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Every Whiskey Has a Story

Within every whiskey, there’s a story waiting to be told. The stories revealed can frighten me, excite me, or tickle long-forgotten memories of times past. And the stories vary from whiskey to whiskey and even bottle to bottle of the same brand.

I want to hear all those stories. I want to immerse myself in the plotlines of flavor each whiskey I taste has to offer.

I’m writing Whiskey My Love to share my own stories of what I taste. It’s less about reviews and more about taking notes, so I don’t forget. But at the same time, I’ll be sharing my own story behind the whiskeys that I encounter.

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Wild Turkey 101

I have to admit that I try to avoid writing about “common” whiskeys here, mainly because I don’t want to re-invent the wheel with my reviews. But I did make a promise to myself when I started this blog that I’d write about what I’ve drunk – irrespective of their commonality – so I could document what I tasted. Sure, while I share these reviews, these are more diary entries for me than anything else.

Plus, I’m an equal opportunity drinker when it comes to whiskey and far be it from me to be a snob. Sure, there are things I’ve tasted that I don’t like at all that will never show up here (I don’t like writing negative reviews), but I gave them a fair shake and tasted them. But what I’ve done my best to not be a snob and not try something based solely on my perceptions.

Thus, we come to Wild Turkey 101… Growing up, Wild Turkey was the bourbon my dad would stock in his liquor cabinet. He wasn’t a big drinker; in fact, he rarely drank, but he and mom enjoyed entertaining, and he had a collection of booze for when guests would come to the house. And when he did have bourbon, it was always Wild Turkey.

We always had vodka (my mom like vodka tonics) and Tanqueray, Canadian Mist, and for bourbon, we had Wild Turkey. The funny thing was that my dad revered his Wild Turkey. I was too young to understand at the time, but for some reason, he put particular pride in having a bottle of this.

I hate to admit this, but that reverence my dad had for Wild Turkey kind of made me think that it was an “old man’s whiskey.” Kind of like a dear friend of mine who’s 86 years old who will only drink a Manhattan made with Canadian Club because that’s how she and her late husband drank them since the 60’s. So I guess I had a bit of a bias against it…

Fast-forward forty years, and yesterday there I was at Trader Joe’s with my youngest son, picking up some fixins’ for lunch. I turned down the liquor aisle, and my son asked, “You need to pick up some bourbon?” I told him, “Not necessarily, son. But I do want to see what they have in stock.”

You see, my local Trader Joe’s carries several major brands of booze, and they sell them at prices that are oftentimes far better than even the big-box liquor outlets. For instance, a bottle of Bulleit is only $20 at Trader Joes. It costs a few bucks more elsewhere. And such was the case with Wild Turkey 101, which was only $17.99! It’s $19.99 at Total Wine and Spirits!

I was planning on going to Total Wine and Spirits later that day to pick up a couple of bottles of Henry McKenna for my “cheap” bourbon. But when I saw that price and the fact that I hadn’t had anything from Wild Turkey for years, it was a “no problem, man” (in my best Jamaican accent) moment. I snagged a bottle. After all, at only $17.99, if I didn’t like it, I could always serve it as a cocktail mixer when I had guests over. 🙂

But I have to admit: I was actually surprised and quite delighted that it was great! Cheap price and high production volumes are usually a bit of a turn-off for me (I know, the snob does come on). For instance, while I like Evan Williams, I only drink it mixed, which works really well. But sip it? There are a few harsh notes in it that I don’t quite enjoy. But don’t get me wrong, I actually do like it, and usually have a bottle around to make an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan with it.

And I admit to having a bit of this bias with the Wild Turkey 101 as I was opening it. But it took me by surprise. It is quite enjoyable!

What I Smell

At a 101 proof, I was expecting a hit of alcohol up front. It’s there, but it’s not nearly as powerful as I was expecting. The alcohol immediately gives way to a pronounced peach cobbler followed up by Heath Bar, marzipan, and citrus notes then finishes with cinnamon and clove. With a little air, the alcohol settles and a distinct vanilla powder aroma – the kind you sprinkle in your coffee – pervades the inside of the glass. Nice.

