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What’s shakin, cocktail fans? Welcome to Modern Bar Cart LIVE!
This is one of our live stream episodes where we taste through a number of themed bottles to try and get a better understanding of one of the world’s most fascinating spirits categories. Tto kick off the New Year in style, we’re going to crack open a few historic bottles of Jamaican-style rum and compare them to a couple of the more widely available Jamaican expressions on the market. This is my co-founder, Ethan Hall’s area of growing expertise so he is the guide on this particular flavor tour.
The bottles we taste, in order, are:
I know those last two are a mouthful, and believe me, they’re each delicious mouthfuls in their own way, so definitely stick around to hear about how those two offerings from Habitation Velier are pretty different from the stuff you can find on most liquor store shelves.
No need for a whole lot of preamble on this episode – so grab a Glencairn glass and join us for this delightful four-bottle tasting of Jamaican rum. LEGGI TUTTO
Bertha González Nieves discovered her love for the spirits world when, at age 22, she was selected to represent Mexico in a television program ran by the Japanese government. It was through this opportunity that Bertha realized the incredible way tequila embodied Mexico as the social fabric, the culture, and the life. She fell in love with the craft, deciding then and there that she wanted to dedicate her career to the tequila industry.
Looking for a way to get her foot in the door, Bertha landed a job with the Beckmann family, owners of Grupo Cuervo. For more than a decade she engaged with the Jose Cuervo brand, maintaining five different positions as she learned the foundation of the breadth and what could be done in the tequila category. After her 10th year, she felt the tug of the entrepreneurial spirit urging her to break away from Gupo Cuervo and create her own company. Thus, in 2008, Casa Dragones was born.
The first bottle brought to market was the “Casa Dragones Joven.” This spirit exists to prove that tequila can compete with other sipping spirits like cognac and whiskey, and can also pair well with dishes outside of Mexican cuisine. French, Italian, and Japanese foods are now viable contenders to pair with tequila thanks to the Joven. By pioneering this new space, Bertha hopes to push the tequila production conversation forward, allowing others to follow in her contemporary footsteps.
Bertha accredits the beautiful quality of her liquor to sourcing, cultivation, and water. There are five states where you can harvest blue weber agave in Mexico: Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Guanajuanto, and Tamaulipas. Casa Dragones is focused in Tequila, Jalisco where the Tequila Volcano causes the soil to be semi-arid and semi-humid, filled with obsidian rock, and volcanic matter. Every bottle of Casa Dragones is 40% tequila 60% water. Using natural aquifers straight from the volcano, Bertha and her team are able to tweak the water, giving it the right mineral profile to harmonize their tequila. This culmination of details is what maintains the premium status of Casa Dragrones’.
The demand for a new tequila arose once consumers started looking for a bottle with more flexibility. The Joven is not meant to be served on the rocks, kept in the freezer, or made into a margarita. This is where inspiration for the “Blanco” bottle arose. The Blanco expression celebrates the agave in a herbaceous, green, and pure tribute. This liquor is minimal, yet bursting with character. When creating the Blanco, Bertha hoped to create a tequila that will have the same relationship with chefs as it does with mixologists. A liquor that can hold its own meat and also perform well in a signature cocktail.
The final bottle created by Casa Dragones is the 3rd barrel aged expression. This tequila is known as the “Añejo.” After extensive traveling, Bertha and her team discovered a soulful wood in Bordeaux, France. By combining that with an American oak from Pennsylvania, Casa Dragones was able to achieve a dry, complex, and beautiful result of an aged tequila. The wood undergoes a char treatment, but the color of the Añejo is a natural reaction that occurs within the bounds of the barrel.
Nosing the Three Bottles
While nosing the Joven, incredible grassy tones and fruity notes are identified, almost reminisce of fermented cane. The deep green nose can be attributed to the floral and citrus in the blanco tequila balanced with the sweetness and spice of the aged. This is a love affair of the two styles, where neither is overwhelming the overall experience.
When nosing the Blanco, the immediate reaction is more subtle than the Joven. A dry, mineral note first hits the pallet followed by suggestions of marigold.
Nosing the Añejo inspires notes of cedar and sap, hinting at the life in the wood instead of the flavors that were burned out of the wood. Just as the two preceding the Añejo, this expression is different than your typical aged liquor.
