The 100 Yard Theory of Taste: A Whiskey Urban Legend
We need to talk. Seriously.
Not about the extended warranty on your vehicle.
Not about your browser history.
Not about your MySpace page.
I want to talk about an important fallacy in the whiskey world and how we need to dispel these myths.
It’s one of those bottles. You know the one… it’s rare, impossible to find, and will cost you a chunk of your retirement nest egg. These so-called super star bottles of whiskey are propped up as the zenith of the industry. They sit on high, well above the bottles the plebes drink. For those who own them, they can cast aspersions to the unwashed masses for not being able to score a unicorn, while secretly lamenting getting reamed for a 10x or 20x premium. Is it really whiskey that is above and beyond others by the same factor? Probably not.
The perception is that the flavor and quality of whiskey lives on a spectrum that is 100 yards across. Let’s pretend that bottles are like hamburgers. On one end of the field, you have whiskey that is the equivalent of a cold fast-food hamburger that looks like a stray dog slept on it before it was put in the wrapper. Way over on the other side of the field is the penthouse where the hamburger has been prepared by one of those famous chefs on TV that has tattoos of kitchen utensils with skulls on them. The space in between is like a post-apocalyptic wasteland of hamburgers laced with gimmicks to capture your attention.
This is complete crap.
The truth of the matter is that the flavor, quality, and taste of whiskey lives on a spectrum that is roughly equivalent to 10 yards. Why? Let’s take a few things into consideration.
The recipe for whiskey varies only slightly across distillers. The actual process to make the liquid is just about the same. Finally, the containers it goes in to make the magic juice are also the same.
Of course, I will freely acknowledge there are variations. Some people prefer corn whiskey. Others swear by whiskey made in a pot still. Lastly, we have the people who love whiskey to be finished in tequila, rum, and/or wine barrels.
But wait, there’s more!
There is a wild card in the mix. You. Me. Us. Every palate is different. Yes, there are many of us who perceive and enjoy the same flavors. Some of us have the same bottles in our collections. However, it is entirely possible that we enjoy completely different flavors from the exact same bottles. By the same token, we may dislike something based on our own experiences. I’ve been fortunate enough to share bottles with many different people. In most cases, a lively discussion about flavors ensues. It is always a journey of sharing and discovery. One of them mentions a flavor note and then it opens a completely new path to explore.
The moral of the story is that the world of whiskey is one of nuance. It’s also a universe that is largely dependent on sharing. The social aspect of whiskey is what makes it the best community to be a part of. Stop buying whiskey because it makes you seem superior over others because of prestige. Instead, dive deep into the 10-yard expanse and explore the world of flavors. Better yet, do it with friends.
There will be bottles you enjoy immensely, and ones that you disagree with completely. None of that should ever be tied to a name, label, bottle shape, or what move it appears in. All those factors have zero impact on flavor and quality.
By the way, we should talk about your browser history. Awkward.