A native of the Bay Area, I studied History at San Francisco State University (BA '06, MA '12), and I live in San Francisco's Mission District with my wife Tia and our two sons. I work for American Distilling Institute as their Director of Spirits Information. In this position I oversee our annual judging of craft spirits, our craft certification program as well as our online forum and maps of craft distilleries. In addition, I am a staff writer for Distiller magazine as well as an author and editor for ADI's publishing division, White Mule Press.
I began EZdrinking in 2013 as a platform to share my stories and experiences drinking and learning about distilled spirits, wine and coffee. Living in San Francisco and working for ADI has provided quite a few opportunities to travel and speak with people at all levels in the beverage industry. My work can also be found online at Liquor.com's DrinkWire and I am "Tequila Jockey" for Tequila Aficionado's webseries Sipping off the Cuff. Besides writing and talking about alcohol I'm also a homebrewer and amateur winemaker.
In the beginning...
Growing up, my first exposure to people drinking alcohol was with my family in the context of a meal. Whether it was an aperitif before the meal, wine with dinner, or a snifter of finely aged spirits afterwards, alcohol was enjoyed in moderation and for what it added to the dining experience. I am certain that this early experience has helped shaped my own attitudes and practices around alcohol consumption. While I had some knowledge of wine and beer, once I was legally able to buy alcohol I wanted to figure out what kinds of distilled spirits people my own age were drinking. Spirits were at that time an undiscovered country with a bewildering number of options. I naively thought that people who drank spirits did so because they liked the way they tasted. What I discovered, was a lot of young people drinking for the effect and adding juices or other flavorings to mask the taste of the alcohol. To me this did not make a lot of sense.
The first alcoholic beverage I really enjoyed drinking, was a glass of Macallan's 12 years old Single Malt Scotch. It was an amazing sensory experience that captivated my imagination and my intellect. I began comparing it to the small number of other whiskies I had tasted and a question began to stir in my mind: Why did this whisky surpass all the others I had tried up to this point? This question compelled me to learn more; specifically why that glass of Scotch tasted the way it did, and generally about how Scotch was made. Since then the question, “what makes a drink stand out from the rest?” has fueled my passion for spirits, sustained my interest in craft beer and has piqued my interest in wine, and third wave coffee.
My Coffee Conversion
Up until 2009 I was pretty sure that I would never be a coffee drinker. All my experiences up to that point had left me wondering why people were so enamored with a drink that was thin, unpleasantly bitter, tasted like blackened toast and for many required cream and sugar to make it palatable. Then one day that all changed. I was helping a friend do some construction on a space he hoped to turn into a coffee shop. A couple of times he offered me a coffee and I declined because I thought I didn't like coffee. While taking a break, one of the investors convinced me to try the iced coffee because it was one of her favorites. At the first sip I knew my life and my self-conception as a non-coffee drinker would be forever changed. The iced coffee was refreshing, bright, flavorful completely lacking in bitterness and slightly sweet even though it had no added sugar. When I asked my friend why it was so good he told me it was from two primary reasons. First, he use a lightly roasted coffee from Ritual Roasters in San Francisco, which allowed the bright fruity flavors of the coffee to shine through. Second, he used a cold brewing method that extracted the flavors from the beans without the bitterness. Since then I have become a huge fan of third wave coffee.
My beverage biases
I want to acknowledge upfront that the tastings of spirits, beer, wine and coffee that I write about will be skewed by my own judgments and biases about different beverages. Like anyone else, these judgments and biases are formed out out my own life experiences and the physical limits of my ability to taste and smell. For example, I tend to enjoy drinking rye based whiskeys over wheated whiskeys, or I tend to like coffee made from lightly roasted beans more than dark roasted coffee. While drink writers very rarely write about their own biases, my hope is that by reflecting on them from time to time I may be able to improve my ability to think objectively about what I'm drinking and allow the reader to think critically about my or any other drink writer's work.
One of the primary judgments I make about beverages is that, if it isn't good on its own it's not worth drinking. While I do enjoy a good cocktail or cappuccino from time to time my first instinct is to drink the spirit or coffee on its own without adulteration. Which often means, given the choice between drinking something with a poor tasting base, gussied up to become palatable, and water, I'll chose water. One caveat to this is that, during graduate school I became willing to drink bad coffee with cream and or sugar, simply as a caffeine delivery device.