Where to Find Casa Dragones
New York, Florida, Illinois, Colorado, Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada. If you cannot find Casa Dragones in your state, email “[email protected]” and Bertha will make sure to take care of it.
I have a cocktail I adore called the Micheloma by Pablo Pasti.
If You Were a Cocktail Ingredient, What Would You Be?
Cocktail with Anyone, Past or Present
The recent elections have really left a mark on me. I would love to have a drink with Kamala Harris and I want to ask her what are we going to do for females in the beverage industry.
Controversial Opinion in the Spirits/Cocktail Space
I do believe that I am trying to prove my case that tequila pairs well with French, Italian, and Japanese cuisine. I am going to prove that everyday of the week. LEGGI TUTTO
To make this large format cocktail, you’ll need:
1 ½ cups (i.e. 12 oz, i.e. half a bottle) of Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
4 oz Laird’s Applejack (which is an American Apple Brandy)
4 oz spiced cranberry syrup (which we’ll cover in a second here)
24 dashes of celery bitters (there’s a lot of versions out there, but Aaron calls for a product by The Bitter Truth)
Now, the first thing you’re gonna want to do is make your cranberry syrup. For the full recipe, I’m going to refer you to the book, but it’s basically a combination of cranberries, sugar, dry white wine, and traditional holiday spices reduced to a delicious syrup on the stovetop, then strained and cooled.
Once you’ve got your syrup made and cooled down to at least room temperature, add it to a pitcher with the bourbon and the applejack and give them all a good stir. You’ll serve this drink on the rocks by pouring 2.5 oz of your booze and syrup mixture into the glass and then topping with 3 dashes of celery bitters and the coup de gras – a stuffing cube garnish.
You’re also gonna want to make those ahead of time, but they’re super easy. According to Aaron, all you need to do is preheat your oven to 400 degrees, mold and cut your favorite stuffing recipe into 1” cubes, place them on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. After 10 minutes, you’ll flip them over, drizzle them with GRAVY this time, then bake until they’re dark brown and crisp. Once they’re cool you can serve these garnishes in your Gobbler cocktails on a cocktail pick, but if you don’t have those lying around, a toothpick will do just fine.
The first part of our conversation with Aaron revolves around his writing career. He began writing booze articles while he was on a quest to become a novelist in the early 2000s. Although Aaron did publish a few novels, he found a unique and innovative voice in the spirits and cocktail space. He initially spent a lot of time in the craft beer space, and then evolved into tracking the whiskey boom in the US, including its secondary online markets. LEGGI TUTTO
1.5 oz Apple Brandy (Calvados is traditional, but Applejack is a suitable American substitute)
¾ oz Yellow Chartreuse
¾ oz Benedictine Liqueur
Several Dashes of Aromatic Bitters (we, of course, like to use our Embitterment Aromatic Bitters)
Combine these ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir for about 15-20 seconds until the mixture is well chilled and properly diluted, then strain into a stemmed cocktail glass and garnish with a brandied cherry.
The Widow’s Kiss cocktail showcases three prototypically French spirits: Calvados, Yellow Chartreuse, and Benedictine (which is another herbal liqueur produced by an order of Catholic monks). This is an excellent formulation to pull out if you prefer sweet, but balanced cocktails. It’s definitely on the sweet and boozy size, but we would hazard to say that it’s not for everybody and that you really need to nail the dilution on this one. You just can’t get away with under-diluting it because it will be both too hot and too sweet on the palate if you do.
This cocktail, along with the Diamondback cocktail, are really the only places you’re going to see Yellow Chartreuse used in a cocktail format, so if you’re an aficionado of esoteric liqueurs, we really do think you owe it to yourself to try these things with other ingredients instead of solely sipping them neat or on the rocks.
The bottles we tasted through in this episode were (in order): Yellow Chartreuse, Green Chartreuse, and the Chartreuse 9th Centenary Liqueur. Below, we offer some history and context, as well as our tasting notes from this experience.
History of Chartreuse
In 1084, the Order of Carthusians (also known as the Order of St. Bruno) was founded near city of Grenoble in east-central France close to the borders of present-day Switzerland and Italy. This is Catholic sect of monks who live an ascetic life that is largely silent (with the exception of prayer and weekly check-ins).
