In the whirlwind weeks immediately following the launch of my book last fall, my fancy publicist inundated me with a slew of email requests that most writers only dream about. I whooped and hollered over coffee after reading messages such as, "CBS This Morning wants to talk to you." Later, I'd hop into a cab, coiffed and pumped for a television appearance, ready to talk whiskey.
And then this would happen: "What does it mean to be a women in whiskey?" or, "What kinds of whiskey do women drink?" or the nebulous, "What can you tell us about women and whiskey?"
But I didn't write a book about women and whiskey. I wrote a book about whiskey. So by the tenth woman-and-whiskey-themed interview, I began feeling ornery:
"What's it like to be a woman in whiskey?"
How the hell would I know otherwise.
We often ignore the concept of individuality when it comes to talking about women and whiskey
No one has yet to ask me about men and whiskey, a topic that might be just as interesting. It is to me — I've been surrounded by men for the better part of a decade. When I first started out in the biz, I was outnumbered ten to one. Men have been my whiskey mentors and my whiskey-drinking friends. I would even argue that I'm more qualified to talk about men and whiskey than I am about women, although I still feel awkward on the topic of whiskey and gender either way. I don't have a degree in social anthropology with a focus on women's drinking habits, nor do I have a degree in women's history or studies. I can offer only my humble observations and anecdotal snippets gleaned from the whiskey classroom and bar. But I suppose that's more than most people have access to, including liquor marketing managers who pay thousands to observe in focus groups what I've witnessed over the last ten years for free and in real settings.
Narrowing in on a few key whiskey-man traits is tricky business; there's more than one kind of man. We often ignore the concept of individuality when it comes to talking about women and whiskey, though. So what would it look like if I interviewed myself and asked the same sort of questions about men? How close could I get to a general picture of the male whiskey-drinking species the way the press asks me to with women?
Below, I've allowed myself the pleasure and freedom to do just that. Following are a few key available styles of men on-hand at your local bar. Some men will fall into only one category, while others might see themselves in a few, or maybe even — gulp — all of them.
Here we go...
"So Heather, tell us about men and whiskey."
Sure. You can slip many of them into these buckets:
This is the man who needs his whiskey to be classified, catalogued, and ordered in some sort of hierarchy, like his video games and socks. Articles like the one you are reading now are right up his alley. Rankings, scoring, and top ten lists don't make a whole lot of sense scientifically, but it sure makes perusing a whiskey menu very easy around a senior partner. Who has time for messy concepts such as palate subjectivity?
I'll first try to delight the ranker archetype by asking him to slow down and tap into his incredible but latent nosing abilities. Some actually go for it. For the rest, when I'm bombarded with "Yes but what's the best? Come on, you must have a favorite." I respond with, "Where am I, who am I with, what time of day, and who's paying?" Whiskey, like wine, is best served according to both occasion and personal preferences for taste.
The Pappy Obsessive
Many men begin their whiskey obsession with Pappy Van Winkle. No joke: my local liquor store gets 50 calls a day searching for the hooch, and personally I have received hundreds of desperate inquiries myself: But it's my wedding! It's for a charity! It's for my boss I really need this! I see no end to this phenomenon for two reasons: Writers like me keep writing about it and these guys keep talking about it. The whole thing is a chicken-or-the-egg scenario and I don't know how to get us all out of it.
But I do know from the astounding silence that follows when I ask, "Do you know what Pappy Van Winkle is?" that we still need to talk about it. PVW is a wheated bourbon. Bourbon is made with at least 51 percent corn in its mash bill. That 49 percent remaining is up for grabs — i.e., wheat, rye, more corn, barley — and a wheated bourbon emphasizes wheat as the secondary grain used. Maker's Mark, Larceny, and Willet are also wheated bourbons. I haven't found that men in particular favor wheated bourbons in any of the blind tastings I've conducted though.
It's also apparently foxy to say "Paps Van Winkle," especially if you are in finance or banking. One gentleman asked me very seriously if I'd tasted "Pappy Van Tinkle," and I thought it was a fun and honest mistake for which he should not have been publicly flogged at the tasting table by his "Paps Van Winkle" buddies. My advice? Don't nickname a brand. It doesn't sound as cool as it probably feels to say it.
This man loves his wife enough to want to be with her during whiskey tastings, or to enjoy a distillery road trip to Scotland or Kentucky. These men have pleaded with me to help them by recommending whiskies their wives might actually enjoy. One guy actually begged me for my phone number so that I could text with him and his wife, to convince her that it's as good as her white wine. I get that. Part of me dies too when a woman orders "anything white and dry." The idea of all those female palates wasted on boxed chardonnay is painful to many of us.
Here's what the Sentimentalist should do: Take her to a whiskey tasting with you. She might just discover a whiskey that excites her. Whatever you do, don't tell her "Here's a whiskey you (a woman) might like." There is no universal female palate. And if you've identified one, congratulations. You've discovered what no major marketing researcher has been able to do.
The Whiskey EOE (Expert on Everything)
This man was taught at an early age everything — and I mean everything — about whiskey by someone older than him. He comes to the table with fully formed opinions and more rules than French grammar. Arguing with him that there is no "best," and that you can drink Scotch however you want to — including with ice — is like arguing with a Brooklynite that their borough is not the center of the world. You can explain to him that ice changes which aromatics pop and which are held in the glass, creating a more dynamic and interesting whiskey experience. But very, very few Whiskey EOEs can be swayed to come around.
Interestingly, I've also found that few that fall under the whiskey EOE status can explain stuff like the three raw ingredients needed to make whiskey, or describe the difference between a blended malt Scotch whiskey and a blended Scotch whiskey. Does having this knowledge make the whiskey drinking experience better? Maybe not. But one thing is for sure: The harder this man argues, the less open he is to a discussion. It's best to leave him alone to enjoy his dram.
The Creative Clown
"Drinking a Cosmo is like rimming the Kool-Aid Man." You've met this guy, right? Please send more creative drinking analogies to @heathermgreene. I do enjoy them.
The Young Popcorn Sutton Doppelgänger
You know him. He's bearded, a little scruffy, and wouldn't touch anything put out by big-business. Craft is the name of his game. He wants to know that his whiskey was made grain-to-bottle on-site (some distilleries outsource some or all of their liquid) from non-GMO corn in tiny batches.
He is a cousin of the Pappy Obsessive, but prefers his hunt to center around brands and styles you've maybe never heard of like buckwheat or quinoa whiskey. Here's what I think: We are in the golden age of whiskey production. Go out and have some fun. See what whiskey is being created in your area here.
This man won't ask questions that he thinks he should know already, as in "What is peat?" Is this you? Peat is partially dehydrated vegetation that distillers light on fire to dry barley during the malting process. Seriously, most people know so very little about whiskey — including the Whiskey EOE, he only acts like he does. You know the saying, there are no stupid questions. Oh wait. I'm lying. I just thought of one. See below.
"Do you really drink that stuff?" the Non-Believer asks women who drink whiskey at the bar. Remind them of the other things women do, like put down-payments on entire buildings and vote.
The Coolest Guy In The Bar
This man knows that he doesn't know everything. He approaches whiskey drinking with an open mind and a sense of adventure. He doesn't take himself too seriously. He doesn't shout about Kool-Aid rim jobs, drone on about what he thinks he knows, or act shocked by a woman ordering a whiskey.
Heather Greene is a whiskey expert and the author of Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life, out now.
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