Whiskey fans often ask each other, “What’s your daily drinker?”
I used to have a quick answer—Old Forester Signature, Wild Turkey 101, Elijah Craig and the like—but no more. Often my reply is, “You know, that’s hard to say. I like so many things.” Truth is I have too many options to choose one easily.
I don’t know when the choices overtook me, but the shift became evident when I moved my collection of books off our great room shelves to make room for bourbon, rye, tequila, gin, rum, brandy and all the cocktail amendments to make ‘em fancy. When days end with my wife and I beginning our 8 p.m. “What’cha drinking tonight?” routine, I’ll spend at least 3 minutes surveying the bulging shelves, slack-jawed and struggling to decide. Eventually she hollers from the other room to, “Just make me an old fashioned,” because she knows her choice will at least move me along.
Part of the problem is being a spirits writer who gets samples—sometimes lots of them—delivered to my door. Distilleries want you to taste their latest releases, write about them or, in rarer instances, just turn you onto them. Given my fondness for liquor shopping, I’m almost tempted to resent this largess because it reduces my need to visit a store, gasp at rising prices and hum happily over unexpected bargains. But with every new arrival to the door, all is forgiven.
Interviewing bartenders presents another quandary. I seek tips to elevate my homemade cocktails to “good enough that someone might pay for them” were drinks not free at my house. “Surely,” I say, “you’re using special bitters—perhaps a homemade brew—that you keep out of site?” The answer is usually simpler, like, “A little saline will brighten your drinks,” or something vaguely condescending like, “Just use citrus. It’s not rocket science.” Before long, though, the expensive suggestions come: digestifs, amaros and liqueurs, where to get them and how much they’ll cost. (Too bad producers aren’t shipping those to my condo.)
For a fleeting moment I was almost ashamed of all the bottles in view at my place. People see them and say, “Dude, do you have a problem?”
After a curt, “No!” I’d explain that, “The people with empty bottles are the ones who have drinking problems. Mine are still pretty full. See? It’s about sipping gradually.” Unconvinced but suddenly thirsty, the gathered inquisitors turn their attention to the lineup with a “Soooo, since it’s about sipping, how ‘bout you pour me a big sip of that!” request.
Telling others, “Every other spirits writers’ shelf looks like mine,” would be true. But few would understand that for me and my colleagues, spirits are an adventure, which means most of our bottles are open. Sometimes the excitement begins 30-seconds after the UPS driver has left … find a knife, free the vessel from its cardboard casket and take a sip. Sure, it’s just 1:30 p.m., so it’s truly a sip because the day’s work isn’t finished. But now that the bottle is open, it’s technically open for family and friends to taste—once I’ve reviewed it, of course.
In this day of whiskey hoarding, some are struck by a home bar with so many opened bottles. Facebook flexing has helped train people to fetishize over their BTAC release verticals and duplicate bottles “scored” by the case. Trust me, if I find something I really like, I’ll buy extras and stash them in my office closet. But the notion of buying to hoard or flip isn’t my thing. I genuinely want to taste what’s inside of every kind of spirit bottle. When I told some bourbon-drinking friends I legally sold a bottle of Elmer T. Lee to a vintage whiskey shop in town—and spent those proceeds on three bottles of great tequila—you’d thought I’d insulted their mothers. They should have been mad instead that they missed out on tasting the tequila.
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So, back to the question: What’s my daily drinker? I have absolutely no clue, but I know I’ve got options. There’s a new brand of pink grapefruit soda in the fridge, which means palomas are coming soon. A bottle of Evan Williams 1783 Bourbon arrived last Friday and turned out to be a surprisingly delicious sipper at 90 proof. It’s definitely in the rotation. I’ve got a Wintersmith’s Phantom Ice Chest that freezes 4-inch-long ice rectangles that keep tall gin, tonic and Chartreuse cocktails top-to-bottom cold. And after a recent visit with Mark and Sherri Carter, owners of Old Carter Whiskey Co., the ever-generous couple left behind three half-consumed bottles of their amazing and high-priced whiskeys as a thanks for inviting them. Last weekend I made a powerful, complex and Carter-approved Manhattan from their 117-proof Batch No. 7 Bourbon, which proves I’ll put anything in a cocktail regardless of its cost.
Just more proof that I really don’t have “daily drinker,” I just drink good stuff daily.
Read More:Column: I Have No ‘Daily Drinker,’ I Just Drink Good Stuff Daily