When I smelled this, I made a mental note that this bourbon was far more complex than what I would’ve expected from a high-production spirit.

What I Taste

Wow! Spice up front from the heat, but it’s pleasing. The heat does kick in around mid-palate, but it doesn’t overpower. The palate starts with a foundation of citrus that leans toward orange peel, that persists throughout the taste. This is overlaid with ginger up front that gives way to more Heath Bar mid-palate, then finishes off with a pleasing dustiness the leans toward a light pipe tobacco.

Mouthfeel is velvety smooth and luscious and the finish is medium. While there’s heat due to the high ABV, there’s nothing harsh about this bourbon – at all.

How I Like to Drink It

I could drink this neat any time. That’s how I first drank it. But on a whim, I thought I’d bring out the citrus, and added a couple of drops of Regan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters. Wow! It only needed a couple of drops, and it was magnificent. I think I will also try this by dropping in a well-expressed twist of orange peel.

After I finished my neat pour, I made an Old Fashioned (yeah, it was a long, hectic work week, and I wanted to get mellow). I have to say that that was one of the most enjoyable Old Fashioneds I’ve had in a long time. This bourbon fits my recipe to a “T!”

Overall Impression

I wasn’t expecting to like this bourbon this much. I had my doubts about it but these have been completely waylaid by the astounding quality that’s contained in the bottle. It’s a testament to the skill of Master Distiller Jimmy Russell to be able to produce this kind of quality over what must be thousands of barrels.

But cheap or not, I now understand why my dad had so much reverence for this bourbon. It’s just plain good. There’s no arguing about it – at least for me. And the fact that this kind of quality and complexity is contained in this bottle at such an affordable price makes me appreciate it that much more. I guess my dad was onto something… 🙂

Paddleford Creek Bourbon

I think I just scored the two best bargains of high-quality bourbon in a long time! As I had mentioned in my review of Henry McKenna, I saw it and this Paddelford Creek on the shelves in Total Wine. I hadn’t heard of either, but at the price I got them for (about $20 a piece), it was a low-risk purchase.

But I have to say this about Paddelford Creek before I continue: I really enjoy this bourbon! It’s smooth and tasty. At the outset, it doesn’t seem to be too complex. But given some time and some air, there’s more to this bourbon than meets the eye!

As for the distiller, I’ve never heard of them. They’re out of Princeton, MN according to the label, but they don’t have any website, so I have a feeling this is sourced bourbon from a variety of places. I also feel that this could possibly be one of Total Wine’s in-house spirits. That’s NOT a negative mark at all. For instance, BevMo has their in-house wine. All of it produced and bottled by Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos. That’s some good shit.

I did some searching for information, and apparently, they used to call this a “small batch” bourbon. Now it just says “Barrel Aged.” And most early reviews kind of wrote this bourbon off, or were downright negative. Reviews as late as last year called it uninspiring. Is it complex with layer upon layer of aroma and flavor? No. For goodness’ sake, it’s a $20 bottle.

But is it bad? Quite the contrary. In fact, at 83 proof, it’s downright enjoyable. Right now, I’m drinking this neat with a single chip of ice added. I really didn’t have to do that, but I wanted to help it along. But I could see making a Manhattan or Old Fashioned or even Whiskey Sour with this. But I have to say that even neat, I’m liking it – a lot.

The snob in me says I shouldn’t like it. But as I’ve learned in the wine world, inexpensive does not at all mean a lack of quality or taste and this bourbon has both.

What I Smell

Fresh out of the bottle, you get a hit of alcohol, that gives way to oak and grain. But with a little air that gives way to honey, vanilla, a little coconut, backed by fresh stone fruit and a tiny bit of leather.

