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What I’ve Learned From Bourbon

In Banter by Ginny TonicLeave a Comment

I wrote my first guest column for Bourbon & Banter in 2013. At that time I was an avid follower of the site and a special education teacher who loved bourbon. I had done a lot of reading and even more drinking on the subject. I’d even done a little blogging on a Cincinnati drinks website. But being given a chance to write for Bourbon & Banter was an honor. I felt like I was getting a shot at the big leagues. My work with the site led me to attend my first Whiskey Festival. I interviewed Wes Henderson and learned to understand what real bourbon problems are. I even willingly drank Cleveland Whiskey. All of those changes led to the biggest change of all. Three and half years later I am now employed by two of the distilleries that I have written about, as a Sale Manager for Middle West Spirits and as a part-time tour guide for New Riff Distilling.

The change in career has been the realization of a dream I’d been working towards since I first started writing and podcasting about spirits. I wanted to make my living in the world of whiskey. Now that I have met this goal, I realize that it has come time to rethink my relationship with Bourbon & Banter. For one thing, I now have a bit too much skin in the game to be completely unbiased. It isn’t just about being unable to ethically review the products that I sell. Now that I work for two small distilleries it would be difficult to analyze the bourbon market objectively.

My relationship to writing has also changed. Writing about bourbon used to be a way to creatively recharge my batteries after a long day of teaching. Now that I spend my day talking to people about various whiskeys and spirits all day, I am much less inclined to sit down and write about it all night. So, as much as it has been an honor to be a Senior Contributor for this site, I have to admit that I am no longer in a position to fulfill that commitment. If a topic comes up that I simply can’t resist writing about, you may see my name here again from time to time, but from now on my main role here will once again be being an avid reader and fan of Bourbon & Banter.

Of course, I can’t leave without sharing a few of the most valuable lessons that writing about bourbon has taught me. There have been too many to count but here are a few of the most important ones.

Take Your Time: Bourbon is best enjoyed slowly and thoughtfully. When I first started exploring bourbon, I enjoyed sipping it, but it wasn’t until I started podcasting and writing about it that I realized just how slow you have to go to be able to describe what it is that you are tasting. First of all, bourbon opens up and often improves as it sits after being poured. You have to give it room to breath. Inhale and try to identify the scents in the nose. When you drink the flavors can skip across your tongue so quickly it is easy to miss. To get the best description, I take several sips, each time trying to concentrate on what I am tasting, where in my mouth, and at what point in the swallow. The whole process helped me to appreciate the luxury of taking your time to enjoy something.

Keep an Open Mind: The human mind is a powerful tool, and it can affect your tastebuds to a huge degree. When writing about a product, I tried my best to avoid reviews others had written before I did mine but even knowing the distillery and the label can prejudice your impressions. I spent years thinking I disliked Michter’s. Someone had given me a bottle of their Toasted Barrel from 2014, and I hadn’t even opened it. Then I decided to go ahead and pour a glass one night and realized that I loved it. It occurred to me that what I really disliked was not the product but Michter’s misleading marketing materials and the way they had tried to obscure the fact that they were, at the time, a non-distilling producer. This was a valuable lesson to me on the importance of keeping an open mind, especially with things that I dislike.

Bourbon Brings People Together: I am pretty liberal. Like many Americans, it is easy for me to find myself only talking with people who I agree with politically. The biggest exception to this is my time spent with bourbon lovers. Thanks to my bourbon society and to spending time with other bourbon bloggers at conferences, I have good friends who cut across different levels of income, education, religion, and especially political beliefs. I think that these friendships have been the biggest gift I have gotten from bourbon. Even though we may never see eye to eye on gun control or the role of government in health care, these have been people who have cheered my successes, offered me advice, and even helped me track down a single barrel store pick of Weller Antique when I missed out. I think I am a better and more well-rounded person for getting to know and admire them, and I hope that I do the same for them. It makes me think that maybe our elected officials would be a little more productive and respectful if they could just sit down and enjoy some bourbon together.

So that is it for now. Thank you so much to the other contributors who have stayed the course and who keep putting out the quality content month after month. And of course, thank you so much to Patrick “Pops” Garrett for starting this site and keeping it going. I know you put in an unbelievable amount of work to keep spreading the gospel of bourbon here at Bourbon & Banter. Thank you for giving me the chance to be a part of the team, and I look forward to seeing where you take it.

About the Author

Ginny Tonic

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Although Ginny was a late bloomer to the world of drinking she likes to think she’s making up for lost time. She had my first manhattan at the age of 24 and fell in love. Finally, there was a drink she felt cool ordering and actually liked the taste of. Bourbon is her drink of choice and where she geeks out the most, but she honestly enjoys all aspects of drinking. The way it brings people together, the way it combines art, science, and culture, the way a nice drink at the end of the day can make the world seem so much better than it did a few minutes before. When she’s not writing for Bourbon & Banter, she writes for Queen City Drinks and co-hosts two podcasts: an hour long culture podcast called The Charlie Tonic Hour and a shorter all alcohol show called Bottoms Up. She is also the owner and lead guide for Tonic Tours, where they offer small group alcohol-based tours that focus on craft producers as well as hosting classes, tasting and other events.