Business Insider Shows Off Its Cocktail Chops… or Lack Thereof

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I like Business Insider. It is an interesting source of all sorts of information on business and even politics. In their new cocktail post, 8 Tips for Drinking Whiskey Without Looking Like a Newbie, Business Insider really shows off its knowledge chops as a… business and politics site.

The post seems based on a visit to Noorman’s Kil, a whisky and grilled cheese bar in Brooklyn, New York City.

Wait. Just wait.
A grilled cheese bar?
I’m going to take a wild guess and say this place must be located in Williamsburg, not just any random neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Googling now… Yup. Williamsburg.

And that just gives further credence to my opinion about pieces like this one by Business Insider: No journalist writes anything about Williamsburg that does not make knowledgeable readers want to laugh derisively… or hit something while laughing derisively. To be clear, I’m not slamming Noorman’s Kil, or the concept of a Whisky and Grilled Cheese bar. I may in fact try a nice grilled cheese with a Manhattan this evening, as I suspect the flavor profiles will mesh nicely.

I don’t know what it is about writers who go to the Burg and publish about what they find their, but they either find the most ridiculous things and write about them credulously, or they misconstrue what they hear is ridiculous ways. This is not my first time posting on weird Williamsburg writing, by the way. I just guess that rampant hipsterism achieves its central goal of being subtly incomprehensible to, well, everyone.

In this case, I find it difficult to believe that these 8 rules are ungarbled advice from Marcel Simoneau, because if you were to follow them as written, you may not look like a newbie, but you will look like a maniac. Not all are bad, but some are awful. Oh, and the first step to not looking like a newbie, oh Williamsburg Writer, is to know that when referring to Scotch, do not use an ‘e’ in whisky!

Spell-check always rejects ‘whisky’, but spell-check is known to have terrible taste in liquor. I hear it drinks schnapps-based Appletinis….

Let’s start with number two: “Relax. You’re not doing it wrong.”
I think, I pray, that point two is one of those times where the subject says one thing, and the writer understands something else entirely.

Simoneau has seen every request, from a Laphroaig 10 year Manhattan (a cocktail usually prepared with rye) to Johnnie Walker Blue and ginger ale.

Wha?
Wha?
WHA?
I’m sure Simoneau has seen every request. I strongly doubt, however, that he up and suggested that anyone wanting to learn more about whisk(e)y just throw whatever sounds nice in a glass and experience the magic. If he did, do not go to his bar! Both of these are wrong, for different reasons.
A Manhattan is not usually made with rye, but with bourbon. (As it happens, I make most of my Manhattans with rye, because it is better that way. But I’m not most people.) Casually dropping the statement that the Manhattan is “usually” a rye drink is a great way to appear to be a newbie. Say, “Manhattans are better if you make them with rye instead,” and you sound like you know what you are doing.

See what he did there?

And more to the point, a “Manhattan” made with scotch is a Rob Roy. It already has a name. If you want to arbitrarily call one drink by another’s name, why not just f’n call it a Mojito?

And I’d now like to apologize to the mighty Angus Winchester, from whom I totally stole that joke.

Also, Rob Roys are usually made with blended whisky, and for a reason. Throwing the second peatiest single malt in the world into one will leave the impression not that you are a noob, but that you are a dangerous lunatic.

As for the idea of placing Johnny Walker Blue in the same glass with ginger ale…! A reasonable scotch lover would beat up the perpetrator for using a high end scotch like that in such a way as to make it indistinguishable from J&B. (If you don’t want to be mistaken for a newbie, one of the most important things you must learn is that sweet sodas will make the finest liquor indistinguishable from its cheapest mainstream competitor.) And a real Scot would beat up ginger ale boy twice. Once for ruining the Blue, and once for wasting so damn much money! We are a frugal folk, if you hadn’t heard.

How about tip number three? “Look for ‘distiller’s editions’.”
Um… Look, if you are seeking advice from a column about how not to look like a newbie, it kinda implies that you in fact are still a newbie, or at least still unsure of yourself. A quick way to look like a newbie is to assay an advanced maneuver you can’t carry off for sure. Yes, there are plenty of “distiller’s” or other special edition whiskies. Yes, many are indeed a “tasty, rare, and expensive treat.” But until you’ve worked your way through understanding most of the bigger, common bottlings of various genres of whisk(e)y and know what the hell you actually like, the emphasis will be on “expensive”, not on “tasty”. Drive some regular sports cars before you pop for the Maclaren.

Incidentally, the article casually refers to un-aged grain liquor, or “white dog”, as “whiskey”. This sort of thing will not get you branded as a newbie, since all too many people in the industry itself have lately begun to do it. Regardless, all right-thinking me and women need to stamp out this dangerous affectation right now. Alcohol which has not at least seriously made out for a while with some charred wood is not whiskey. In fact, make sure at every turn to denounce this practice with all the inquisitional fervor of a medieval Catholic bishop confronting the Aryan Heresy. No one will suggest you are a newbie, and you’ll be doing God’s work….

Tip number eight is, “It’s fine to shoot flavored whiskey.”
No. No, it is not. Unless you are doing it like this....

In fact, I can think of no finer use for flavored whiskey.

Tip seven, “Get Local”, will either save you from the newbie label, or brand you with it indelibly. Yes, craft distilling is in a renaissance right now, but it is in the early stages, especially when it comes to whiskey. Craft brewing is much more mature than distilling, and there are still a huge number of craft beers that taste like ass. Add in the fact that distilling is much, much harder than brewing in terms of skill, time, and governmental overhead, and noble an effort as craft distilling is, the results are very spotty. Confidently ordering one of those disasters while thinking that it’s “local and artisinal”, will get you pitying looks behind your back. Pitying looks and a glass of ass… overpriced, poorly aged in too-small barrels, ass. On the plus side, on a later date when some other poor schmoe orders the same poorly executed “bourbon”, you can share condescending looks with the bartender and whisper, “noob!”

Tips one, four, and five are pretty solid, for what it’s worth. One points out that for most vodka or other non-whisk(e)y drinkers, bourbon is the place to start. Move on to scotch (or rye) once you get used to the effects of wood. Four notes correctly that the age listed on bottles is not a reliable indicator of the relative quality of the liquid inside. It kind of glosses over why and how this is, or what you should do about it, so while true, it’s not exactly useful. Five is very true, in that it notes the joy of experience you can have when you “branch out” to more and more different labels and varieties of whisk(e)y. Again, it’s kind of unimportant for the purposes of this list, since, once you’ve drank enough to be able to “branch out”, you will by definition not be a newbie!

About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

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  • One of the biggest favors a bartender’s ever done for me (before I started working behind a bar, at least) was the night a year or so out of college, when I was out drinking with a buddy who had started on Wall Street. We were at an old-school bar, with the (real) massive mirror and carved wood, etc., and we ordered some 25-yo scotch.

    The guy just looked at us, and said “Look…if you really want, I’ll take your money. But if you’ve just started drinking scotch, you’re about to spend _five_ times more than you need to for a good 12 or 18yo, and you’re never going to be able to tell the difference.” We just sheepishly looked at each other, and told him to pour us whatever he thought was best.

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