You often hear people talk about the story of whisky, or the idea that every bottle has its own particular tale to tell. It’s a very romantic way of thinking about alcohol and an approach that I’ve myself utilized on many occasions.
Just last night, I had dinner with a Tequila producer who talked about his personal collection of spirits, explaining that every bottle on his shelf represented an important event in his life. When he looked at the Tequilas in his bar, he could trace his own history, and that of his family, through the various bottles and their importance.
I think that’s awesome.
When I meet people who have these incredible archives of old spirits, full of bottles with incredible memoirs, it’s always exciting to sit down and taste a piece of history. That being said, I also think to myself: what the fuck do you drink on a Wednesday, and what do you purchase moving forward?
I’m not here to be the 6,567,543rd person to pull out the old soapbox and lecture others as to the merit of everyday spirit (I believe I was the 856,792nd person to do that already). I’m thinking more about motivation. I used to be fully motivated by history when it came to the way I looked at whiskey. Back in 2011, I spent most of my time in Scotland looking for historic casks of single malt with great stories to tell. In 2019, however, there are few stories left that customers haven’t already heard.
Which brings me to the point: we are moving into a new era of distillation. A new epoch with new brands, new ideas, and new icons. Are we going to cling to the past as whiskey drinkers, waiting for the one or two opportunities we get a year to purchase something historic, or are we going to start looking to the future and the next generation of great distilleries? It’s fun to watch old movies and gaze upon the stars of Hollywood’s iconic past, but if you’re stuck watching the same films over and over again, you’re going to miss out on what’s happening now.
I can watch Night of the Hunter every five years or so and get just as inspired by Robert Mitchum’s terrifying performance. Ditto for anything with Toshiro Mifune directed by Akira Kurasawa, but I’m still driven by new art, and I’m still most excited by new talent. I’m more impressed by creative new horror films like It Follows and Get Out because they managed to bring a fresh take to a genre that, like whiskey, has already told plenty of the same stories, over and over again.
Thus, I think I’m more impressed when a young distillery like Finger Lakes Distilling comes out with an amazing four year old Bourbon from New York, or when—despite the onslaught of wacky gin creations these days—an Italian producer like Moletto can still create something that fuses tradition with originality. That doesn’t mean I’ll never drink a 20 year old Kentucky Bourbon again, or pour myself a London Dry martini, it’s that I refuse to close myself off to new experiences under the all-too-tired guise of traditionalism and the stuffy, stale, and often off-putting halls of classicism, masked as “true” appreciation and taste.
Because we have such a rich and layered history of distilled spirits on this planet, it’s become that much harder to transcend it. To become relevant in today’s new era of craft distillation should therefore be more impressive, not less. I’m still looking forward to what’s next, while continuing to understand and appreciate what came before.