Cocktails, Why? Because without them, kiss your favorite bourbon goodbye!
Greetings! I’m Sailor, and I am new here to the ABV Network, having won the role of Staff Mixologist just last week. I have been a long fan of the Bourbon Show and more recently the Bourbon Daily. It is exciting to be a part of this fast growing network, mostly because I feel that our shows are like listening to a group of friends, very down to earth, with a lot of knowledge about bourbon. They just sit back discussing, questioning, and educating in a really approachable way.
Yesterday, Mr. Evan Haskill, co-owner of the ABV Network, released a… well, let’s call it a trash piece on cocktails, basically sticking his middle finger up at them.
I thought to myself: “Here we go again, the same old Grandpa approach to whiskey.”
And then, I got pissed; I mean, really, really pissed off, because I am one of the people who works very hard to help grow the American whiskey industry every day, and I do it not just by whiskey tastings and education, but also with COCKTAILS!
So, I feel that the record needs to be set straight. And so, I will address Mr. Haskill in this response:
Dear Mr. Haskill, I’ve been in and out of the spirits industry for about 20 yrs and I have traveled the world, often visiting distilleries, wineries, and breweries as often as I could. And I have always found myself getting so much more out of the people and places who refrained from the snobbery and just wanted their guest or consumer to enjoy their product in a way that made that guest happy.
Let me also say that I drink whiskey neat very often, I drink whiskey with ice, I drink whiskey with water, and I drink whiskey in cocktails, BECAUSE I LIKE VARIETY! When I drink whiskey with other ingredients in the glass, I am not “doing it wrong.” I am not “disrespecting the whiskey.” I am not “uneducated” and I am not a “newb.” Those judgments are bullshit, frankly, and in fact are wrong – very wrong. I am in fact a whiskey Brand Ambassador and educate myself daily on our beloved native spirit. I don’t call myself an expert, by any means, but I am certainly not a novice.
The people in the industry who deliver professional whiskey tastings, like for example, Tim Knitell of Distilled Living, will tell you to let your inexperienced friends drink their bourbon however they like. Whatever is going to get them to drink the bourbon and enjoy their experience is how we should offer that bourbon to them, if possible with a little bit of approachable education included.
Every week I am behind a tasting bar or out at an event. I encounter many guests who are not whiskey drinkers. I don’t turn my nose up to them when they may not be able to handle or enjoy whiskey neat. No, on the contrary, I tell them to add drops of distilled water that I provide. I tell them to add ice if they would like. And, by the way, each application creates a different chemical reaction in the whiskey and allows for a different tasting experience, but I’ll go into that at another time.
Still though, some guests may not be enjoying that whiskey. It may be that those guests don't prefer that expression or brand, it may be that their palates are inexperienced. So, I end my tastings with, brace yourself, a COCKTAIL. That’s right, I put our gorgeous, small batch, high end craft whiskey in a cocktail! The horror!
But guess what happens next? All of a sudden, those people who were not previously enjoying the whiskey are now enjoying it! And not only are they enjoying it, but many go as far as loving it! So much so that they want the recipe of the cocktail and they purchase a bottle before they leave the distillery.
You see what I did there? I got someone who did not like whiskey and thought it wasn’t approachable, to love it. Gee, go figure! And I did that WITH A MOTHER LOVIN COCKTAIL!
Had I turned my nose up to them and not done what I could to help them enjoy the experience, they would have left with the same feeling as when they arrived, that “it’s interesting to know how it’s made, but I just don’t like whiskey, it’s not for me.”
A proper cocktail, by the way, in my opinion, should enhance the spirit(s) it contains, and yes, that is possible. A proper cocktail allows one to still taste her preferred whiskey, but adds complimenting flavors.
And cocktails did not come to prominence when booze was so bad that people needed to add something to take the edge off. That’s just not true. Cocktails came to prominence because people, especially regular or daily drinkers, wanted variety. Many people drink differently in different seasons and for different occasions. This will always be the case.
If you are telling me that you only drink whiskey neat and never have a cocktail, never add soda water or some bitters and a touch of juice or another liqueur, I am sorry, that sounds really boring. It’s like eating gorgeous French bread right from the oven. Every single day you eat that bread with nothing on it. It doesn’t NEED anything on it. Sure, it’s delicious just as it is. But after a week, hopefully you want a little variety, so you add butter, some jam, or cheese. Have you disrespected the bread? Have you stopped tasting the bread? Of course not. You're complimenting that bread and for the love of all things holy, you’re not Rain Man!
It’s hard for me to imagine a patio full of people in 95 degree weather sitting outside and sipping on whiskey neat. Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. What is more plausible is a patio of people sipping on an effervescent chilled concoction containing beloved whiskey. That is much more realistic.
And let me say a little word here about bartenders and cocktail creators. We are your gateway. We are on the front lines, helping to expose people to the world of whiskey. So take care, Mr. Haskill, when dissing on cocktails; tread lightly.
Now, let’s imagine a world full of bars with only neat spirits. Maybe they can also have ice. But that’s it, no cocktails, no mixers to speak of. How many of your favorite watering holes do you think would exist? And let’s go one step further: How many of your favorite whiskey brands do you think would be on the shelves of your local liquor stores? Because without cocktails, I would imagine a good 50-60% less whiskey drinkers would exist. Take a look at the website of your favorite distillery. Do you know what you will find? Yep, cocktail recipes! Because these distilleries understand that cocktails are the lifeblood of spirits.
So, let’s dispense with the bravado, the snobbery, the judgment. Taste is subjective. There is no right or wrong in taste. The majority may seem to agree on taste, but hey, Gangnam Style was an international hit song. What does that say about taste?
If you are truly a whiskey lover, if you are truly supportive of this industry and the future of American whiskey, then let’s stop with the cocktail dissing. Frankly, it’s beneath us all.
In my time at the ABV Network, I hope to share my passion for not just cocktails, but for whiskey, with all of you. And more importantly, I hope to welcome non-whiskey drinkers into the fold and share our passion with them and help them discover what we all love so dearly.
And perhaps, if you can just for a moment open yourself up to something new, you may find a cocktail that will change your mind and in the process learn a little something.
And Mr. Haskill, I’m glad you ended your piece by praising bartenders and their craft. Perhaps you realized while writing your piece that you were disrespecting the very people who helped American whiskey make a comeback. Now, perhaps you can also apologize to the cocktail drinking listeners who were just given the same old “you don’t belong in our elitist whiskey club” speech. They hear this all too often. I won’t stand for it, Mr. Haskill, I will fight to the death to make whiskey approachable to everyone, and kick open those GD doors and let them all into the club!
Vive La Whiskey and Viva Le Cocktails!