Picture this. You sit down at a restaurant (I know, still a memory for many of us!), and the waiter comes over. Without looking at the menu, you confidently tell the waiter, “I’ll have the chicken.” The waiter asks which chicken dish you’d like, and you instantly shout, “Well is fine!” And by “well,” you mean whatever is cheapest and readily at hand. Ridiculous, right?
Then, why do so many of us do this at a bar? I’m just as guilty as anyone else. Sometimes a drink seems more like a means to an end – a social lubricant – than an end in itself. But, we rarely treat our food this way. And, ironically enough, we’ve stopped treating our beer this way, too!
Thirty years ago in the US, your choices were basically three identical lagers – Budweiser, Miller, or Coors. Billions of dollars of advertising went into convincing you that each tasted different, when in fact, you’d be hard pressed to identify them blindfolded.
Then came the craft beer revolution. Today, there are over 8,500 breweries in the US!
Watching craft beer evolve has been fascinating. It reminds me of looking at a globe as a child. You look at the coastline, and it looks so smooth and uninterrupted. Then, someday, you go to the sea, and you see that the coastline isn’t a smooth, perfect line. It’s inlets and islets, rivers and caverns, and each grain of sand actually defines the coast. Its complexity is infinite. In beer, styles exploded exponentially. First, we had just lagers, then we discovered the stout. Then, an innovator created the chocolate stout. Then another brewer wanted more alcohol and created the imperial chocolate stout. Like the coastline, the complexity is dizzying, but the result is a perfect style waiting to be discovered for each palate, mood, or occasion. And, today, these innovative styles and craft beers account for $1 in every $4 worth of beer sold in the US.
Now, quietly, the same thing is happening to spirits. Today, there are about 3,000 distilleries in the US plus thousands of international distilleries imported. We used to just have ‘whiskey.’ Now, you can find scotches, ryes, and bourbons. You can find distinct flavors in whiskeys from Ireland, Japan, or Australia. You can find whiskeys finished in sherry barrels, rum casks, or French oak cognac casks. You can even find a whiskey aged solely at sea in barrels exposed to the briny sea air!
A perfect style for the right person in the right moment is out there. It’s just waiting to be discovered. No more “well”, please. There are entrepreneurs out there breaking the rules and redefining what is possible with different spirits. Let’s enjoy exploring their creations. Who knows, you may even end up discovering your own perfect bottle for just the right moment.