In 1605, the order was given a recipe for an “elixir” by General François Annibal d’Estrées, and that recipe was the basis for Green Chartreuse, which was officially sold for the first time in 1764. The yellow variant was launched about 75 years later in 1838.
During this interview, Eric indicated that there was a significant (and potentially causal) relationship between the Phyloxera Plague and the distillate bases of Green (sugar beet) and Yellow (grape) Chartreuse. Upon reviewing the history, this doesn’t seem to hold up, and Eric is very sorry that he got it wrong.
Chartreuse Tasting Notes
Yellow Chartreuse – (40% ABV) On the nose, saffron and angelica root are readily apparent, with hints of raisin, fennel, and honey. On the palate, it’s sweet and grapey with notes of tarragon and chamomile.
Green Chartreuse – (55% ABV) The aroma is reminiscent of “forest floor” (or the scent of an alpine forest after a rain), with clover, mint, and lemon balm coming through. On the palate, the spices jump out, with cinnamon, clove, and mace all making an appearance to support a heavy hit of genepy.
9th Centenary Liqueur – (47% ABV) Ethan pulled out notes of latex paint and old tweed on the nose, while Eric was more in the cedar universe. It has a generally “darker” and “funkier” aromatic profile than the Green Chartreuse. On the palate, it has a great deal of spearmint (rather than peppermint), mustard seed, and tea notes, and perhaps some lemon thyme. Finally, we should point out that this product does contain sesame seeds, which certainly contribute to the savory flavor of this expression.
This episode was made possible with editing and sound design by Samantha Reed, production and stream management by Eric Holtzman, a great bottle of rare Chartreuse courtesy of Ethan Hall and Domestique Wine here in DC, and a little bit of tasting magic by yours truly. This has been a Modern Bar Cart Production, copyright 2020. LEGGI TUTTO
Just because Lea & Perrins is the ubiquitous condiment that you’ll find in every major grocery store doesn’t mean it’s the only game in town when it comes to umami sauces. I jumped on a call with Kate Quartaro about the story and ingredients behind her Col. Pabst Worcestershire Sauce, which also has some really cool ties to American drinking culture.
According to Kate, her mother sourced the recipe for Colonel Pabst Worcestershire Sauce from the kitchen of her grandfather, Gustave Pabst. It was only made occasionally, since it was a complex recipe, but it demonstrates a family tradition of cooking with beer. Gustave’s father (Captain Frederick Pabst) was the founder of the Pabst brewery, which explains the family’s connection to fermented malt products.
As the oldest son, Gustave became president of Pabst Brewing Co. in Milwaukee upon the death of his father and maintained that position until Prohibition. He married into another brewing family from St. Louis, and the couple subsequently spent time in England, where it is assumed that they derived their recipe for Worcestershire sauce.
Worcestershire sauce was originally made with malt vinegar (as opposed to the current recipe ingredient, distilled white vinegar), and the Pabst family decided to substitute some of that malt vinegar for the pre-vinegar ferment: beer. According to Kate, this produces a fuller-bodied, richer flavor experience when compared to Worcestershire sauces that only contain malt vinegar. (And to be clear, during the manufacturing process, the alcohol in the beer is boiled out.)
Many people assume that, due to its connection to the Pabst brewing family, Colonel Pabst Worcestershire Sauce is made with PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) beer. That is actually not the case. It’s made with Lakefront Brewery’s Lager, which produces a beef-driven umami flavor when fermented with the other ingredients in the sauce. Some other ingredients in the mix include sustainable anchovies, crushed cinnamon sticks, whole peppercorns, mustard seed, and curry. This produces a rich sauce that is thicker thank most other Worcestershire sauces on the market.
Colonel Pabst Worcestershire Sauce Tasting
After hearing about the special malt- and spice-driven flavor profile of Col. Pabst Worcestershire sauce, you KNOW that Cera and I were ready to put it to the test. Here’s how it went.
