Though the bar as an institution is often associated with talks of politics, opinions, and off-color humor, there is one question that never fails to grab my attention. “…So what’s your favorite kind of drink?” Whether it’s asked by the bartender trying to guide a guest to a selection or just a couple of patrons striking up a conversation over one concoction or another, that simple query has led to some of the most interesting conversations I have ever participated in or eavesdropped upon. It doesn’t matter what kind of place it is, or what kind of drinks the people are talking about, the qualities that make something a favorite for someone can say a lot about our taste.
Some people like to take the opportunity to brag a little. They like to show their level of refinement by going straight for the best and often rarest things they’ve ever had. You ask what they’re preferred style of beer is and the first thing out of their mouth includes the words “vintage,” “[insert spirit here]-barrel-aged,” and “single-batch,” in some configuration. This person is often more excited about the rarity and uniqueness of what they drink than they are about finding any particular flavor profile or experience. This often means they’re open minded overall, but when they go in expecting every drink that comes across the bar to compete with the most sought after special release or painstakingly crafted cocktail, they can be tough or impossible to impress.
Others modestly offer up the easily available standards they’ve come to trust. Their favorite beer? Year round offerings that have become widely available in their area or around the world. Their cocktail of choice? A simple one to one concoction of spirit and mixer. These drinkers are typically looking for something balanced and consistent, and for them the novelty of many one-off or experimental styles is usually less appealing than balanced execution of a straightforward style they are comfortable with. This approach has its merit, but can leave them with a blind spot to emerging styles or combinations of flavors.
I’ve always felt that for me to call anything a favorite, it needs to strike a balance between both types of goodness. I personally favor things that have their own distinct character, but are well balanced and relatively accessible; and I always want to try whatever is new. As much as the nerd in me loves the nearly unattainable status of limited releases, I try to never truly fall in love with them. They may be around to blow your mind for a session or two, but I just don’t see the sense in being let down when you can’t find your “favorite” stout fifty weeks out of the year because it’s the bourbon barrel aged reserve that gets produced once annually, selling out faster with every release. It is ultimately something you can expect to find a couple of times a year at best and is certainly worth enjoying, but ultimately sets a standard that can make other exceptional products seem mediocre by comparison. On the other hand, I also try to keep myself from confusing those trusty standbys as real favorites. When you get into the habit of ordering the same IPA you keep in your fridge every time you hit the bar, you’re bound to miss out on some exciting offerings along the way.
Really though, the best part about the question of favorites is that, being a matter of personal preference, there aren’t any wrong answers. We may find that what we like is vastly different, but that doesn’t decrease the value of what we learn about one another in the process. More often than not the talks that spring from a friendly level of disagreement are the most interesting. I’ve heard many bar conversations drift from the IPA drinker saying, “I don’t usually like dark beers,” progressing with the overreaching statement that, “they’re always so heavy and sweet,” and concluding with a bone-dry Russian stout ordered on a recommendation and being enjoyed with surprised enthusiasm.
Ultimately, what I feel most craft beverage consumers fail to realize is that so much of our taste translates easily from one medium to the next when one considers the broader meaning behind what we like. Crazy about those big, bold stouts and port wines with their enigmatic depth and complexity? Branch out and try some aperitifs at a good cocktail bar sometime and be amazed by the flavors achieved in a couple of ounces of some of the world’s most traditional spirits. Usually more of a margarita drinker? Find a good gose or sour and discover just how delicate and refreshing beer can be. My point is, it’s good to know what you like, but keep an open mind, you never know when or where you’ll find a new favorite.
Written by B Webb-farm by day, beer by night at LUCK in Trinity Groves