What I Taste

A little more leather and oak and much less grain on the tongue with a medium mouthfeel. Despite the lower proof, there’s a definite warmth. It is also not super-sweet, which I like. Up-front is a citrusy, almost grapefruit bitterness. Love it! More leather mid-palate with a touch of vanilla and fruit. The medium finish is slightly astringent and helps emphasize the citrus. After a while, a trace of apple can be noted.

Overall Impression

Not sure why people have written this one off. I’m definitely going to buy it again. I like the lower proof rating. It goes down easy and has enough aroma and flavor to meet my needs. Maybe my standards are lower than others’ but I trust what I taste and this bourbon is definitely one that pleases me.

Cheers!

Update 11/23/17: I did a side-by-side comparison between this and Wild Turkey 101. I probably will stick with the Wild Turkey. Again, Paddleford Creek isn’t bad. But the 101 is both cheaper and far more complex than the Paddleford Creek.

Heaven Hill Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon

I finally finished the last of my Evan Williams 1.75 liter bottle the other day and wanted to get some more. So I went to Total Wine and Spirits this afternoon to get another. That was a mistake. Total Wine is my Costco for spirits. I always leave with more than I intended to buy, and oftentimes, I don’t leave with what I intended to buy in the first freakin’ place!

So no, I didn’t leave with another 1.75 liter bottle of Evan Williams. Instead, I left with a bottle of Henry McKenna and a bottle of Paddleford Creek (which I will eventually review) INSTEAD of my cheap bottle of Evan Williams. Damn! Oh well, I’ll just go down to RiteAid and get the Evan Williams later. It’s just as cheap there, and the selections are far narrower and thus, I will be less tempted to buy more. But hey! I ended up with some bourbon I hadn’t had yet, and they didn’t break the bank.

So what about this 10-year Henry McKenna? Playing off Forest Gump, Single barrel bourbon is like a box of chocolate. You never what you’re gonna get.” But I’m the adventurous type, so I’ll usually give something I’ve never tried a whirl. Luckily this doesn’t suck. Actually, it’s pretty damn good!

The “Aged 10 Years” at the top of the label was what caught my eye. Then when I saw that it was single barrel, I have to admit that I was just a little reluctant because my experience with single barrel anything meant there’s a bit of variability. But what the hell, I figured, it’s only $20, and I could always make an Old Fashioned out of this and just add a lot of sugar to mask out any unpleasantries. 🙂

I was actually a bit surprised that the bourbon is as light as it is, considering how long it was in-barrel. Also, the mouthfeel is surprisingly lighter than what I’d expect for something that has had a long contact with wood. But no matter, as you’ll read below, neither of these is a negative mark.

What I Smell

My first whiff right out of the bottle is alcohol. That got me immediately thinking Yowee! This is gonna be hot like rye! But a little air calms that down and the alcohol gives way to oak, honey, cinnamon, and allspice with a little hint of orange blossom at the end. Nice.

What I Taste

This is amazingly light bodied in texture and smooth as well considering the 100 proof. The flavors come in distinct waves starting with cinnamon and spice up-front, resolving to a pleasing citrusy bite with a bit of vanilla, then finishing off with a long, fresh, mint/menthol finish. It goes down warm, but not at all over-powering.

How I Like to Drink It

I know, this is absolutely brand new for me, but I can see how I like it. First of all, despite the initial heat, this is a nice bourbon to drink neat over a long period of time; or drop in a chip of ice or a splash of water, and the aromas and flavors bloom.

Late at night as a nightcap, I could do with an ounce in a Glencairn glass and sit down with a good book.

When I get back from the Stanford-Oregon game tonight, I’m definitely going to make an Old Fashioned with this. Those citrusy, spicy notes are the perfect foil for bitters and orange oil. Yum.

Overall Impression

At about $20 for a fifth, this is a great value. It’s not super complex by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to say that I like it – a lot. Not sure as of yet if I’d add it to my regular rotation, but I can definitely see having this around!