Colonel Pabst Worcestershire Sauce – On the nose, it’s very different than Lea & Perrins. The complexity seems “baked in,” whereas the complexity in L&P seems “engineered.” It’s sweeter, darker, and more welcoming, with roasty flavors and welcoming vinegar encouraging a taste. On the palate, it is both meatier and milder than L&P. The mouthfeel is remarkable and buttery, making a point about texture without saying a word. Molasses, curry, and mustard notes back the texture and advance the conversation taking place on the palate. This is not a sauce that requires a palate cleanse, even with a straight tasting.
The Fermentation Situation
So, now that we’ve tasted through three different umami sauces, I wanted to return to what is probably the most interesting, misunderstood, and contentious ingredient in Worcestershire sauces around the world: anchovies. And not just any anchovies – the fermented kind.
Now, fermented fish sauces are part of many cultures around the world, but for some reason they’re not really well liked or well understood by the American palate. I mean, if Lea & Perrins were to market Worcestershire AS a fish sauce, I don’t think you’d see nearly as many people eager to snatch it off the shelves and add it to their next burger mix or sautee.
Of course, there are a number of reasons why you might not want stinky, fermented fish in your next meal or Bloody Mary, which is exactly why I found recipe developer and food expert Brinda Ayer’s article on Worcestershire sauce substitutes so fascinating. If you want to check that out (and you should), we’ll have a link to it right on the show notes page. But for now, here’s Brinda’s take on fish sauce, fish sauce alternatives, and why fermentation is an important process when it comes to establishing maximum flavor.
Vegan/Vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce Substitutes
This whole segment of the podcast is derived from Brinda Ayer’s article on Worcestershire sauce substitutes on Food52. One of the remarkable aspects of this article is that approaches Worcestershire sauce substitutes from so many angles. She comes at it from an ingredient perspective (soy-based, fish-based, vinegar-based, wine-based, and wildcard), and each category of substitutes contains multiple levels of complexity to account for what different home chefs may have in their pantries. There are certain webpages on the internet that are definitive, and this is one of them.
According to Brinda, soy (and other vegetable ferments) are incredibly low-touch and high-impact. Fermentation adds layers of flavor to a dish, and omitting a fermented ingredient can leave you with a flat flavor profile. And what’s more, some of the ingredients she champions go through multiple fermentations (e.g. sherry vinegar), rendering layers within layers of flavor. Subtlety? Nuance? This is where it’s found.
Anchovies: The Umami of the Sea LEGGI TUTTO
Jim Murray is an English writer and whisky critic who’s been writing about barrel aged grain based distillates for the better part of three decades. He started seriously visiting distilleries in the UK in the early-to-mid ‘80s and was self-publishing his thoughts on spirits by the early ‘90s, which means he’s been a force in the whisky industry for about 30 years.
He’s also notorious for his “Murray Method,” a prescriptive 14-step process for judging whisky. It covers everything from palate cleansing and sensory noise abatement, to nosing and evaluation.
According to some sources (which means…according to Murray himself), he has tasted over 20,000 whiskeys in his lifetime with no intentions of slowing down or stopping anytime soon.
Murray’s annual publication, The Whisky Bible, has been in circulation since 2003 and has reportedly sold over a million copies worldwide. This is where he reviews and revises his reviews on whisky offerings from around the world, offering tasting notes (which we’ll talk about in just a minute) and ratings.
He’s well known for scoring whiskies on a 100-point scale, which has drawn some fire for being either somewhat or hopelessly subjective, depending on where you stand on rating systems. So, if you’re familiar with wine ratings, you know Robert Parker. If you care about whisky ratings, you know Jim Murray. Hopefully that comparison resonates with a few of you out there.
Finally, he’s also notorious for bandying about the term “best whisky” quite a bit, which isn’t crazy popular with people who understand that flavor is subjective. Nonetheless, it’s great for search engine optimization, and other people (mostly whisky brands) still wait with bated breath for his yearly bast-in-category pronouncements.
So, now that you know a bit about Jim, let’s talk about what he wrote and why some people are pret-ty upset about it.
The “Outing” of Jim Murray
In a Tweet thread on September 20 of this year, whisky expert Becky Paskin stated [quote]:
This post will no doubt attract some hate comments, but something needs to be said. Why does the whisky industry still hold Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible in such high regard when his tasting notes are so sexist and vulgar?1/ (Thread)
In the 2020 edition there are 34 references to whisky being ‘sexy’ and many more crudely comparing drinking whisky to having sex with women. 2/
She then went on to detail a number of examples from Murray’s Whisky Bible, including the following snippets, which I’m going to now read. This would be earmuff time for the kids.
