The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal - How To Be A Snob: Drinking Alcohol
February 26th, 2008
09:49 am

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How To Be A Snob: Drinking Alcohol
Once a year, I spend $75 on a good bottle of Scotch Whisky and bring it to Karla's birthday party. Last year, I brought Talliskers; this year, I brought Cragganmore. I break open the bottle, and ask everyone to take a taste. In this way, we can slowly get an idea of the difference between the various kinds of whiskies. And so it came to pass that I was sitting there with Nate and Genevieve, snobbing it up.

"It's not as peaty as the Talliskers," Nate noted, sipping the Cragganmore with relish.

"And it has a really quick drop off the back end," Geneveive sighed, swishing it around in his mouth.

Bill was standing there, looking confused and envious. "I don't taste any of that," he said, looking down in his glass as though he might be able to see the peat if he squinted hard enough. "I don't have a really good palate. You guys all taste these zillions of things, but I don't get anything."

"Who says we do?" I asked. "We could be faking it. It's really easy, and you can look all cultured without tasting a damn thing. Want me to show you how?"

Step 1: Smell the Drink.
Stick your nose into the glass. Sniff deeply, then close your eyes as though you're processing a lot of things simultaneously. Even if you smell nothing, act as though this drink is a cornucopia of sensations and you're sorting through all of them.

Do not speak. Scent is pretty easy to verify, so if you guess wrong then everyone will know what a yutz you are. If someone ventures their own review as to what it smells like, frown as though you're too busy concentrating on this intense bouquet to interrupt it with stupid words. This automatically gives you the edge, since as a conneisseur you know enough not to discuss anything until the full tasting is over.

Step 2: Drink the Drink.
Take a mid-sized sip, then roll it around in your mouth. Don't swish - that's for chumps - but kind of splash it around on your tongue.

Then - and this is the most important part - hold the glass away from you at an angle. Freeze as though your entire body is concentrated upon analyzing this taste in your mouth. Narrow your eyes and look upwards as you pretend to process this beverage, taking your time as you give every impression of savoring the flavor.

After a minute, bob your head just a little, as though coming to a conclusion.

Step 3: Finish the Drink.
Swallow it and then open your mouth, breathing in. Some people claim they can feel the drink mutate upon their palate as the air rushes over their tongue; they are liars, but convincing ones. And now you can be one of them.

Nod again.

Step 4: Decide Upon Your Pronouncement.
Now, to understand how to be a proper snob, you must understand two things about taste:

1) Taste is a bell curve.
2) Nobody fucking knows what they're talking about.

The first point is easy; you don't taste everything all at once. There's actually a rise and flow to the taste process, starting from when the food touches your tongue, building to the intense mid-section, and then dropping off into an aftertaste. In the case of a McDonald's hamburger, what you'd taste first would be the squishiness of the bread and the oversalted burger, rising to the chewy dog food of the burger itself as you mash it around, ending with that greasy oil slick that coats your throat at the end.

You may never experience this yourself, but trust me when I say that it does happen. You just gulped some whisky, but the foodies experienced a three-act play in their tastebuds. So you must be aware of this flow.

The second part involves understanding that taste is an intensely personal experience, which is to say that you can say pretty much anything and nobody knows any better. In fact, unless you're drinking with a sommelier who knows what she's doing - in which case let her tell you what's in it and nod a lot - then everyone is afraid that maybe they're the ones who don't know what they're doing.

If you say, "I taste a faint hint of paprika," they don't go, "Wow, what a liar" - they become paranoid because they don't taste it. Maybe you're the guy with the super taste buds who catches everything. There they are, sipping this drink and only getting a third of its full bouquet, and if they really had the genetics to appreciate it the way that you do they would taste paprika.

You can say anything. You think people taste oak in a wine? Fuck no. Who the hell eats oak? These fuckers want you to think they're walking around taking bites out of dogwood trees so they can tell what kind of barrel the wine came from - they're awful, awful fakers. And if they can tell you what country the oak came from, the first note you should mark in their aroma is a seething, overwhelming bullshit.

So fake away! But there are guidelines.

First, if you're faking it, everything is faint - you want to talk in terms of hints, notes, and shades. Give the impression that you only barely caught this delicate wisp of a flavor because you were concentrating so intensely back in Step 2. You want to let them tell you what the overwhelming taste of the drink is; it's your job to bat clean-up and talk about shit they might have missed.

Second, some flavors are better than others. Paprika is actually a bad example, since that's a spice. Generally, you want to only talk about flowers and fruits, with maybe some hints of leafy spices when you want to show off. ("Mint" is bad, but "oregano" can be gotten away with if you're an expert.) The only exception is beer, where you want to talk about breads and chocolate flavors; starches are good for beers.

