Act 1: The Origins Of Self & Style
Most kids loved Halloween for the candy. I hated candy as a child. It hurt my stomach and hurt my teeth. My parents would “tax” us daily, one piece each per day per parent. Ostensibly this was to teach us about the real world. I suspect, in hindsight, that they had ulterior motives. But to me, given my biologically negative reaction to candy, the taxes seems rather light – and I could care less.
I loved Halloween because it gave me a chance to play dress up.
I was rather fashion oriented from birth – I loved my Mom’s jewelry box, her spiked-heeled boots, and make up. I never learned a damned thing about how to fix a car, but I can put your hair into a French-braid with my eyes closed. Unfortunately, in our country, males with my superior fashion skills face a rather large amount of ridicule from just about everyone – other kids, parents, cops, teachers, even some dogs.
Thankfully, because of our American tendency to abstract religious holidays beyond all recognition, Halloween gave me a chance to “do my thang” in peace. I could play dress-up and not get beat-up. Win-win. I loved Halloween.
But as an adult, I lost all connection to this strange holiday. Perhaps it’s because I finally allowed myself to be “myself” without giving a shit what anyone else thinks. Perhaps I simply outgrew the need to engage in objectively inane rituals for no apparent reason. Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon. Who knows.
Whatever the reason, I didn’t need Halloween anymore. And I’ve largely passed on it for many years now.
Given that, the other night, Halloween came again.
Tamara and I didn’t even realize it until about 6pm that night. We were alone, the kids were off at a party with their dad, and our neighborhood is light on little ones. Just us. Nothing to do.
Instead of rushing out to get candy or buy costumes, we did the only thing good-standing, liberally-inclined, over-educated, downright-geeky adults who find themselves alone should do: We went to the liquor store, bought a shit-ton of booze, came home, and spent the rest of the night drinking and laughing and talking about philosophy, science, and religion.
Act 2: Awakening The Drunken Mind
Tamara and I are not afraid of alcohol. We understand it, we empathize with it, and we know how to make it feel at home.
While I wouldn’t call us “connoisseurs” in the conventional sense (I have no idea how to describe what I’m drinking in a way that Wine Spectator would publish); I would say that we are true amateurs: lovers of the subject.
We’re fascinated by how wine, beer, and liquors are made. We enjoy experimenting and stretching the limits of our palate. We just like the taste.
On Halloween, my girl and I sat down with 5 bottles: Two Whiskeys, and Three Scotches.
The whiskeys were a recent upstart from here in Asheville called Troy & Sons, and a honey-flavored Bushmills (Irish whiskey “with a twist”?).
The Scotches were:
- McClelland’s Lowland single malt – we prefer their Highland, though this was still nice.
- Dewar’s White Label – a surprisingly good blended scotch at a comfortable price-point. (This one is going in the rotation.)
- Clan MacGregor’s Blended Scotch Whisky.((We have noticed that all of our scotch bottles spell “whisky” without the added “e”, but the Irish and American’s spell it, “whiskey”. Can you explain this to me?))
It’s the last one that forced me to write this.
Clan MacGreggor (CMG) is cheap. While the other bottles of Scotch clocked in at about 10 bucks!
Given that, we made the following ad hoc justifications:
- It’s imported, so it is presumably even cheaper in Scotland!
- If it doesn’t taste like straight-bleach, then for the price, it’s hard to argue.
- The bottle is green, and that’s fun.
- We have found that you can get very good Brandy/Cognac for less that $10, too. So what the hell.
- Given how insanely stupid the wine market is (ie, price has little correlation with quality), maybe scotch is the same way. We shouldn’t be too quick to judge it based on price.
In other words, our basic emotional start-point BEFORE tasting the Clan MacGregor was POSITIVE.
When we tried it, we decided it was not all that bad. It lacked the nice oak and quasi-tobacco qualities that better scotches have. But it did have a touch of the smokey, and didn’t burn your face off. Not too shabby for something that cheap!
We gave it a thumbs-up.
- Was it a “great” scotch? Not at all.
- Was it a bit “harsh”? Yes.
- Was it worth the price we paid for it? Absolutely.
Here’s the amazing part. The next day, when I decided to have some fun and look up what the “official” reviews were – they were ALL negative. Really negative. Some went as far as to say that it would be better used as cleaning fluid.
I am not a man with the greatest taste buds in existence, but I know a bad alcohol when I taste one. This one is decent. Given that Tamara and I LIKE some rather “harsh” alcohols compared to most people, we didn’t find it to be anything crazy. (The Apple-Brandy we have right now – that is much more expensive, btw – is WAY more “burn your face off” that this comparatively mellow scotch. And don’t get me started on Moonshine!)
Why the difference?
Act 3: Culinary Relativism & The Framing Effect
As I wrote about yesterday, we humans are a surprisingly dumb animal. Yes, yes, yes I know: The Pyramids! And the aqueducts, and the moon landing, and Shakespeare…
And yet, despite our greatest accomplishments as a species, and despite the accomplishments of a (shockingly) small number of us, our behavior on a day-by-day basis is riddled with dumb choices that add up to a lifetime of mistakes we wish we could take back.
Some of these are huge – you know what they are – others are tiny, like reviews of scotch whisky.
Taoists and Zen monks would argue that the root of our mental-problem is our inability to see the world as it is, rather than perpetually coloring reality with our perceptions, judgements, and preconceived notions.
A Cognitive Scientist would agree, and suggest you get better at avoiding what is called, “The Framing Effect”.
The Framing Effect can be summarized as follows:
The tendency to draw different conclusions based on the same information depending upon the source of that information.
For example, if you have been told by an expert that a certain scotch tastes like shit BEFORE you try it – and you trust that expert – you will experience the scotch as tasting worse than if you’d been told that it was amazing.
Guess what… that is exactly what happened.
In all of the reviews I read about the MacGregor scotch, the reviewer had ALREADY read other peoples reviews, and heard about how horrible it was. So, when they finally tasted it themselves, they were already prone to dislike it!
Not exactly unbiased.
But when Tamara and I tried it, we had absolutely NO idea what other people thought. And, our general belief was leaning toward the positive. Given that (our own bias), we reviewed it favorably.
You may ask, “Then what does the scotch REALLY taste like?”
That turns out to be a deeply controversial topic in the philosophy of science, in cognitive psychology, and for all theorist of the mind (like me).
- Does the scotch have an “objective” flavor?
- If so, is that flavor “good” or “bad”?
What do YOU think?
Now go lift something heavy, Nick Horton