About Penderyn Celt Whiskey, he writes: “If this was a woman, I’d want to make love to it every night. And in the morning. And afternoon, if I could find the time… and energy…”
Regarding Canadian Club Chronicles, Water of Windsor Murray soliloquizes: “Have I had this much fun with a sexy 41-year-old Canadian before? Well, yes I have. But it was a few years back now and it wasn’t a whisky. Was the fun we had better? Probably not.”
He has the following to say about Glenmorangie Artisan Cask: “If whisky could be sexed, this would be a woman. Every time I encounter Morangie Artisan, it pops up with a new look, a different perfume. And mood. It appears not to be able to make up its mind. But does it know how to pout, seduce and win your heart…? Oh yes.”
And one last zinger for the road here. Here’s his take on Fannys Bay Tasmanian Bourbon Cask: “No Port. No sherry. Just the wonderful opportunity to taste naked Fannys.”
As a little note of cultural translation on that last quote, the term “fanny” refers to a woman’s vagina in the UK, so ol’ Jim ain’t talkin’ ‘bout lickin’ butts…he’s after that WAP (as the kids say).
Following Paskin’s tweet thread, a number of publications within and beyond the spirits industry covered the story, and quite a few brands released public statements in support of her position, which is pretty simple:
The amount of people who read those sorts of comments and assume that it’s OK to speak about whisky in that way is damaging.
The message it is sending to the whisky industry as a whole and to whisky consumers is that women don’t really matter and they are there to be objectified.
To wrap of the reporting side of things here, so we can get on to the good stuff, I’m going to read the full text of Murray’s public response to the public outrage sparked by Paskin’s observations. It’s not super short, but one thing I don’t want to be accused of is misrepresenting anything, so here goes: [Quote]
This is not a matter of alleged sexism on the trumped up charges against me – which have clearly been concocted for very clear purposes – this is an attack on the very essence of what it is to be a critic in any sphere, be it music, art, sport, wine or whisky. In other words: an attack on free thought and free speech.
We are entering very dangerous territory when people try to control the thoughts of others and wilfully distort the truth for their own ends. This is now a battle between free speech and humourless puritanism. I am not alone in finding this very sinister.
I am not sexist; the Whisky Bible is not sexist, has never been sexist and I will not bow to this faux outrage. I have always fought the bully and I will do so here. Debate has been replaced by the baying of the mob, common sense and decency by straitjacketed dogma. Frankly, these people appall me because what they are doing is undermining society itself.
How, in God’s name, can, for instance, likening a whisky to an orgasm be remotely construed as sexist? Last I heard, male, females, transgender people, everyone is capable of an orgasm. I am a professional writer and use a language that adults – for the Whisky Bible is designed for adults – can relate to. I paint pictures of a whisky. And if that, on the rare occasion, is the picture or sensation that formulates in my mind, then I say so. As I have every right to.
Rather than write interesting, illuminating and compelling articles about whisky, other writers would rather engage in ‘cancel culture’ to [bring] down the world’s most successful author on the subject.
Some one million people have bought the Whisky Bible since it first came out in 2003 – and in that time I have not received a single letter, email or text complaining of its content. Not one. Suddenly, though…this. Several people writing exactly the same thing on the same day. Strange that.
I am famed for my ability to nose a whisky. And I can tell you that I can smell a huge rat with this entire manufactured and revolting affair.
I have dedicated 30 years of my life, longer than anyone else on this planet, fighting for whisky and the whisky underdog, so people will discover great whiskies from wherever they may be in the world. This has put quite a few people’s noses out of joint. These outrageous and concocted allegations will not derail me in my life’s quest. My championing of great whisky will continue. My freedom of speech will continue. Whether these latter day Cromwellians like it or not.”
Sort of reminds me of the end of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night where the villain Malvolio runs off into the night saying, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.”
