May 23, 2007

Pontificating Over Potables for $200, Alex

Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Let's argue about this for a very long time, in occasionally shrill voices, and then let's argue some more. You think I'm ridiculous, don't you? But I recall customer after customer pulling up a stool at my bar and beginning a conversation just like this that could simply not be settled (it doesn't matter what it was about any more than it mattered then). My job, of course, was to humor them and give them just enough argument to allow them to continue to argue back.

Thank god I don't have to do that anymore. Of course, now there are conversations with other bartenders or sales reps or journalists who do the same damn thing. The subject is usually wine or beer and how it is made and why it tastes the way it does. These are very worthwhile things to discuss, and there is plenty to go back and forth about. But what bugs me is the eventual yet inevitable statement of fact that is, in actuality, complete and utter bullshit.

I'm not the only who feels this way, apparently. There are others like me, who simply want a little common sense and a hefty dose of "relax, drink up and enjoy" mixed in with their chosen adult beverage. Thomas Pellechia is one of those (and lord knows, he's had to put up with far more of these based-in-pseudo-reality conversations than I have). In a recent blog post on terroir, he discusses the tendency of terroirists to insist that soil (and even climate) are directly responsible for much of what we taste in wine. This is, of course, not utter bullshit but it certainly isn't completely accurate. (If you're interested in a brief intro to terroir along with my own opinion on it, you won't get it here. You can, however, ask and I'll likely oblige.) Suffice it to say that Mr. Pellechia sums it all up nicely when he asks, "Are we talking semantics here?"

Yeah, boss.

And there are more of us out there, even! I had a really nice conversation with Sean Ludford of Beverage Experts a few weeks ago, in which we discussed the trade's tendency to pontificate a bit too much. As someone who works in communications for a living, I recognize the need to educate consumers in order to boost sales. But traditionally, the wine trade has done so by imparting an aura of high-falutin' gravitas that doesn't really suit Joe or Jane Consumer (no matter how much s/he wants to play along). The cocktail world is no better. Now, I'm not about to claim that the likes of Dale DeGroff and Gary Regan somehow do spirits a disservice (quite the opposite), but I do have to ever-so-slightly roll my eyes at myself when I fire up the newest episode of Robert Hess' "The Cocktail Spirit." Which isn't to say I don't watch the whole damn thing (it's really quite practical, if devoid of much humor).

The point is simply that us writers have the tendency to overthink when we drink (and write). Sean's goal with BevX is to provide some of that drinks education in a format that's less who has the most definitive collection of out-of-print bartender manuals? and more what's the damn drink taste like? Both have their place of course. In fact, drinking while reading is highly encouraged. Ultimately, though, unending conversations about terroir and who invented which cocktail are a means to an end—a sometimes inebriated end, but an end nonetheless.

1 comment:

Darryl said...

Sounds like you've been reading the Webtender.com forums. It's like a Star Wars convention in there, only with bitters in place of Wookies.

Well said, and thanks for the link to Beverage Experts - lots of good info there.