I recently passed my WSET Level 2 Certificate in Spirits exam, to augment my food & drink writing. I used to write about wine when I started my CocoHobo / CityandCharm blog. It all began through a fortuitous meeting with Angela Aiello when she was just starting iYellow Wine Club. And I do love the oenological libation, I do. But it is a bit too tied in with my past, and after my attempts at starting a beer website (Thirstybeaver.ca) waned, I decided that spirits would be my future! Hence the WSET course.
What I learned most through my spirits education is that their history is so intertwined with that of their countries of origin. To order a rum-and-coke at a bar is actually to continue the legacy of rum from the sugarcane fields to the Royal Navy to Bacardi’s distillery in Cuba to your glass here in Toronto. It’s so interesting! And the course encourages students to not just drink spirits but to taste them.
Here’s my response to “Why do we taste spirits?”:
We taste spirits, as opposed to merely drinking them, for the same reasons we do not simply skim a literary tome or glance at a great work of art: analyzation allows for deeper appreciation, releases deeper meaning and evokes deeper reflection. We take the time to get to know the words on the page, the strokes on the canvas or the notes in the glass because someone took the time to put them there for us to discover. The unexamined life is, as Plato pointed out, not worth living; so, too, is the unsavoured spirit not worth drinking. Unless, I suppose, you are 21 and have a less civilized motivation! Fortunately, most of us will outgrow this consumption style and become more accustomed to tasting our spirits with a learned nose, a practiced tongue and an open mind.
I have to say, I totally agree with self. It’s funny, too, because when I was reading The Artist’s Way at Work the other day it was talking about when you go through a creative rediscovery transformation, often your volatile emotions come out first. And that’s what happens with distillation! Volatile elements come out first (the heads) before the dregs (tails) and hearts (good parts). It made me think about how the origin of spirit distillation itself was to get back to the pure, ethereal state– which is totally relevant for emotional distillation as well.
Also, I came up with another one of my catch phrases:
If wine is bottled poetry, then spirits are bottled philosophy.
That’s a homage to my birthday buddy, RL Stevenson, aka Robbie Lou. I haven’t come up with the “and beer is bottled ___” part yet. I kinda want to say sunshine but that doesn’t keep in theme with the poetry/philosophy connection. What would the third one be in the Days of Yore? Sport? Me no no.
The point is, spirits are très interessante! It is now my quest in life to visit their places of origin and write about their history and how we are using the spirits today. I think it is a good time for this drink down memory lane because if you look at the drinks scene in Toronto especially, bartenders are dressing all Prohibition-era and there’s un retour to classic cocktails. My favourites include the Bourbon Old Fashioned, Cuba Libre and methinks I shall go to Sidecar and order a Sidecar.
Oh and I’m absolutely obsessed with French brandy right now. As part of my quest in life I shall be going to Cognac and/or Armagnac regions ASAP!
Until then, pass the rum. My coke is thirsty.