to disagreements and I would rather have the conversation be small than controversial. Of course, sometimes having a heated discussion about a topic can help you feel smart. After all, if you can argue with someone about a topic, then doesn’t that mean you know enough about it to know what is right and wrong? And if you have an opinion that is different from another, than doesn’t that show you are an independent thinker and aren’t independent thinkers smart?

I read Whisky Advocate magazine and Whisky magazine. I have a growing library of whisky books including Michael Jackson’s Guide to Single Malt Scotch, Robin Laing’s The Whisky Muse and Whiskypedia by Charles MacLean. I follow many whisky related twitter accounts, read blogs like All Things Whisky, and subscribe to Singlemalt TV on youtube. There are days that, apart from taking care of my cats and washing dishes, everything I did that day revolved around whisky in some fashion. My head is full of facts and information gathered from numerous presentations about whisky, or gleaned through my reading. So you would think that at any given time I could speak intelligently about the topic, and you would be correct, except when I can’t. That is the thing I have noticed about this day and age of infinite access to information and knowledge – with no easily defined boundaries, you are either on the cutting edge of your topic or woefully behind as yesterday’s news (or today’s print news) with the same information! The title of this blog is a nod to a movie of a similar name which I adore, “What The (Bleep) Do We Know?”. In that movie they talk about “going down the rabbit hole” like Alice does in Alice in Wonderland. It is a reference to taking a topic and going into it as much as you can and as far as you can. Boy can Scotch Lovers go down a rabbit hole on every conceivable topic related to Scotch. What is the proof? Is it cask strength? Was it vatted? Was it Solera process?  How old is the oldest whisky in the vat? Does it carry an age statement? What kind of barrel? How long in each type of barrel? How were the barrels stored, racked or dunnage? Where were they stored? Were they filled to the top? How do you repair your barrels? Who makes your barrels? Where do they come from? What was in them before the new make was put in in Scotland? Do you own the trees they come from? How long is the lease on the forest where you harvest the trees to make your barrels? Was it a Hogshead, a Barrel or a Butt? Did you rebuild the barrels from staves or was the barrel the original container? What kind of wax do you use? How much do you lose to the angels’s share? What is the proof of the whisky when you take it out? What proof are you bottling it at? How long did it stay in each barrel? Do you think quarter casks impart more vanilla notes? If you think I am writing satire, think again. These are all legitimate questions that can be asked about Scotch, and most I have heard asked or asked myself. It does sometimes help me feel smarter to be able to ask these questions. See, I have read the right books and learned from many other presentations so now I am going to ask an intelligent question and also I am going to ask a very detailed question that will show I know what I am about. But does this help me enjoy Scotch more? Yes and no. It really doesn’t change the taste of the Scotch in the glass to me, but I am susceptible to a good story, as I mentioned in a previous post. I have a minor in art history and what I learned from the art world is that you can appreciate the art a whole lot more if you know the context and back story and I think that knowing the context and back story on the Scotch helps you to love it more. But does it make me smarter?

Inevitably in a large group of people, there will be all sorts of levels of knowledge, expertise, snobbishness, and righteousness. Navigating groups is a skill that once learned can help you have much success in life as life is mostly moving from one group to the next and then navigating those groups to the best of our abilities. Having knowledge about Scotch in a Scotch lovers group would seem to be helpful to successfully navigating it, but I have noticed that like in any group, this is very subjective and not always valuable at all. People join a group for all sorts of reasons, and come out to drink Scotch with others for various reasons as well. Rarely does knowing the most about Scotch matter, and sometimes it can make you the outcast. If we are gathered to enjoy Scotch and each other’s company, what is the most valuable knowledge then? Where to buy the cheapest Scotch? How to get the rarest? Who has the most? Of course it isn’t any one answer because each person wants something different out of the experience, and may want something different each time. The romantic and sentimental answer is that we all want to be accepted and loved, and if we all like Scotch then this is enough of a common ground to get together and socialize and then we will be able to tolerate our differences because we all like Scotch, right? Maybe that is all we need to know about Scotch. I like it, you like it, let’s be friends. Now I feel smarter.

Jim OpalStPatrick.02

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