Webster’s Online Dictionary defines a Bon Vivant as a person having cultivated, refined, and sociable tastes especially with respect to food and drink.
What is entailed to get from novice to mastery as a bon vivant in the multifaceted world of single malt whisky? Some might snicker and say drinking a lot of whisky. There is partial truth to that snarky statement but over the long term a methodical, well-thought out pathway leads to personal whisky mastery.
Global marketers promote hundreds of whiskies with price ranges that match the uniqueness or rarity of a whisky as well as price ranges at the high end simply “because.” Borrowing from the definition of bon vivant, “cultivated and refined” begs for one to taste a variety of whiskies to learn the differences in production regions, styles, age, and personal preferences beyond the marketing promotions. Where does one begin? In the book, Whisky Tales: Tasting and Temptations, author Linda L. Peterson offers more than a dozen tables that include four or more whiskies for an evening of tasting. The country or region and easy to understand tasting notes round out each table and provides a starting point for discovering the flavor nuances, similarities and differences among whiskies.
Beyond the plethora of books and the whisky expert at one’s local liquor store, there are several avenues to take to actually taste a variety of whiskies before purchasing. Whisky festivals are now held throughout the year in many major cities. The festivals offer many distinct whiskies along with “off the shelf bottles.” Unfortunately, rare bottles don’t usually make an appearance. These festivals, for some, are used to drink to excess. The bon vivant does his or her homework ahead of time and narrows the serious tasting to no more than six or so samples. After that the palate glazes over and the nuances fade, limiting the learning curve. Of course, food and water between drinks helps negate the glazing over. Practicality for one’s own palate should be considered.
International purveyors of independently bottled whiskies, such as Vom Fass of Germany, extend the reach to the rare and one-of-a-kind bottles. For those who are cultivating their whisky palate, Vom Fass provides customers the opportunity to taste any of its whisky before purchasing. And when they are gone, they are truly gone. A prime example took place during a Master Class by Jack Teeling of Teeling Distillery in Dublin at the Sarasota, Florida Vom Fass store. Jack explained that the four Irish whiskey expressions currently for sale at Vom Fass are from stock at his previously owned Cooley Distillery, which was recently bought by Beam Suntory. That stock is no longer available. The message is if you find a special edition or rare bottle you enjoy, buy it.
Author Linda L. Peterson, who sees herself as an enthusiast and doesn’t use the terms expert or bon vivant, has tasted more than 400 whiskies, and contends that the learning continues. Yet, overtime the palate develops, preferences for certain whisky profiles emerge, and discussions about whisky elevates to more than “Ya, I like it while munching on a chip.”
Though most everyone considers Scotch the classic single malt whisky, other countries are producing exceptional whiskies, with more distilleries opening globally at a surprising pace. There is indeed a whisky renaissance in progress with opportunities to taste what might just become the next classic. The bon vivant quietly assumes a position of awareness and relevance, and appreciates the best there is to offer in the world of all that is whisky.
Follow Linda L. Peterson on Twitter @dramgoodwhisky