Fella sat down next to me at a bar in Bracken, Texas recently. He was drinking a cocktail of some kind, poor sonuvabitch. I ordered one of my discount go-to whiskeys. Old Granddad 114. Usually about seven bucks and has a nice little kick to it.
The guy got a little chatty, which as you know I don’t typically cotton to that. But I was in a charitable mood, so I didn’t didn’t growl at him or anything.
He said, “I tried drinking straight whiskey once. I didn’t like it. I guess it’s just not my thing.”
If you do want to draw me out of my sullen silence, that’s the kind of thing that will do it. I asked him about it, and he told me a story I’ve heard many times before, in one form or another. And it’s a goddam shame.
He told a bartender he wanted to try whiskey and could he maybe recommend something.
That was a mistake right there. Bartenders may or may not know much about whiskey, but they will absolutely pretend they do and they can be pretty damn snooty, if you know what I mean. And, to be fair, they’re busy. They can’t stand there and hold your hand.
The bartender grabs a single malt scotch. Jesus. He likes it so it’s good for everyone I guess. He pours it neat and tells the guy it’s a very good whiskey. Very highly rated and blah blah blah. Tells the guy he should taste a little grass, a little citrus, maybe some nutmeg and dried fruit. Shit like that.
What burns my ass is I betcha a hundred bucks HE can’t even taste that stuff. He just read it off a label.
Then he goddamm just walks off and leaves this poor sap all alone with a glass of scotch sitting in front of him. And of course he hated it. Drank it without smelling it first. Had no preparation. Didn’t taste notes of anything but hatred and self-loathing. Had no one to walk him through it and encourage him and tell him the truth about whiskey. Which is this: no one likes whiskey the first time they taste it. If they say they do they’re lying. Humans aren’t supposed to drink alcohol. It’s poison. It takes work and effort and time to come to appreciate and understand whiskey.
Long story short, I took pity on the guy and walked him through a more positive initial encounter with our beloved fire water. I chose Jameson for him because it’s easy and smooth as hell. I paid for it. We took our time, and he walked out of there a brand new whiskey drinker.
Just like that.
So I’d like to offer a few suggestions for ya’ll that are new to whiskey.
1. You won’t like whiskey at first, but it’s worth the effort. I hope that helps you relax a little. Hell just that small amount of preparation can completely change your first experience. You won’t like whiskey at first, but you can respect it. And I hope you do.
2. You need a guide. You need someone who knows more than you do about whiskey to help you get started. And your first whiskeys should be chosen with YOU in mind. They shouldn’t be your friend’s favorite whiskeys or some whiskey you read about on the internet. They should be gentle, accessible whiskeys, to my way of thinking.
3. You need to prepare yourself. Smell the whiskey. Talk about it. Get ready for what you’re about to taste. And if your guide knows what she’s doing, your first experience won’t be terrible and you’ll get through it with some pleasant discoveries and a desire to try whiskey again.
And this for all you whiskey drinkers out there. Goddamit you’re ambassadors for this fiery beverage that we love. Treat people right. Encourage them. Listen to them. Teach them gently, and don’t make them feel stupid.
And you should pay for their first drink, if you’re able.
We are the whiskey tribe, after all. And we’ve always got room for new friends.