For some, the memory of the bottle that sparked their bourbon obsession is as clear as a shot of soul-less, flavorless, pick your brand vodka. There is a moment when an enthusiast goes from shot taking bro (or bar star) to ascot wearing, sophisticated bourbon connoisseur.
For myself it was buying a bottle of Elmer T. Lee for $37 dollars at a Costco because a friend said it was really good stuff. At this point in my life, I did not even own a bottle of whiskey let alone (as I would come to find out later) one as rare as this gem. I have a constant palm to face moment when I think back to grabbing one bottle out of the several cases of ETL sitting on the shelves at that beautiful price, but I digress.
After taking this beauty home I decided to open it immediately to see what the hype was about. Naturally, I grabbed a plastic tumbler, way too much ice and poured a decent amount of liquid gold into the cup. Now I was ready…. to add coca cola, ugh. I am well aware of the “No bad way to drink whiskey” mantra, but this was just wrong. I completely molested this unicorn before I even knew what I had. I took one sip and thought, “This isn’t too bad” as if I really could tell, so embarrassing.
I was that dreaded ‘You got any Blanton’s?’ customer.My taterness was only beginning. I eventually started to take sips neat and was able to pick out flavors that I didn’t even know existed in whiskey. That was the spark that began my obsession. From there I started reading article after article about everything whiskey. I didn’t even know that scotch, rye and bourbon were all considered whisk(e)y. After I felt I learned a decent amount, I goggled the most Tater thing you can ever Google: What are the best whiskeys to buy? What do you think was one of the first bottles that popped up? The beautiful round yet geometric shape and design. The amazingly detailed cork with different collectible letters. The different dump dates…yadda, yadda, yadda. You know where im going with this. I was hooked, and had to find this bottle without even trying or knowing anything about it. It almost took me a full year to find one bottle in my home state of Michigan. I can’t help but wonder what bottles I passed up during that time. I also think back and go red in face knowing I was that dreaded “You got any Blanton’s” customer. Sheesh!
Since my tater Google days, my opinions have changed as well as the way I drink whiskey. My collection, to my wife’s anguish, has grown to over 100 bottles. I have converted an entire room in my house to bourbon. I almost exclusively look for unknown distilleries and hunt down once in a lifetime store picks (I always leave room for unicorns as well). My collection of Blanton’s has grown and I can now spell its namesake from the caps. And, not to sound too stuffy, but I turn down more Blanton’s now than I ever even found when I was really hunting it and won’t pay over its SRP $60 price tag. I have learned that while Blanton’s is good, there are so many options out there and many of them are way better and unknown. I feel the same way about Elmer T. Lee which I have now replaced with backup and do not take for granted.
Thankfully, I have learned a lot from my inexperience and now know to appreciate bourbon in its natural Neat state first, then drink it how ever the hell you want! This wasn’t an over night transformation. It has taken 3+ years of trial and error, over paying, and open mindedness to get to my level of 2nd degree amateur, where I feel I sit now. I dug in and began to absorb as much knowledge as possible but still have much to learn. I have become a “Certified Bourbon Steward” which I guess means I can confidently talk about bourbon without sounding like too much of an idiot, but sound like no less of a fan boy.
Over the years I have nurtured relationships with store owners and fellow enthusiasts through social media and in person. This is really the key to enjoying and acquiring awesome whiskey: Make friends and be a friend in return. Don’t hoard bottles for a collection; share them with people you enjoy being around. Bourbon and all whisk(e)ys demand to be enjoyed with great conversation, a cigar or 2, and great company.