In a bar scene from the movie Good Will Hunting, Skylar says to Will “Here’s my number, maybe we could go out for coffee sometime”. Will responds, “maybe we could get together and eat a bunch of caramels! When you think about it, it’s as arbitrary as drinking coffee”. I find both drinking coffee and eating caramels to be enjoyable but not based on principle, plan or system. Even more capriciously, I am addicted to coffee in the morning. I need it to start the day. I go through the motions without thinking as I assemble the equipment and ingredients to brew the first pot. Fortunately, my caramel consumption is more happenstance than addictive. It is genuinely random and unplanned. I consume caramels based on foraging. Technically, I am trying to lose weight. But I know that a hunt for my wife’s elusive hidden caramels will pay off with proper perseverance. I’ve found them under a pile of beach hats, in the back of the underwear drawer and in an abandoned purse on the closet floor. So, I don’t buy them…I find them … different calorie count …right?
In my experience, drinking whiskey is not arbitrary but a much more principled, planned, systematic event. Many WBSE subscribers conduct extensive research and document their quest for desired drams. They post pictures of the sought-after spirit and solicit the opinions of fellow subscribers. They compare tasting notes. They opine as to which cigar or food pairing goes with their selection; whether it be cask-strength or cocktail. They want to know who else enjoys their favorite distilled spirit with posted questions such as “what are you drinking WBSE?”
Some readers go to great lengths and expense to enjoy these libations. I prefer drinking whiskey from a Glencairn glass with a few drops of water. I have several of these glasses so friends who join me can also experience the fragrant nose of the spirit concentrated near the rim of this special glassware. I have a tool which adds specific drops rather than random, inaccurate splashes of water into the precious liquid. These small details make the experience of whiskey more ceremonious ritual than arbitrary act.
One final distinction between quaffing coffee or noshing caramels and sipping whiskey is the archetypal function of the item being consumed. Albeit, caffeine in coffee is effective in helping me become fully awake. Locating and devouring a handful of hidden caramels is pure hedonism. But they do not function as social lubricant in the same way as a pour of whiskey. A dram of whiskey can be enjoyed alone but is more pleasurable when sharing with friends. Inevitably opinions of the characteristics of the spirit arise. The number of opinions can be as numerous as tastebuds. I may not have noticed “baking spices” while drinking rye until a friend notices and implants the word (or taste) picture in my olfactory/gustatory mental library. A new taste sensation is experienced. Relaxation and loss of inhibition also occurs as the spirit is slowly and thoughtfully sipped from the glencairn.
From the first century when Pliny the Elder stated “In vino veritas”, to the 16th century punch bowls of London. From the rum and revolution taverns of the colonies to the Speakeasies of the 20’s and meet-ups in today’s themed cocktail bars, alcohol has been part of man’s communication at social gatherings. Whiskey with her many palates, varied means of production, and significant role in the socio-economic history of the world deserves her place at the bar, table, campfire, cocktail party or wherever fine adult beverages are enjoyed. Will should have asked Skylar, “or, do you wanna’ have a whiskey?”