Sometimes, I Just Can’t Help Myself…

Last night, I was thinking, Hmm…. what do I want for a nightcap? I knew I that I definitely wanted some kind of whiskey, so I went to my shelves. I had a bottle of Talisker 12 Scotch, but I didn’t want anything smokey because I’m in NorCal and the air is filled with smoke. I also had a nice Port Dundas Scotch, but it was a little too light bodied for my mood. I didn’t want any Evan Williams which I always have. I also had a collection of other spirits: Vodka, Rum, Gins, Cachaça. I didn’t want any of those. Then my eye caught the bottle of Bainbridge Battle Point Wheat Whiskey…

But then, I asked myself, How do I want to drink it? It’s SO good neat or with a few drops of water, but I also wanted to satisfy my sweet tooth, so I did something I thought I’d never do with this whiskey: I made an Old Fashioned with it. I just couldn’t help myself!

The result was absolutely MAG-F$^&IN’-NIFICENT!!! The whiskey is so smooth and mouth-coating. Accompanied by orange bitters and the oils from the orange zest, WOW!

I know, I know… It seems like a waste of great whiskey to make a cocktail out of it. But there’s something I’ve learned: Cocktails taste WAY better when you use high-quality ingredients. My brother once puzzled over me making a Manhattan with Basil Hayden. Being flip I answered: “1) because I can; 2) It tastes frickin’ awesome.”

I do have to admit, I had a few seconds of guilt for using Battle Point in a cocktail. But truth be told, I actually used less than a shot because I don’t like to drink a large amount before bed. Just enough to take the edge off. So I didn’t feel THAT guilty. 🙂

But there. I did it. Damn that was good!

A “Spirited” Afternoon


Disclaimer: I’m probably going to pour on heaps of praise over the spirits I tasted yesterday and Bainbridge Organic Distillers. But I do want to say that it’s not because I got to do a free tasting or that I owe Bainbridge anything. What I tasted yesterday revealed to me the possibilities that truly hand-crafted spirits can represent. I’m no industry rep – I’m just a regular guy who loves spirits; a nobody in the whiskey world who doesn’t have an agenda with this blog. But the experience I had with these spirits yesterday was transformative. I want to share that here.


A song comes to mind… Fields of Gold by Sting. The Spaniard in Gladiator walking through a field of wheat, running his hands through the stalks of golden grain; his wife and son waiting for him in the distance. I am that man. Then whisked away to a ship upon the seas

Then whisked away to stand at the bow of a ship upon the seas; the curvature of the Earth ahead of me on the distant, far-off horizon. Breathing in the salt air, I’m refreshed by my lovely lady, the deep azure ocean…

No, that wasn’t a Matthew McConaughy commercial…

Passionate. Creative. Adventurous. Unique. Integrous. Honest. Hand-crafted. Artisinal. Just damn good!

As I explained to Ronnie Armada, Bainbridge’s head of sales, my judgment of a wine or spirit goes far beyond the senses. For me to give a positive assessment of anything I’m tasting, it has to take me to another place; triggering long lost memories or tickling something in my imagination.

For when I taste true greatness, I immediately close my eyes because I know that what I’m tasting is going to transport me to another place; put me in a waking dream. This is the experience I had with each spirit I tasted from Bainbridge yesterday. That’s never happened to me before – even when I was writing about wine – and I can’t express the gratitude I feel to Ronnie for providing me the opportunity to taste his product line.

There’s something special happening on Bainbridge Island, WA just across the Puget Sound from Seattle. I got a quick taste of it a couple of weekends ago when I was up there with the Battle Point whiskey. Made from 100% organic wheat and 100%-organic certified, it was unlike any whiskey I had ever tasted. This compelled me to ask Ronnie if we could meet sometime so I could explore the flavor profile even further. But having tasted 5 of the 6 offerings from Bainbridge, I feel as if the products together demand so much more than mere tasting notes.

But having tasted 5 of the 6 offerings from Bainbridge, I feel as if the products together demand so much more than mere tasting notes. This is because each spirit had its own story to tell; each having its own complexity and sophistication that would be diminished if I described them in a utilitarian, pedestrian manner. Shit! Here I am waxing rhetorically! But that’s the effect these spirits had on me! And mind you, this was a tasting so my senses weren’t muddled.

