Really the only time I flex any knowledge of whiskey is if someone asks me because they know I'm into it, or when I've got them captive at my bar and express some interest in the difference between all the bottles. I often get the "What's the difference between scotch/bourbon and whiskey." When I'm at my home base, I can let people smell and taste different things, find what they like, then make them a cocktail they'll enjoy. If they're brave I'll pour it neat, but this almost always ends up with a barely sipped glass.
It's fun for me, because I remember when I was clueless about the same things, and I enjoy passing the knowledge on in a sensory, hands-on fashion. Much more exciting than reading about it on Wikipedia and tasting it alone at home.
This reminds me of an experience I had a while back when I stopped into a local store looking for a couple of specific bottles. The clerk stated that they did not have the bottles in question, but pointed to some bottom-shelf bottles saying, "Why spend a lot of money when you're just gonna piss it out anyway?" I kindly thanked him for his assistance and left.
"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it."
Those are the two most common descriptors liquor store people give me.
"Medicinal pleasure" and "pleasure of the experience" (the quality and complexity of flavor, etc.) are distinct only as categories. Really, the physiological effects of alcohol are so inseparable from the "pleasure of the experience" - what we call the flavor profile of a good whiskey - that there is no drawing lines between these pleasures or between those who partake in them. The pleasant tastes of whiskey depend on the pleasant relaxing effect of alcohol. Even when we think we want the flavors (or even the scents), it is only because we have come to associate them with that medicinal goodness.
Think of it in terms of conditioning. When it comes down to it, there are only a few flavors that we as human animals find inherently pleasing - fatty, salty, and sweet, I think - and there are tons of cheap, easy ways of getting these flavors in much more intense forms than straight whiskey could ever provide. Kettle corn pretty much covers it. Our hankering for any other flavor profile is acquired, and it is acquired by conditioning associations between those profiles and experiences/pleasures we find inherently pleasant. Apparently we find the physiological rush of alcohol consumption pleasant, and the flavors that mediate that rush become desirable by association. We drink whiskey with flavors X, Y, and Z, we experience alcohol effects that our bodies like, and we eventually start to just look for flavors X, Y, and Z. Presumably marijuana, wine, beer, sex, etc. work the same way.
So yes, there are people who are more or less only after the alcohol effects. And I totally agree with you about the crucial difference between dependency and deliberate enjoyment. (If anything, dependency is more scary to me because of what I have just said.) But if we really let ourselves believe that we are transcendent connoisseurs who are ever in it only for the flavors, we are s-----g ourselves. Even if we only ever experienced whiskey by the nose, the promise of alcohol would be a huge determining factor in our enjoyment.
*Now I am off to enjoy my daily breakfast of bacon, cocoa puffs, and vodka.
Last edited by CoMobourbon; 07-08-2012 at 07:00. Reason: Thought of a HILARIOUS joke
“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.”
― Kurt Vonnegut