A GREAT BEER OR WINE is a gleaming artifact of collective selection pressure. There are natural constraints; microflora, vintage and geography, to name some examples. There are also constraints of artificial selection; think of the commercial marketplace, or projections of the id.
It’s been my habit in recent times to elevate “natural wine” or classical beers over the alternatives. This indicates an aesthetic or lesser rather than greater volatility. Spans of time and nature are more constant than are fashion or market faction.
In some cities – Chicago, New York – it is imperative for curators, cooks and cocktail makers to pursue a distinctive niche. Get noticed. In Detroit, by contrast, it is more important to be inclusive. One niche will not sustain you. So be a classicist or a naturalist at your own risk. The same would apply to the alternative styles.
But be careful, broadness can not be equated with the so-called lowest common denominator. Here quality succeeds. Mediocrity struggles. Think of the Detroit model for success as the assemblage of several niches in one shop.
So how do you define quality with respect to the polarity of “classical” vs. “experimental” drinks? Going entirely classical, or for that matter entirely experimental, hazards the invitation of an insular public, and thus volatility, struggle or even failure.
I don’t claim to have the answer, or even that there can be one answer. I do use some rules of thumb to gauge the prospects of success and value in the landscape. Choices that reflect ego and manipulation should emerge from a genuinely brilliant source, one who – in the spirit of perfect theoretical circularity – has absorbed a broad range of information in the making. By the same token, choices that reflect classicism should be fresh and eternally charming, which is to say they shouldn’t hide dull uninspired work behind the camouflage of tradition.
Most of all, who is attracted to the restaurant/gallery/bar? Is it a small army of clones? Is it a mix? There are various ways to judge diversity, and the most superficial among them are securely claimed by corporate interests. Race, gender and age are at only partially useful as proxies for real diversity. It is somewhere in the mind that true diversity is represented. Resistance to conformity. Independence of thought. Asocial inclinations. These can only be evaluated by joining the mix on the streets and getting to know who you are sharing a space with.
I know, it’s a paradox. Life is complicated.
I was recently (re)schooled on the subject of cigar selection. I know little about cigars and I was relieved to learn that it really does come down to what do you like. After several disappointments I decided i like Kristoff cigars. Hand rolled Dominican, Cuban seed, etc. etc. I suppose that must mean something. The stogie was delicious and complex to me, without any harshness. My palate has drifted toward the delicate with age – a common status among the gastronomes I talk to.