And remember: natural is better than fake.

GOOD: "I taste a hint of blackberry."
BAD: "The tang of Fruit Roll-Ups."

So pick a taste, and pick a place - which is to say it's at the beginning or the end of the curve. (You never want to taste anything in the middle, where the intense flavors are. Remember, you're picking up the transmissions from Alpha Tau.)

When in doubt, go with blackberry. It shows up everywhere.

Step 5: Making Your Pronouncement
When you speak, speak slowly, as though you're coming to a conclusion. Then break out with it.

"I taste a hint of blackberry just at the finish."

Either people will agree with you, or they won't. If they agree with you, great! They don't taste shit, either. You can now tell them you're catching a splash of Strawberry Go-Gurt in the fourth and down, and they'll just nod and stare. You have bolloxed a bunch of clueless snobs; take a bow!

If they don't agree, then frown a little. They won't ever say, "Bullshit! You fucker!" Instead, they'll say, "Really? I don't taste that...."

Stick to your guns. You caught it. Take another sip as though to confirm, repeat the process and say, "No. Still there for me. Not for you, though?" Then laugh about how weird taste is, that some folks catch things that others do. Then spend the rest of the evening nodding and agreeing with the other snobs, only occasionally venturing a guess, because if you spend the entire evening contradicting them then the game is up.

And that's it! By the end of the evening, Bill had learned his lessons, and now he can stare quietly at the ceiling and then talk about the bouquet along with the rest of us awful, awful liars.

Now you, too, can fake anyone out. Remember: use this power only for good, never evil. Or to get laid, whichever comes first.

(147 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

Comments
 
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From:bunny42
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for a wonderful wake-up laugh. LOL doesn't begin to cover it. I've always thought those wine connoisseurs were full of it. Grrr, some of that stuff is simply awful. But the ceremonial aspect of a tasting is a kick to watch. Not sure I'd go with Strawberry Go-Gurt (is that stuff any good?) but I'm gonna remember the blackberries.
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From:ba1126
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)
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Some people get so good at this, they actually get PAID to look at the ceiling and talk about "a hint of tansy on the back of the tongue".
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From:chant_1
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
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I always wondered about that oak thing...like, is someone walking around licking the insides of barrels? Thanks for the pointers. Now I, too, can drink like a snob!
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From:starwatcher307
Date:February 26th, 2008 07:00 pm (UTC)
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.
I dunno... taste is very closely associated with smell. Anyone who's ever done any woodworking knows that the various woods smell different when cut. I think it's feasible that, if someone could taste the difference, they could recognize which wood it is. However, I think the people who could actually taste it are a very tiny minority.
.
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From:thetathx1138
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
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I believe you've hit the nail square on the head, kind sir!

That said I do think there is actually some difference between the various finely-aged Scotches. I just think anybody who tries to play it off as a science as opposed to a personal taste is a wee bit insufferable.
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From:zoethe
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:28 pm (UTC)
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Oh, there's a huge difference. But when you've only tasted one good Scotch, you don't have a baseline. The Cragganmore is very mild. Next time Bill is here I will have him taste the Caol Isle mistake - taste like licking a charcoal pit. He will then understand that there is a huge difference: pleasantly drinkable v. what-the-fuck???
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From:trinity3x
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
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I was at a wine festival last August. The gentleman next to me displayed this routine start to finish before pronouncing the wine "herby". Sir...you think? REALLY?

The winery specialized in wines with basil or thyme to finish off your Thanksgiving table.

*headdesk*
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From:theferrett
Date:February 27th, 2008 01:49 am (UTC)
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Herby the love wine.
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From:shandra
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
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Hillarious.
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From:missysedai
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
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You think people taste oak in a wine? Fuck no.


Sure they do. They're just phrasing it entirely stupidly. They're actually smelling the oak in the Chardonnay - it tastes the way oak smells. What you taste in wine depends largely on
scent profiles
. But the 'tards who get their wine "knowledge" from movies like
Sideways
are too busy putting on a ridiculous show.

Huh? Oh, don't mind me. I'm a wine geek - I volunteer in a winery and actually have been involved in the wine making process from start to finish. Rule number one with wine is "Drink what you like". The point of tasting and trying to figure out what the wine tastes like isn't so you can be "cultured" or whatever it is people are thinking, it's to be able to describe what you like to winemakers and wine purveyors so they can help you choose wines you'll enjoy.

I promise, the winemakers and shop owners think the people engaging in the showy ritual are idiots.