It’s About the Wheat

One of Bainbridge’s taglines is “grain to glass.” It’s even on their labels. All Bainbridge spirits start with 100% wheat sourced from a single, 100%-organic farm, Williams-Hudson Bay Farm in Walla Walla in Eastern Washington. As Ronnie shared with me, “Sure, we have this distillery that’s creating some incredible stuff, but we feel we have a responsibility to the farm where we get our wheat. It’s a reason why we’re also certified 100% organic.”

When the wheat arrives at the distillery, it is hand-ground into a grist. Hand-ground. I asked Ronnie about that and he said that they don’t use modern machinery so they could ensure that everything is done organically from the delivery of the grain to the finished product. Hand grinding also ensures they have complete control over the process from start to finish. This is artisanship at its best, folks.

No matter what spirit I tasted, that foundation of wheat was always there. By no means is it over-powering. But it is definitely a component that gives Bainbridge spirits their provenance.

Admittedly, and even Ronnie says this, that wheat isn’t for everyone. In fact, when I first met him in Seattle, he was saying this to the two ladies sitting next to him at the bar when I walked up to introduce myself. From my perspective, I love it. The velvety mouthfeel and smoothness from the wheat, plus that “bread” component is something I really dig.

Exploring Bainbridge Organic Distillers

I originally was going to do a transcript of my “interview” with Ronnie. But our meeting quickly became less about doing an interview, and much more about establishing a friendship. Sure, I asked questions about the spirits, but amazingly enough, I didn’t go into the real “geeky” minutiae that I’d normally get into in situations such as this.

It was so much more rewarding swapping stories and sharing about our lives and intermingled with philosophical discussions; things in which great spirits compel one to engage. I learned about the story of the distillery, but that’s something that you can read on the website (http://www.bainbridgedistillers.com). Instead, our conversations led us to discuss things like the wheat as I discussed above.

One whiskey that I didn’t taste was the “Yama.” This is the ultimate high-end whiskey produced by Bainbridge. Aged in Japanese Mizunara oak casks, this whiskey retails at $595, but regularly fetches much more. But the story behind it is SO cool. The whiskey was named after a long-gone town on Bainbridge Island called Yama, which was founded by Japanese immigrants in 1883. It was abandoned due to the closure of the Port Blakely Mill.

Recently, people and organizations have gotten together to restore the town. To help with this effort, Bainbridge donates profits from the sale of its Yama whiskey. I love stories like this! I probably could’ve teased that out with a series of questions, but the whole story – it was A LOT longer than what I provided here – was triggered by a simple comment that I made, “Wow! That Yama must be something else if it’s going at that price point.”

All in all, if I were to distill (excuse the pun) our four-hour meeting down to summarize it all I’d have to say that Bainbridge is a distiller with a conscience.

The Spirits

Heritage Organic Doug Fir Gin

Douglas Fir? Who woulda thunk? But, believe me, it totally works! The doug fir gives it a slightly green tinge depending on the lighting and angle you look at it. On the nose, is an immediate hit of Douglas Fir needles. This is immediately followed by citrus and vanilla with a little saddle soap and tanned leather. The citrus component lingers in the mouth, accentuated by the brightness and heat of its 90 proof. There’s a hint of the obligatory juniper berry and fresh fennel root.

Heritage Oaked Organic Doug Fir Gin

I loved the unoaked gin, but this is an entirely different animal. Similar aroma and flavor components as the unoaked gin, but on the nose they’re subdued, and a definite vanilla/tannin component is present, mellowing out the douglas fir and citrus. On the palate, the oak helps smooth the mouthfeel and the heat, and the finish is long, velvety smooth and oaky.

Interestingly enough, unlike other oaked gins that are barrel aged. This gin is chipped, with medium char chips added along with the botanicals to make them part of the flavoring process up front. The result is an absolutely magnificent gin.

