Friday, November 9, 2012

What I Learned At Whisky Fest NYC

 "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth." - Marcus Aurelius

I'm sure everyone expects, when I write up a post about an event, for me to do a blow by blow of the whole thing. If I followed the real journalism mentality, I'd definitely be doing that. But I'm not going to. As I read more and more Hunter S. Thompson, I realize that his style of journalism fits me much more comfortably. I love to tell stories. I love to hear stories, whether they pertain to the topic at hand or not. It's something I've always been keen on. When I'm on trains, or in airports, or anywhere with lots of people...I don't find myself worrying about crowds. I find myself wondering about everyone's life story. Where have they come from? Where are they going? What brought them there? I find that the truth of something is far better illustrated by not focusing on anything in particular. The crux of things comes to you as you experience it. And if that means blending fiction into it...all the better. A story is a story is a story, whether it's "just the facts, Jack" or a fairytale-esque analysis of the entire thing.With that said, let's begin.

1. New York City

Every time I visit NYC, my opinion of it fluxes. Sometimes I go down there and I think "there is no way I could ever live here". Other times I go down there and thing "there is no way I can't live here". The city reminds me greatly of Charles Bukowski's writing, actually. Bukowski is a beautiful, horrible man. If you've never read anything of his, I'd hesitantly encourage you to do so. It is graphic, I'll give it that. But it is frank. It's beauty lies in its simplicity, in its pureness of vision. He cuts no corners, he softens no blows. It is gritty and visceral. The same can be said of NYC as well. Its highs are euphoric and its lows are soul-crushing. I will explain.

After a hellishly gruelling session of heavy drinking on Saturday, I was finally free at 10:30pm to pursue my own thoughts and gather myself together. I was, oddly enough, very much sober which could not be said for some of the men walking out of the show. I went up to my room and changed out of my dress shoes. I took off the tie, popped the top two buttons on the shirt to vent some of the tropical heat that had been surrounding me in the ballroom. I slipped a Lucky Strike out of my pack and I went down to the smoking area. Lit it with my lighter...and I watched the city move. The melting pot of people that wandered about filled me with an indescribable feeling. A sense of frightening wonder: being miniscule. A tiny cog in a large machine. Living on Carl Sagan's "pale blue dot". All around me were people leading lives, striving for dreams. Stories waiting to be written but ever escaping the pen. Being the weekend before Halloween, costumes were abound. A troupe of Clockwork Orange droogs went up the escalator. A huge black guy dressed as Mario wandered about the lobby, talking on a cell phone before disappearing into a crowded elevator. A man dressed in a suit coated entirely in Nerds candy walked about with a cane outside, talking to some of the Whiskey Fest vendors who were breathing in the stale air outside. The ebb and flow of people funneling through that small covered alleyway almost overwhelmed me. Individual stories in the large book of the world constantly being written and erased. But as the heady euphoria peaked, then come the crash. A deaf man came by begging for money, of which I had none to give. I stood to go outside and complete my nightly ritual of two years: wishing upon a star. But when I stood between the theaters on Broadway...I couldn't see any. Instead was a murky sky filtered through the incandescent and LED lights representing the cheap and gaudy of Broadway. Highs and lows...highs and lows.

2. Reaffirmation

This shit...hasn't been easy. As I sit here typing this at 12AM on a Friday, I'm jobless, collecting unemployment, and generally feeling shitty. Having no job and having bills due is a terrible, terrible feeling. I've wondered, off and on, if going the direction I went was the right move. I COULD be sitting pretty with a steady $60k - $70k, health insurance, 401k optioned job. Chemical engineering could do that for me. But four years of studying it taught me that I hate it. I'd work at a job like that for about 5 years before hours spent grinding away at calculations in a cubicle would make me take a long walk off a short pier. But I've often thought "maybe I should just suck it up, get to the grindstone, and live life like that". Whisky Fest NYC made me say something far more simple:

"Fuck. That."

