It was the first time I traveled down to Miami and spent considerable time assessing who I wanted to be and what goals I was moving towards. At the time, I was approaching my 30th birthday and my taste buds were changing as well. I was always a beer man with a side car of vodka. That was my dad’s routine and by watching him, I mimicked it without hesitation. But little did I know, that week spent in Miami would begin the transformation of my drinking choices and start the process of me caring about the spirits I chose and studied.
I walked back the hotel I was staying in on Washington Ave. and decided to just have one more beer before retiring upstairs. At the bar was a gentleman who was sipping a brown cocktail alone and talking with the bartender about the “peatiness” of the drink. While I had no idea what they spoke of, they could tell that I was interested because I watched with some amazement. The gentleman asked my name, what I was doing in Miami and if I wanted to join them. I answered the questions in the affirmative and slid down to the other end of the bar with an intense level of curiosity. The gentleman asked if I ever had scotch before. I told him no. Where I came from and what I experienced, you drank beer, cognac [and more specifically Hennessy], malt liquor and Absolut. Scotch was for rich folk or for people looking to get drunk. Silly me. What proceeded next changed the course of my drinking choices for the remainder of this life.
The bartender and the gentleman outlined the basics of scotch, where it was made and how it should be enjoyed. They poured 8 shot glasses, making a semi-tasting experience, of 8 different scotches, different brands from different regions. They talked about the aging process, the casks, the notes, and yes, the peat for the ones that had heavy levels and tastes of it. I was enamored about how much they knew and how much they were willing to share. Needless to say, I not only left a bit saucy but I left with new found respect for the drink. Later, I found out that the gentleman at the bar was the owner of the hotel and he noticed this young man in/out of the hotel for several days. The young man was me, and what he saw was a kid on an adventure. His charge was to add value to those days and send me back to Charlotte a better man. A wiser man with more knowledge under the belt. I left Miami with a healthy appreciation for the cocktails I would go on to choose and understand that my new charge was to also educate others about spirits and help them explore what else was out there besides their norm.
So, for the next few months, I want to give you my stories on how I found a love for good spirits but also provide some basic 101 about them and how you can best enjoy them. Comfort zones are great. I agree that every man should have to “go-to” drink when at a crowded bar or on a date. That way you aren’t fumbling around when it’s time to order. However, when you have the time and curious palate, I invite you to look beyond the traditional and try something new. Perhaps this column will push you to that. See you next month!
Community Engagement Specialist, Cultural Arts Advocate, and Nonprofit Strategist; you can follow Keith Cradle @mrcradle on Instagram/Twitter.