Edited at 2008-02-26 03:18 pm (UTC)
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From:trinity3x
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:19 pm (UTC)
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I'm one of those California oak bombs lovers and I can definitely smell the difference!
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From:ailsaek
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC)
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I bought some Slivovitz recently. I posted about it, mainly because I got hammered on about 2 T, and my friend who is a professional bartender asked what my analysis of the flavor was. I told him that my analysis was that after one sip, I had flames coming out my nose.
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From:jojomojo
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
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I'd describe the one I tried as having the tangy aroma of fermented vomit.
From:jonnorthwood
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:27 pm (UTC)
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*laugh* I can talk the talk with almost any wine snob, and I really appreciate the -- as the distillery states -- "hint of turpentine with a peaty finish" of a glass of Laphroaig, but considering some of the people I know who attend tastings just to show off their alcoholic chops, you are so spot-on.

Edited at 2008-02-26 03:27 pm (UTC)
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From:nagasvoice
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
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My sister tells me that the Scotches she liked in pubs in Scotland, peat smoke and all, don't taste right except in that setting. She said the liquor's taste was the same, it wasn't a matter of the exporter messing it up, it was a matter of the whole environment smelling so different.
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From:greektoomey
Date:February 26th, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
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I like Scotch whisky anywhere, but I like it even more in Scotland.
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From:corwinok
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
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I think there's a fair amount of power of suggestion there too. One of my favorites is the Old Pulteney. Everything I'd read and heard about it said that being from the northern-most distillery in Scotland, originally only accessible by sea, the Scotch absorbs the sea air and you can smell it in the whisky. Sure enough, when I drank it, there really was (for me) a hit of the salt air.

But that may just be because I was expecting it.
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From:jfargo
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:41 pm (UTC)
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I knew they were all full of shit!

Next time I go to that Country Club with Maria's father, I'm going to call them all on it! Especially that "smallier" guy who kept talking about wine like he knew what he was talking about! Little bastard. Trying to put one past me.
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From:suzieboz
Date:February 26th, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)

The Scent

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I figured this one out years ago when I took a wine tasting class and they showed the proper way to "get" the scent of a wine. Since I'm still not sure what I'm getting I always stick my nose in, give a few cursory whiffs and then nod my approval to the waiter standing there with a knowing nod and smile.

Like I know what the fuck I"m talking about. See you in a few.
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From:enochs_fable
Date:February 26th, 2008 06:52 pm (UTC)

Re: The Scent

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So what is the proper way?
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From:sparkfrost
Date:February 26th, 2008 04:00 pm (UTC)
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Wow, that reminds me of the process of becoming a Starbucks "Coffee Master". I had to do a French press of every type of coffee and identify the various "notes" in the flavor. By the end I so good I was fooling the District Managers. "Hmm, this coffee is quite nutty, but it has some flavorful citrus notes, as compared to this one which is earthy with a nice tang of blueberry. Wow, isn't it amazing how different Kenyan and Ethiopan coffees are?"
From:ext_2058627
Date:July 10th, 2013 02:44 am (UTC)

I want that job.

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What exactly does a "Coffee Master" do? I'm a bit of a coffee geek (a bit is an understatement) and I would love to just go down the line and identify what I taste in each roast. If it's just part of the application process, even better!
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From:xiphias
Date:February 26th, 2008 04:01 pm (UTC)
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The thing is -- I've been showing people how to do tastings, and they get it.

The trick is to start with New Zealand Sauv Blancs, which have such unexpected scents that you totally notice them. I mean, "lemon" is the least of it. Peach, even stuff like pineapple and mango. And the thing is -- everybody can smell it. You totally notice it, and because of that, you start to figure out how to do the whole thing.

'Course, that doesn't stop me from preferring table wines to fine wines . . . I like drinking the stuff, more than tasting it.

That said, if you can ever pick up one of the Marlborough (New Zealand) Rieslings, do so -- they're FANTASTIC. They're just so wacky.

I mean, Reisling is the wackiest varietal, with its petrol notes, and New Zealand is the wackiest region, with its tropical fruit notes, so putting them together is HYSTERICAL. I LOVE the stuff.

Ian, Wine And Spirits Educational Trust (International) Intermediate Certification holder, Pass with Merit.
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From:zzzzsleep
Date:February 26th, 2008 10:56 pm (UTC)
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I'm curious now. How do Australian wines compare to the New Zealand ones?
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From:pooka_madness
Date:February 26th, 2008 04:21 pm (UTC)
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Funny and true, and the comic timing is perfect. Nailed it.
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From:arkannath
Date:February 26th, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
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I have a friend (don't we all?) who is fairly heavily into blind tastings of wine. She is pretty good at this: she can identify grape variety, region, and year probably about 75% of the time.