With either gin, I don’t think I could bring myself to drink them with tonic. In addition to the flavor components I mentioned, both have a distinct herbal bitterness, which the quinine in the tonic provides, and why I usually most other gins – when I drink gin – with tonic. Since there’s already some bitterness, I think I’d drink this with a lime twist and a chip of ice – at most. These gins demand to be untainted by unnecessary additives.

Legacy Organic Vodka

It’s no surprise why this Vodka won the Worlds Best Vodka at the World Drinks Awards in London, winning against a field of over 1000 competitors. Before I even knew this, I knew this was something special the moment I first smelled it. Its wheaty provenance dominates the nose, and there’s even a slight antiseptic quality about the aroma that is not at all off-putting. In fact, my first comment to Ronnie was simply, “Clean.” There’s a sweetness to this vodka that lends to the mouth-coating feel of the liquid. That sensation of cleanliness continues in the mouth, but I also get a hint of hazelnut mid-palate, and then a kiss of sea salt. The finish, like the gins, is long and super smooth. I do like that there’s a nice warming effect in the finish, despite the vodka only being 80 proof.

There’s a sweetness to this vodka that lends to the mouth-coating feel of the liquid. That sensation of cleanliness continues in the mouth, but I also get a hint of hazelnut mid-palate, along with… uh… poundcake – again the wheat gets expressed. The finish, like the gins, is long and super smooth, with slight classic black licorice quality – yum. I do like that there’s a nice warming effect in the finish, despite the vodka only being 80 proof.

The thing about this vodka is that nothing really stands out except the wheat – I think that’s intentional. If any of the Bainbridge spirits show off the wheat as the star player, this is it, and it’s awesome!

Vanilla Organic Vodka

As Magnum P. I. would say, “I know what you’re gonna say…” Me too. Flavored vodka? Damn! Hadn’t we had enough of flavored spirits? It’s bad enough that Fireball is popular, but that apple shit is just NASTY!

As Ronnie put it, “This is the flavored spirit for those people who don’t like flavored spirits.” In my most objective opinion, I probably would’ve never even considered buying this. But I have to tell you: This vodka is all about FUN!

The vodka gets its vanilla not from vanilla extract, but from three whole vanilla beans that are placed in the bottle and left to infuse. According to Ronnie, this started out as kind of a fun experiment for a show. Before they knew it, people were asking for it – a lot. So they decided to make it a regular part of their product line.

To me, this vodka in both the nose and the mouth immediately reminds me of Christmas; specifically that Christmas taffy I’d get after sitting on Santa’s lap. While the wheat component and salt are all present, the addition of the vanilla adds a bit of – as I mentioned – fun.

One of the things I mentioned right after tasting it the first time was that it also reminded me of vanilla ice cream. Ronnie laughed and said that a restaurant in Seattle actually makes a milkshake and spikes it with the vanilla vodka. I can easily see why. I’m actually going to do the same…

Battle Point Organic Whiskey

I already reviewed the whiskey, and even though my initial tasting was quick, not much changed. But I do have to say that with the addition of a few drops of water, this whiskey absolutely blooms! That King’s Hawaiian Bread quality is there for sure, along with that banana bread I initially smelled. And as I had more time with it this time around, that cinnamon quality seems more pronounced as the whiskey gets some air, and the long, silky-smooth finish gets a bit of yeasty dough along with the notes of brown sugar. In addition, there’s a slight, roasted cashew component to the finish.

I still stand by my initial assessment: I can see myself sitting on my front porch, pulling on a Cuban cigar, and then washing it down with a healthy sip of this whiskey. It’s not about how heavy this whiskey is. It’s not. It has enough tooth to be slightly chewy, but it’s not at all syrupy in nature. This is such a pleasing whiskey. It definitely will be part of my regular rotation. I daresay that I will be fairly judicious in consuming it, though. It’s much to nice to be a regular drinker.

Slaughter House American Whiskey

This is the second offering from the Splinter Group, which produces Straight Edge Bourbon. Like Straight Edge, the whiskey is sourced and blended from various distillers, then finished in wine barrels from the Orin Swift Winery in the Alexander Valley in California.

