5 Things People Don't Tell You About Being a Liquor Critic
As told by someone who was paid to drink.
Prior to my current jobs, I worked part-time as a food and liquor critic for a magazine. For most people, this sounds like a dream job. I won't lie; there were huge perks that still make me miss that job tremendously.
However, there's a lot that most people don't realize about these kinds of jobs, particularly when it comes to liquor critiques. Before you get a case of the green-eyed monster, let me tell you a couple of things most people don't know about being a liquor critic.
Getting home isn't always easy.
Most of my critiques were definitely not done at home. I used to go to liquor tastings, take tours of local distilleries, and even go to restaurants in order to critique their cocktails. This sounds great, right?
Well, yes. I was basically paid to party every other weekend or month. If I wasn't getting paid, well, I also had the opportunity to just use my experience as portfolio work. (Actually, I still do critiques to expand my professional portfolio, but still, it's not as regular an occurrence as it used to be.)
The only problem was that most of the places I went while on the job already knew that I was a liquor critic. So, they would make a point of offering me everything they had to offer in hopes that they would hit a sweet spot with me.
The vast, vast majority of the time, companies I reviewed who knew who I was, had no problem accepting that I didn't want to try something. However, once in a while, I'd end up with a spokesperson who literally wouldn't take no for an answer.
Being one who wants to keep professional contacts intact, I often ended up guzzling things down.
I can honestly say that there have been at least a dozen or so times that I'd have to call a taxi because I was too drunk to get home in my own car. Sometimes, I would barely even be coherent enough to actually say where I should go.
Sometimes, it's not even the difficulty of getting home that's the issue. At times, it's the way you act. There was even one time where I managed to find a taxi, get home, knock on my mom's door, tell her that I was Frank Sinatra, throw up, and pass out.
Obviously, my mom was not amused.
You might get paid to critique, but no one pays you to go to the gym.
The funny thing about being both a food and a liquor critic is that it forces you to eat and drink a lot. Studies have shown that the average restaurant meal is around 1100 calories, and that's without appetizers, breadsticks, and of course, cocktails.
As a liquor critic, you will often get served full meals along with your drinks. So, a typical critic meal can easily top 2,000 calories. At the peak of my critic days, I was eating these massive meals around four times per week.
Thankfully, at the height of my popularity as a food critic, I also had a hormone issue that made my hunger basically bottomless. But, this too caused issues with my waistline.
If you are critiquing as regularly as I was, and if you did the "hands on" approach as much as I did, dieting is not really an option. No one pays for the gym, and from what I've seen, a lot of food and liquor critics end up gaining serious weight as they get more gigs.
You no longer can tolerate bad liquor.
Prior to being a liquor critic, I could top off Popov as if it was water. It's true. I actually was able to drink that stuff, even though it smelled and tasted remarkably like turpentine.
However, these days, I just can't drink it anymore. Cheap liquor tastes absolutely vile to me, even when it's in cocktails. If I end up drinking low quality stuff, it's almost guaranteed that I will end up puking by the end of the night—even if I didn't really drink much at all.
Looking back, I can't believe I used to drink Natty Ice or Popov. Critiquing liquor really brings forth a totally different world.
You get really, really judgy on bars and bartenders.
After my stint as a critic, I honestly can't stand a lot of restaurant and bar staples anymore. As a liquor critic, you end up getting trained to notice little differences in how cocktails taste, how they're served, and how clean the instruments at the bar are. This causes a lot of complaints.
This is because most bar staples tend to be really badly mixed, or just include ingredients that make the entire cocktail taste overly sweet. How are we supposed to enjoy the delicate flavors if they're annihilated by high fructose corn syrup?
When I notice that my beer glass has no lacing, I know that means that the pipes haven't been cleaned. That quickly puts me off the mood for more beer at that place.
Wine by the glass? Hell no. Most places don't use an aerator and tend to have the same bottle sitting there for hours. As a result, I know that the aromas are gone, and it's a rip-off.
Needless to say, I tend to be a pretty harsh critic of cocktails, and that tends to infuriate bartenders. Most of the time, I lie, but sometimes, if it's really a nightmarish mix, I'll get brutally honest with them... but also leave them a big tip and apologize.
Lastly, drink trends rarely catch your interest.
The more that you learn about drinks and cocktails, the less you're interested in bar trends. This is because you start to realize how huge an impact marketing has on bar culture, and how often the stuff that's promoted really isn't the greatest stuff they offer.
More often than not, bar trend drinks like Jagerbombs or sangria are marketing shticks that people just snap up because they're considered to be cool.
Many liquor brands, for example, get pop stars to sing about their liquors as a way to market them. Next thing you know, sales spike and people are praising the liquor that was featured in a music video, even when the liquor in question sucks.
There's also the issue of adding trendy ingredients to cocktails. More often than not, those ingredients tend to be added in awkward ways.
For example, I recently went to a restaurant and had one cocktail that had basil added to hard lemonade. The bartenders put in too much basil, which in turn caused the drink to taste like spaghetti. Obviously, I was not pleased with my spaghetti-ass drink.
The longer you're a drink critic, the more you will have moments where "trendy" actually means "tastes like vomit but costs more than your dinner." As a result, I'm perennially uncool in my taste in drink.
Overall, though, I love critiquing liquor.
I love to drink. I have fun with it. However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. So, I learned to take the good with the bad... and learned how to do it all in moderation.