Of course, the downside to that is that you end up spending all your time tasting wines that you don't actually like that much. Me, I'm the sort of snob who thinks in big pictures: we're having smoked haddock, perhaps, in a creamy sauce. That's a fairly rich dish, as fish goes, but you still want a white wine. Something fairly dry, so the acidity cuts through the cream and smoke, but with a fair depth of flavour. Probably best to go with a chalky soil sauvignon blanc: a Sancerre might be ideal.

The process is similar for whiskies. In this case, there's less need to match them to something else, and you can just go by mood. I prefer Ardbeg's Very Young, but unfortunately it was a limited release, and the remaining bottles are going for around £200 (that's $400-ish). No more for me. Stylewise: very smoky, very peaty. More like drinking a bonfire than a glass of smoke.
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From:xiphias
Date:February 26th, 2008 04:46 pm (UTC)
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Why would you want a white with smoked haddock!? I'd be thinking of something like a strong Tuscan red, something with some noticable tannin.

Or a dark beer. I bet a good porter might go with that.
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From:pushmearound
Date:February 26th, 2008 04:38 pm (UTC)
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HA. Greatest post ever, for my husband. Must show him. A++++
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From:zenithgryph
Date:February 26th, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
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I guess I'm the only one who had their throat and mouth burned off by my first and only taste of scotch. All I got was, "alcohol." And I've been drinking for about 5 years now.
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From:xiphias
Date:February 26th, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC)
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Try it with some water in it. Putting a drop of water to open up the flavor is totally acceptible, I think. It cuts the "alcohol" burn, and allows you to taste the rest of it.

(Also for bourbons. If Booker Noe drinks Booker's with a splash of water, to me, that means that you're cool with a splash in any whiskey.)
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From:xiphias
Date:February 26th, 2008 04:53 pm (UTC)
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By the way, it's probably best to be careful with WHAT terms you use, especially on your first go-around with faking.

Actual quote from my wine certification class:

ME (after tasting a wine): Um. . . is "Manaschewitz" a tasting note?

INSTRUCTOR: Um, probably, but if you ever say that again, I'm kicking you out of the class.
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From:enochs_fable
Date:February 26th, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
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Where'd you take the class, if I may ask? (I'm in your area. Hi :)
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From:ribmeister
Date:February 26th, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC)

Shame on you

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$75 buys you a cheap bottle of scotch. You should have plumped for a 50 year old Glenfarclas at $4500. Although if you do want cheap try the 16 year old Morrison Bowmore you can pick up for around $100. ;-)
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From:kmg_365
Date:February 26th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)
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Sort of like a rule for watching British comedies: When in doubt, laugh.
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From:terpsichoros
Date:February 26th, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC)
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I held a chocolate-tasting for some of my friends not too long ago. I just wasn't getting that much - possibly from all the running-around-stress setting up, or something.

The results were odd, too - most people thought the Lindt 70% was the worst of the round, but we had some big disagreements.
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From:sinanju
Date:February 26th, 2008 05:20 pm (UTC)
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My wife and good friend of ours try various whiskeys and other liquors whenever we get together. I am amused by listening to them discuss the various flavors and the benefits and drawbacks of each. I don't doubt that they really do detect all these flavors and scents and whatnot.

But me? All I can taste, all I can ever taste is the overwhelming, unpleasant bitterness of alcohol. Beer, wine, whiskey--whatever. All I taste is alcohol. The only alcoholic drinks I can enjoy at all are sweet, manly drinks like strawberry dacquiris or the like, where there's enough sugar in the mix to cut the alcoholic taste to something bearable.

I suppose I'm missing something, but what can you do?
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From:celamity
Date:February 26th, 2008 06:48 pm (UTC)
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I hate the smell of beer, and have never tasted it.
I dislike the smell of wine, and have hated every one I've tasted. White, red, some sweet desserty stuff... hated it. Later, I discovered that one of the things I hated about them was the taste of grape juice. (Grapes, however, are yummy, and raisins are okay. Grape juice? Rot in hell.)
I had a taste of Bailey's Irish Cream once. It tasted like tepid chocolate milk with something cold and nasty in it.

I suppose if anything alcoholic is ever to be found that I'd be willing to drink, it'll be one of those fruity things with little umbrellas and stuff. But it won't be a margarita; I got to taste one last summer and all I remember is that it had the cold nasty in it, and that I hated the rest of it.

I'm more annoyed about the fact that I can't find a way to make tea that I'd like, though. (How can people stand scalding their lips with hot water with a faint different taste in the water taste?)
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From:jcochrane
Date:February 26th, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)
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Amazing and useful post.
My fave lines:
"You think people taste oak in a wine? Fuck no. Who the hell eats oak?"
Take that, Robert Parker! :)
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