Unlike Straight Edge, however, the Splinter Group doesn’t say where they get the whiskey from, nor do they specify the mash bill. But does that really matter? All I know is that it’s a great whiskey.

My first exposure to Slaughter House was when my favorite bar, Willard Hicks in Campbell, CA, ran out of Straight Edge. My bartender then showed me Slaughter House whom she said was also produced by The Splinter Group. So I decided to give it a whirl.

To me, there was obviously a bit more rye present as the whiskey was bright and just a little hot. But like Straight Edge, it had that fruity component that could only come from a wine barrel.

What I Smell

Just as with Straight Edge, I first get a hint of berry. It’s very subtle, but it’s an indicator of something pleasingly unusual going on. Add to that a slight floral quality then toasted grain on the back-end.

What I Taste

This is a warm and toasty whiskey. The fruitiness from the nose persists onto the palate, but it’s accompanied by a slight cinnamon toast component, then finishing with a slight astringency and subtle bite. I would have expected a more toothy mouthfeel from those components. The flavors come on quick and in-your-face but fade quickly, but they don’t disappear entirely, bolstered by the medium to long finish.

How I Like to Drink It

I usually drink this neat with an ice chip or a few drops of water to help the whiskey bloom – especially if poured from a fresh bottle. But I also love this in an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. With a Manhattan, the fruit really plays well with vermouth.

Overall Impression

Since I discovered this a few years ago, I’ve gotten a bottle of this every six to nine months. It’s a testament to how much I like it because it doesn’t stay on my shelf for long.

Don’t Be Intimidated By Geeks – Like Me

A few years ago, I started a blog about wine; specifically, my favorite wine, Pinot Noir. It was a way for me to document the various wines I was tasting. I also provided ratings, which proved to be fortuitous in that while my readership wasn’t wide, the winemakers read my blog. As a result, I made a bit of a name for myself – albeit, a small one – among winemakers. It was cool writing that blog, but I kind of lost steam with it, and let it go. I still get contacted about writing and reviewing wines, but I do my best to graciously decline.

When I first started reviewing wines, I subscribed to a bunch of different publications and blogs to get a sense of how to approach writing reviews. What struck me at first was this sense of snobbery that seemed to pervade the discussions. It was so much like academia with people freely bandying their credentials about and using them as mental weapons. It was a little intimidating.

I was discussing this with a close friend who is in the wine business. She rolled her eyes and shared that she knew and had encountered many of those experts, and yes, many of them came off as snobs. But in actuality they weren’t – and I came to find that out myself when I met many of these people. The difference between them and “mere mortals” was that despite the certifications and training, what they had developed was a vocabulary.

Vocabulary, with respect to tasting, is not just developing a lexicon of catchy words and phrases. It is the ability to transcribe into words the images and scents that are observed when tasting a wine or spirit that goes beyond the basic sensory perceptions such as “sweet.”

How sweet is a wine or whiskey? Well, not many have access to a refractometer to measure sugar content, so the best that can be done by a taster is to compare that sweetness to something familiar. So with a wine, that “sweetness” could be described as ripe stone fruit followed by a hint of raw honey.

To the reader, that’s sweet but described in such a way that there’s a familiar reference. Frankly, there’s no magic to it. But to develop a vocabulary requires tasting a lot. It also requires a bit of study. I didn’t just jump into reviewing wine. I had been an amateur connoisseur for decades leading up to that. I had also read many wine reviews, so the way in which I described a wine wasn’t too far off-base from how reviews were presented.

And in the end, vocabulary just doesn’t matter because the end result is binary: You either like it or you don’t. Geeks love to share their vocabulary; 99% of them just use their vocabulary as a matter of course when discussing a beverage. I’ve found very, very few are actual snobs about it.

So please, as the title of this article has suggested, don’t get intimidated by wine or whiskey geeks who have developed a vocabulary. Just remember that their ultimate reaction to a drink is the same as yours: They either like it or they don’t.