Why Jim Murray is Wrong
So, now that we’re all caught up on the scandal, the “outing” of Jim Murray, and his defiant public response, I hope you’ll allow me to explain why Jim and his behavior are so damaging to our world – and my reasoning is probably different from what a lot of folks out there have said so far.
As I mentioned earlier, some people have taken a bit of a passive stance, saying essentially, hey, this guy has his own platform. He’s self publishing, and he has a right to print what he wants. He also has a huge following around the world who clearly like his writing, so there’s not much we can do much to damage him and his platform, etc. etc.
Others have taken the more traditional anti-sexism approach saying that sexism of any sort is never okay, which is sort of the gender inclusion correlative of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
A Case for Robustness
And both of those types of responses are fair, measured, and reasoned in their own way. But my first argument against Jim Murray and his language begins with one primary concern: robustness.
I want the spirits and cocktail world to be robust, and robustness requires diversity. Diversity of experience, diversity of flavor, diversity of thought and value. You simply cannot have robustness without diversity, and you cannot, by definition, have diversity without women.
When you act and write as if you’re a dirty old man, people who don’t like dirty old men tend to leave the room – and the biggest demographic in that camp is going to be women. Jim – you’re creeping out the women, and I don’t know if you’ve been following along here, but we need them. They make our whole industry better and more robust. So could ya stop it? That’s about as utilitarian as I can make this. If you won’t consider stopping because it’s the right thing to do, please at least consider doing it on behalf of the industry you claim to champion. You say you’ve always fought the bully, but right now you’re being the bully, which makes you a bit of a hypocrite.
Whisky Doesn’t Taste Like Sex
Another thing that nobody has really pointed out about Murray’s sexed up whisky reviews is that…they’re not useful at all, and they don’t make a lot of sense. How does some vague story about an imaginary tryst with a 41 year old Canadian woman help me decide if I want to spend money on a bottle?
Short answer: it doesn’t. So you’re not even doing your job right, Jim. If you claim to publish these reviews to help people, at the very least I can say with certainty that the sexualized language isn’t getting it done.
But if you take a half step back here and consider the evidence, I don’t think it’s tough to understand why he’s doubled down instead of apologizing and doing the right thing:
Somewhere along the way – some time during his 30 years and 20,000 tastings and 1 million copies sold – it became less about the whisky and more about Jim Murray. Who knows when it happened, but I think the decision to call his 2003 book a “bible” might just signal the beginnings of a God complex.
We Live in Service of a Craft
As somebody who judges spirits and works very closely with distillers to help make their products and operations as good as possible, my philosophy is simple: what I do is IN SERVICE of the people who make the spirits and the people who enjoy them. And I’ll tell ya, it’s really hard to be of service when everything is all about you.
When I look at Jim Murray (from the language of his reviews to his handling of the scandal), I’m terrified because it’s possible that I could be looking at an angry, distorted version of myself in 30 years, mumbling about tasting fannies and railing against the mob. And that is deeply unsettling. As it should be.
So for myself and for all the other people who have voices in the spirits and cocktail world, I hope Jim Murray serves as the example of what not to do and how not to handle yourself when you have a platform that influences people.
When you have the privilege to make a living by commenting on a craft (such as the making of a beautiful whisky), you need to remember that the craft existed long before you, and it will remain long after you die. And that means that you are in service of the craft, not the other way around.
So to those of you listening out there who value robustness in our industry, who see that there is no room for sexism in a world where we are called to serve, please keep doing great work and propelling the industry forward. With any luck, Jim Murray will look at the piles and piles of Whisky Bibles that have been taken off the shelves and decide to join us someday.
A Case for Redemption
I’ll wrap up this episode with a personal story that this whole situation has really reminded me of. If you’ve made it this far, I trust that you’ll stick with me to the end here because this story not only parallels the Jim Murray situation but also has a few things to say about the “where do we go from here” question.
This story is about one of the toughest teaching situations I’ve ever experienced, and it’s remained with me as one of the defining moments of my time teaching poetry at The University of Maryland.