Beverage conferences, festivals, chats...they're always a huge boost for me in terms of morale. Wading through the bedecked booths as amber fountains of whisk(e)y pour from measured spouts makes me realize that, yeah, I'm doing the right thing. Chatting with industry legends, chatting with the up-and-comers, chatting with EVERYONE reaffirms the fact that distilling shit is in my blood and it will never go away. No amount of desktop calculations for fractionalization distillation columns for benzene or ammonia or natural gas could ever fulfill what I'm doing now. Seeing the smiles on people's faces as the glass rises to waiting lips, the liquid courses over taste buds, and the breath's magic. Handmade magic. And I get to be what I've always wanted to be, a wizard. A wizard in a magical land of huge horizons and endless creativity. My engineering knowledge isn't going to waste. I'm actually thinking more like an engineer than I actually realize. My problem was what I wanted to do with my life and the engineer's way of looking at alternate routes to a common goal was what I did. I'm still engineering things. I'm engineering liquid joy. And that's beautiful to me.

3. The Industry

I talked to a lot of people at Whisky Fest. Harlan Wheatley of Buffalo Trace. John Glaser of Compass Box. Dr. Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie/Ardbeg. I hung out with some people I had met previously (Lew Bryson, Dave Broom, Tim Welly of Hillrock, Nicole Austin of King's County) and some familiar but first meetings with others (John Hansell, Carmen Operetta, Dominic Roskrow, Robin Robinson, TRUMAN COX). And as I shook hands in the stifling heat of that ballroom, something occurred to me. I've never met a terrible person in this industry. Each has been kind, thoughtful, and happy. Those that knew I was looking for a job offered to help me find one, those that couldn't help offered a stiff dram and a hearty laugh. I don't know if it's my ability to pick out awesome people (HIGHLY doubtful) or if it's just the industry, on the whole, being amazing...but if I were a betting man, I'd have all my savings on the latter. It's an incredible field to be working in and the fact that ANYONE was interested in what I've done or what I had to say was huge. I won't lie. Quiet, happy tears were shed in a Marriott hotel room.

4. My Voice and My Break

As I've written these past few years, my writing style has changed. I go back and look at how I wrote and I realize that I've, frankly, cleaned myself up a bit. I swear a lot less often. My jokes are less frequent; I'm more serious, I guess. I enjoy my earlier writing but I suppose I've been hedging myself in to make my site more...user friendly. I should, really, be writing in an unfiltered fashion, viewers be damned. I am still trying to find my voice. I seem to be stuck between wanting to be recognized as someone versed in something and worth listening to...and not wanting to take things TOO seriously. I, in real life, curse like (borrowing from Peter Capaldi on this one) "a hairy-arsed docker after 12 pints". I filter myself because, frankly, I'd love for people to take me seriously and swearing like said aforementioned longshoreman won't get me far in that department. So, bear with folks. When I do post off and on (as of late, emphasis on 'off'), I may try new things. Might as well mix it up.

This brings me to my next point: the break. I feel like, at this point, I'm getting ready to crest the peak of a rollercoaster. Not in any way that means it's all downhill from here but in the sense that I can almost feel like something...something closing in. Something good...I hope. I'll post more on this in another post, probably, because it deserves one and it doesn't really have much to do with Whisky Live. But after attending the festival, I feel as if I've got a million options that are either just waiting to be explored or waiting for the right moment. Either way, I can feel it. I DONE SEENT IT.

5. The Gold Bowmore is AWESOME

-Bacchus out.

"Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures." - Ralph Waldo Emerson


  1. Love the review here and well, the quote from Marcus Aurelius--I think it is one we all need to remember frequently to gain perspective.

  2. Today is the first time I've stumbled across your blog. I might be finished with the entire archive by end of "work" tomorrow, but should probably save a few for next week. digging your writing mucho.

    Thank you.

    Thanks for the technical info on some of my fav boozes, you really know your shit and I' grateful you are sharing the knowledge.

    I've only been to NYC a couple times while doing a summer abroad in Montreal, NYC is not my style it turns out. I can totally dig it though.

    Pondering your work/life situation, I think you should move to somewhere you can start making your own hooch. I've been sick and tired of working on other peoples dream projects while mine sits on the shelf cause I can't afford to build it, so I decided to make a move of my own recently. I feel your frustrations. I quit a job that I had been at for almost 9 years, sweet salary, 401k health ins. and all the goodies, I didn't have to try hard at all, showed up late and left early. But fuuuck that place. Im much happier now and much closer to realizing my own project. Do what makes you happy.

    So, keep faith in the booze if that's what does it for you.