Whisky Bar Diplomacy

There is that moment in a whisky drinker’s life when the sum total of their whisky knowledge exceeds what would be considered common-place. To some it is an ephemeral thing, a sudden and stark internal recognition that they know an unusual amount about whisky. For others it is a gradual process through which one comes to terms with the fact that they know more about whisky then they do about any other thing fit for human consumption. Perhaps the most common awakening is the day one walks into a bar and feels that the bartender is speaking to them with child-like condescension. Of course, the bartender is probably doing no such thing.

What is actually occurring is the time-dilation triggered by your heightened whisky sense: You ask the bartender a casual question about the whisky selection more or less in plain sight or some such innocuous question that is more rhetorical and ice-breaking than anything else. The bartender proceeds to edify you with a few drawn-out pearls of wisdom that you picked up in whisky 101 ten years prior. Not wanting to appear insulting you tolerate their spiel, tedious and plebian as it is, and smile, perhaps nod your head at the appropriate moments. In the time that the bartender has taken to explain that Macallan is a popular whisky you have already analyzed the line-up, gauged (accurately) the limitations of the bartender’s knowledge, and steeled yourself against the more droll comments likely en route.

It can’t be helped; you know more than most humans have a right to know about whisky. Which brings us to your problem: how to revel in your knowledge while not coming off as an imperious ass that has sacrificed far too many brain cells to whisky and has far too much time on their hands.

With great whisky knowledge comes great responsibility, and quite a bit of thirst, as well. As you have cultivated this enhanced knowledge of all things whisky and you usually decide which bar’s doorstep you are going to darken, it falls on you to comport yourself appropriately. If you drop into a run-of-the-mill bar with a run-of-the-mill selection, expect run-of-the-mill banter… and control the urge to impart obscure information to those who would just as soon take theirs on the rocks. If you don’t mind dealing with a little pretentiousness you can certainly find establishments that will cater to your over-educated ilk. But think of it as an opportunity to swap war stories and battle scars with industry insiders. Boasting of some obscure dram you have locked away back home will not endear you half as well to a seasoned bartender as taking an earnest interest in their whisky background. And you are a hell of a lot likelier to score some free tipples if you come off as a seasoned-but-open-minded comrade in the quest for whisky enlightenment.

If you can take the chips off of your shoulder, establishments such as Whiskey Thieves – here is our quick review – or Broken Record happily cater to seasoned veterans who like to talk shop and savor some more rarefied spirits in a low-key setting. Leave your soapbox at the door and you will fare and drink well. And what of non-bar settings? What of the private gathering? This is where your skills as a statesman from the realm of whisky are put to the test. Whisky drinkers tend to be an enthusiastic lot, and the more one drinks the greater that enthusiasm becomes. Ground yourself with equal parts diplomacy, humility, and humor.

Share your knowledge; don’t lob it unsolicited from ivory towers. Balance your tales of the perfect dram with your tales of the utilitarian or moments of rash consumption. Steel yourself against one-upping… especially when conversing with those you already know suffer from too little knowledge and too much whisky-inflated bravado. Bend like a reed in the wind, you have nothing to prove… and hiding a needling response in a drink gives you, well, an opportunity to drink – which is the whole point. If you are talking, you are not drinking. And if you are not drinking, you are not keeping up with your education. – By Nate


Filed under Imbibed Musings

4 responses to “Whisky Bar Diplomacy

  1. Gal

    Great post man.
    i so agree with u.

  2. Great write-up and spot-on! The only time I find it difficult to keep my mouth shut, is when ignorance rears its head and people ask and boast about their Johnnie Walker Blue and how much it costs, and thus how ‘good’ it is.

    Knowing a lot about whisky and having such enthusiasm on the topic as we do, you quickly learn to read the audience and know how far their interest goes on the topic, so as to not past the point of no return and bore them with minutia that does not interest them.

  3. Just saw this post.

    I had an experience at Bourbon and Branch where the bartender was telling me how Speysides are known for their smokiness.

    I tried to tell him he was thinking of Islay, or potentially the Highlands, but he insisted it was Speyside.

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