Bourbon — As You Like It
Last month in Whisky Advocate Jonny McCormick wrote an article which was his whisky adaption of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”. If you haven’t read McCormick’s “Whisky – As You Like it” it’s well worth the time. Below is a quote from McCormick’s article.
This is a celebration of the whisky life. William Shakespeare’s monologue from As You Like It compares the journey of life with a play acted out upon the stage. We recognize that each of us pass through different, ever-changing phases in our relationship with whisky. Through the highs and lows of life, it is a fantastic journey to embark on. Here we explore the behaviors, motivations, and emotions at every stage.
I decided to take this a step further and depict the life and evolution of a bourbon drinker.
Evolution of a Bourbon Drinker
Scrounging – This is the genesis of bourbon, or whiskey, drinking because you don’t yet know that there’s a difference between the two. You’re drinking a lot of Evan Williams Green Label and Jack Daniels. You probably mixed one part bourbon with 3 parts coke in a red solo cup. You order “Irish Whiskey” as a drink. Not Jameson or Bushmills, just Irish Whiskey.
Fake Fancy – You’re still mixing with a handful of ice and half a can of coke but now you’re a little more big time and grab a bottle of Maker’s Mark and Crown Royal (yes, Crown is Canadian whiskey but you don’t know that yet) whenever you walk in to your neighborhood liquor store. In your mind you’ve reached the pinnacle and bourbon doesn’t get any better than this, right? This can be one of the most important phases in a bourbon drinker’s life. If you’re not careful you can get stuck eternally stuck in this phase and you’ll be drinking Maker’s and coke and taking fireball shots straight from the bottle the rest of your adult life. No one deserves this.
Rocks Era – You’ve figured out that bourbon has plenty of flavors of its own and can be served without a mixer. The proof still poses a problem so you throw a few cubes of ice to make it more manageable. This is a big transition in the evolution of a bourbon drinker once it becomes more about the bourbon and not the effects of alcohol. You build your palate in this phase and probably note the subtle notes of vanilla and toffee. Towards the end of this period you begin to make better bourbon decisions as well.
The Come Up – You start to read reviews before buying. You probably grab a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch and Elijah Craig if you’re smart. You may even jot some tasting notes down. You even started following all of the major distilleries on Twitter. Things are starting to look up.
Weaning – Ice begins to water down the bourbon too much so you try just adding a little bit of water to your glass. At first the taste is too strong but after a few days you’ve become accustomed and even begin to enjoy that burn.
It’s All Neat – You’re drinking your bourbon neat and loving it. You feel a little bit of pride when you order your bourbon at the bar and have to clarify to the bartender that you want it neat. You write your tasting notes on all of the new bourbons your try and compare them with others.
New Connoisseur – Now that you’re a bourbon pro you join every bourbon group on Facebook, bourbon forum and throw disapproving looks towards the guy at the bar ordering a Jack and Coke. You finally figure out what SW, OFBB, ECBP and FRSmBLE stand for. You recently purchased your first bottle of Pappy Van Winkle and made it the centerpiece of your dining room. The biggest revelation of this stage in your bourbon evolution is barrel programs. For almost the same price as Four Roses single barrel you can purchase a barrel proof Four Roses single barrel that your local store selected. Private barrelings (especially, Four Roses and Smooth Ambler) are manna from the Bourbon gods.
The Obsession – The fall hunt becomes a true test of will and determination as you scour the city looking for lotteries to enter and try to figure out shipping patterns of distributors. The guest bedroom at your house has been converted to a bourbon bunker and the favorites on your phone consist of your spouse, mom, 2 bourbon buddies and 5 liquor stores. While you recognize this as an addiction you note that the root of the addiction is the “hunt” not the alcohol and that makes you feel better.
Bourbon Life Beyond the Hype – This is the stage when a drinker begins to realize that not every special release or limited edition is worth the price. You skip on ultra-aged and fancy backstories. You’ve learned to embrace bottles like Four Roses small batch and Buffalo Trace for their excellent taste as well as their price and availability. The hunting is not as hard because if you get skunked you’re still sipping on bottles 2011 George T. Stagg that you bought off of the shelf in 2011. You may even decide to trade one of the Staggs for basically any new release you choose.
True Bourbonr – This is the sweet spot for bourbon drinkers. You contribute useful information to bourbon forums and to new comers you talk with at the bar. You trade bottles with other bourbonr’s and have expanded your palate by tasting lots of different bourbons. You can pick out a wheated bourbon in a blind tasting lineup. There are bourbons in you cabinet from several years of fall releases.
OG – The OG’s of bourbon are guys that purchased Pappy Van Winkle that was sitting on a shelf at retail. You saw certain fall releases go to clearance rack in liquor stores. When there’s a debate of whether or not a Weller Antique or Old Fitzgerald is Stitzel-Weller you comment with certainty and the drop the mic and walk away.