Saturday, April 12, 2014

Confirmation Bias, and Whisk(e)y

Confirmation bias is a fascinating thing. A portion of our psyche is wired to only accept things that align with our preconceptions. It makes unbiased facts hard to come by, and, by my observation, is one of the major drivers of extreme partisanship in politics.

In a departure from my austere content, we will be discussing Whisk(e)y tonite. Since I'm on the Left Coast, of course, this means many of you, my loyal readership, will be discussing whiskey next day, instead. A spelling note- I am apprised that the Scots omit the 'e' included in most American, Canadian, and Irish Whiskeys. In deference, I will omit likewise when discussing that elixir. Being Irish heritaged American, in general use I will include it.

I first started drinkng whiskey at an entirely innappropriate age, but we shan't involve ourselves in that. By and large, however, my introductory experience with whiskey was the various 7 year sour mash whiskeys, such as Jim Beam Jack Daniels, and the like. Being contrary by nature, I decided that Jim Beam was my liquor of choice, as it was generally the less requested and therefore less 'mainstream' choice. Being both young and foolish (at least one of those being partially defeated by now) I convinced myself that I was consuming the paragon of whiskey, and no other would do. Seagrams 7 may be acceptable for mixing, but 'tis none but Jim Beam on the Rocks for me! Years of this attitude have left me with some stellar hangovers, and my affection for Jim Beam wavered. Then, one fateful day, I tried a drop of a whisky just establishing itself among my demographic- Makers Mark. It was delicious, smooth and luxurious! I transfered my allegiance whole! Ne'er again unto Jim Beam go I, for I am now cultured (snerk) and suave (heh), older and wiser. I was 24, and really no wiser, of course. But I had decided that it was so, and of course my choices proved that I was right!

Of course, given time, wisdom does occasionally accumulate, which is why I find myself at a crossroads, and confirmation bias holds much less sway over my beverage choice. In time, I learned that the reason Makers Mark is smoother than Jim Beam is in part due to the wheat in its mash. Suddenly I had a key! Rather than deciding what my favorites are, then selecting my facts to fit, I could ascertain WHY they were my favorites, and investigate other options! My Whiskey world exploded. Makers Mark led me to WL Weller (actually, my Father in Law did, also the source of the previous fact), which (along with a recommendation from Barron Barnett) led me to Washington Wheat. A random reference to Rye in AMC's Mad Men sent me to Pendleton whisky, then back via St Patrick's Day to Jameson, Finnegans 8y blend, and most recently The Tyrconnell, a single malt. Curiousity alone brought me to Scotch- while its legend is nearly ubiquitous, it is a rather intimidating pool to leap into. Some sound advice from an experienced Scotch afficianado brought me the Isle of Islay, first in a bargain introductory bottle and bence to the dram I am sipping this even.

Bowmore Legend New Label, a mildly peated single malt from Islay, aged 8 years in bourbon casks. Its actually quite enjoyable, much smoother and softer than the various entry bourbons, with a distinct combination of flavors that come from the malt and the peat used to dry it. The malt flavor is a bit sweeter than corn or rye whole grain whiskeys, while the peat I described the first time as 'old foot, but in a good way.' Here, of course, is where the confirmation bias comes roaring back.

You see, its possible to spend some pretty wild figures on a bottle of 'good' Scotch. How wild? 5 figure wild. GDP per Capita money. 'Nice full size pickup or a fifth of Scotch Whisky?' type of decisions. My bottle is second shelf at the local liquor store- about $30. How do they compare? I've no idea, but I suspect that the more you spend, the more you will convince yourself that you enjoy it to a high degree. If I dropped $500 on 750 ml of disgusting swill, I certainly wouldn't be happy about it, but I don't think I would notice. Confirmation bias would edit my recollections, and I would drink it over the course of many years, bringing it out on special occasions to convince myself it was worth it. For now, though, I'm pretty happy. After all, Single Malts are way more suave and cultured than those uncouth American bourbons, right? Right...

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