While I was there, I taught a poetry workshop that was filled with some pretty talented students. And if you’re not familiar with what a poetry workshop looks like, it’s very intimate. Everyone submits work for all the other students to evaluate, and then we come in every class, circle the desks, and literally workshop each piece of art. We’d critique them, not unlike a spirits judge reviews a glass of whisky. As you can imagine, it’s a delicate process, and it’s easy to get upset and take things personally when you’ve poured your heart and soul into the work, so being a good citizen of the workshop was always something I very strongly enforced. Because without that respect and good intention, it’s easy for the class to descend into nitpicking and petty criticism.
As it happened, for the final workshop of the semester, I had a male student submit a poem called “Monday Morning Rape,” which was basically the whiny diatribe of a hung-over college student walking to class and describing how awful the world looks. Very “Holden Caulfield” from Catcher in the Rye, and it was about as compelling as it sounds from that description. The one image from that poem that still sticks in my mind is the [quote] “piss-and-shit colored leaves” that the speaker of the poem treads over on his trek across campus. That’s the kind of writing we were dealing with here.
Leading up to that workshop, I got several emails from female students saying that they needed to leave the class instead of workshopping the poem because they had either experienced sexual abuse in their personal life or just couldn’t be civil to the student who submitted it, and so I said, “of course, do what you’ve got to do. I understand.”
But that didn’t solve the problem. I still had to face up to this situation in front of a class full of young, intelligent people who had worked incredibly hard all semester. So here’s what I did.
To celebrate the last workshop, I had everyone do the same five-minute free write that I used to begin the semester. The prompt was simply, “what is a poem?” Except this time I encouraged them to come up with fun metaphors for what a poem is and how it works since suddenly they were experts after an intensive few months of workshopping.
And after the five minutes was up, we all went around, one by one, and shared our thoughts. A poem is an onion because it has layers. A poem is a puzzle with no correct answer. A poem is an out-of-body experience without leaving your body. You get the idea.
After we were done going around the room, I knew this particular group of students wasn’t going to let me get away without giving them an answer, so I had one prepared. A poem is a gift. And this is the metaphor I used to explain the invisible contract that exists between poet and reader, even though the poet and the reader in most cases never meet one another, just like the person who makes a spirit and the person who picks it up off a shelf and pours it into a glass.
I’ll spare you the details of our experience workshopping the awful, “Monday Morning Rape” poem, except to say that it was rough. No one had anything positive to say about it, and both the class and the student who wrote it were visibly upset. In the end, I was able to explain that it failed as a poem because it failed as a gift. Not to say that sad, or angry, or generally negative poems can’t be gifts (if that was the case, the majority of poetic canon would be out the window), but this poem was too self-absorbed to effectively honor the contract between poet and reader, which at the end of the day, creates a brief moment of recognition and kinship between the force that crafted the work and the person who consumes it as art.
Making Space for Redemption
Even though this audio essay contains a lot of criticism for Jim Murray and his sexualization of whisky reviews, it’s not a call for cancellation because that doesn’t solve anything.
In a perfect world, Jim Murray would take the 2021 edition of The Whisky Bible and revise his work with new eyes and a fresh palate, just like that male student of mine took that poem, gutted it during his revision process, and turned in something so stunningly different that I was compelled to give him an A on the assignment, partially for the work on the page and partially for the work he needed to do in his own head to make it possible.
What’s sad is that I doubt that student ever came to pick up his revised portfolio with my written comments on it from the English Department office at the end of finals week. Most students don’t, and the portfolios are sent to the shredder. If he did pick it up, he would have read about how impressed I was by the transformation and conscientiousness he displayed. But I think he may have just been too wounded by the initial negative reception from me and from the class to bear risking any further embarrassment or criticism.
If there’s anything I regret from that whole situation, it’s that I didn’t make more of an effort to connect with the student after the fact and reinforce the good work. And this is my way of saying that, while I’m glad so many people have come together to correct Jim Murray’s sexist whisky reviews, I hope we haven’t created an atmosphere that prevents him from changing for the better because if we really take seriously the idea of an inclusive industry, it needs to be an industry where Jim Murray is able to come back to the table and give things another shot.
I’m Modern Bar Cart CEO Eric Kozlik. Thanks for permitting me this editorial. I hope I managed to color in some of the nuance that gets lost in Tweet threads and the industry news cycle, and I hope, most importantly, that you have the chance to taste a great whiskey sometime soon. Just remember: sex is not a tasting note. LEGGI TUTTO