Monday, October 8, 2012

Rant: Wine vs Spirit Geeks, A Historical Divide?

Are wine geeks different from spirit/cocktail geeks? 

I pondered this question as I attended the first annual Boston Cocktail Summit, a three day event devoted to a diverse selection of spirits and cocktails issues and items. By geeks, I refer to intense and passionate devotees, those to whom these alcohols are central to their lives. There is a difference between wine and spirit/cocktail geeks which stood out to me, which was even initially noticeable from the cocktail summit program. It is a type of "historical divide."

As a generalization, and there are definitely exceptions, the average spirit/cocktail geek is much more interested in history than wine geeks. They seem to know and understand the history of their favorite spirits, the history of Prohibition, the history of cocktails and bars, and the alcoholic history of their region. They research old cocktail books, mining them for ideas and information. They throw parties which seek to emulate prior historical periods.

The program for the cocktail summit had 2 pages of historical spirit/cocktail trivia, much of it concerning the Boston area. There was a rum party one night that sought to emulate Cuba during the 1950s. At a number of the seminars, history played a role in the spirit/cocktail discussions. There were spirits in the tasting rooms that sought to replicate old recipes and cocktails at the bar events which sought to do the same. History played a vital role in the cocktail summit.  

On the other hand, wine geeks are much less interested in historical events. They might understand some general basic facts but they usually never delve deeper. They seem much more interested in how wine is made than in its historical roots and origins. They are more concerned about grapes and barrels than what occurred in the past. They rarely throw wine parties that hearken to another era. It is much more about the now and the future, rather than the past.

I love history and have written numerous posts concerning the history of spirits and wines, from Rum to Sherry, from Champagne to Port. I find it all so fascinating, yet too many other wine lovers seem to be much less interested in such matters. Why is that so? Why are spirit/cocktail geeks so much more interested in history? These questions perk my interest but I currently don't have any answers as to the whys. Yet I believe that wine lovers need to acquire a greater appreciation and love for history.

To properly understand a subject, one should understand its origins. That history creates the present and by understanding it, we can better appreciate how it got to its present state. The winemaker Paolo di Marchi once said "If we understand the past, we get a healthy path to the future." He was referring to how one cannot understand the Chianti Classico region without understanding its history. That would be applicable to any and all wine regions. In this respect, spirit/cocktail geeks might better comprehend their subject matter by knowing more about its history.

If you are a wine geek and not interested much in history, why not?  If you do love history, why does it excite you?   


Jason said...

Maybe the phenomenon reflects the nature of the beverages themselves. Wine is (for the most part) more fleeting than spirits - most wine is meant to be drunk within a year of purchase, after all, whereas liquor can generally stick around a while.

But that's not to say wine geeks never have an interest in history. I mean, look at Madeira...

frederic said...

It's not so much that wine can stick around or not -- but it is true since I have gone to tastings and tried 100 year old spirits -- but the recipes are recorded. You can make a facsimile rather quickly of an old recipe whereas a lost wine is gone. Cocktail geeks can still revel in what people were drinking 150 years ago that way.

TreasureMA said...

I think it is a reflection of where we are in the history of cocktails in the US. It's impossible to overstate how incredibly monumental prohibition was on changing the course of spirit culture. We are currently interested in pre-Prohibition cocktails because until recently, we were in a dark ages and now that we are peeking out our head, we are rightfully trying to learn about where we were during America's golden age.

Beer has an even older and richer history than spirits, and while some people are trying to recreate old recipes, there is not as obvious of a golden age to look back at in history. Perhaps today is the golden age. Also, cocktail history and culture is much richer from an anthropological perspective.

This is getting long so may need to think about it a bit more and write my own post building on this. Great topic for discussion, thank you!

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Jason:
There are certainly wine geeks who love history, such as myself, but they seem more the exception. I don't think it has to do with the "fleeting" aspect of wine. Cocktails are meant for the immediate consumption. You don't generally age them. And though wines can benefit from aging in the bottle, spirits rarely change in the bottle.

Hi Frederic:
I am sure some old wine recipes were recorded as well, but maybe wine tastes have changed much more than spirit tastes. Many historical wines were far sweeter than they are now, and maybe modern people don't want to return to that style.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi TreasureMA:
Thanks! It certainly intrigued me as a topic. Prohibition affected all alcohol though, not just spirits, so I am not sure that alone can account for spirit/cocktail geeks being more historically minded.

I would think that as beer and wine have such an old and rich history, that more wine geeks would embrace history, would find it fascinating and learn much more about it. I also believe that wine culture and history is at least as rich, if not more, than cocktail culture, from an anthropological perspective.

It may be a more American thing, as our own wine culture is far less developed than in Europe. We don't have as lengthy a wine history as Europe either. Though wine production in the Americas extends back to the 16th century, it is not until recent times that it has really caught on. Spirits and cocktails had a firmer place in the early history of the U.S.

Wine Logic said...

Good stuff. Im a wine guy and find history and the history of alcohol very interesting.