Back when I was growing up, when dirt was young, there were a lot of variety shows on television. Well-known hosts would introduce a plethora of acts, most of which had all been stars of another medium, often radio or movies. Radio programs (yes, there were programs on radio, not just blather and music), before TV, were peppered with stars from the previous dominant entertainment phenomenon, vaudeville.


Millions of people watching television simultaneously, actually seeing performers of whom mostly they had only heard and saw pictures, was something quite unique, in its day.


There were comedians, very popular, who regularly appeared on a wide spectrum of programs, including variety shows, guest star slots on situation comedies and late night broadcasts. These entertainers were well-known and easily recognized.


One such fellow was Professor Irwin Corey. He billed himself as The World’s Foremost Authority, and his act was much the same whenever he was on, but always pretty funny. Disheveled and unkempt, this comedian shuffled onto the stage, proceeded to feign confusion, then head off into a diatribe of which there was no meaning or purpose, but he looked like he was answering some question, while actually talking with authority in complete gibberish.


Here is a short clip from an appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1966 (I told you it was a long time ago).

I did find it interesting that this guy is still alive today at 94 years of age and is a great-grandfather. Funny because he always looked old in his act and I guess he has grown into the part.


I am reminded of Professor Corey on some occasions when questions are asked about wines or spirits, and the person answering the question, the “expert,” throws back a response peppered with industry terms, obscure academic viewpoints, and remote unrelated, disjointed facts which serve only to confuse and not enlighten.


When it comes to disseminating information about wine or spirits to people that merely want simple straightforward answers it often seems that the expert is more intent on proving their own expertise rather than clarifying some aspect of confusion or curiosity to the drinker. In the final analysis, an appreciation of remote facts about wines and spirits is truly not required of the drinker, but such knowledge can add to the further enjoyment of the beverage.


And why it is often so hard to obtain information is beyond me. Rather than making it easier, people in this field who have a little bit of knowledge, or maybe a lot, sometimes like to “lord” that knowledge over those who are trying to understand, confusing the situation and maybe even, this is the worst, providing answers that are simply wrong.


Also, while many people with some knowledge are eager to enlighten, and to clarify misconceptions or misinformation, to begin with, the questioner may have no real idea what to ask. So nothing gets asked; nothing is answered, and what could be a relatively key piece of information is never exposed or properly shared.


The joy of the appreciation of wines and spirits is that you can take these topics at your own pace. You may not want to know anything about them except whether they taste good to you. Or you may have an interest in whether the spirit has been stored in oak barrels or whether the wines have undergone malolactic fermentation. Likely you are somewhere in between those extreme points and likely others like you are relatively confused already.


Here’s the deal: If you want to know, ask. Holding back just causes you to miss some aspect of the topic that may add quite a bit to your enjoyment. Never sacrifice that. In truth, there are some amazing stories out there using wines and spirits as their center point. They are historic, anecdotal, specific to that particular label, broad in their application to lives lived before we all arrived. This subject matter is rife with stories. Some pretty fascinating stuff.


Now, the next hurdle to cross is whom do you ask? Possibly a knowledgeable merchant or restaurant professional can assist. These folks are dealing in the topic all the time. Good people in the field, and we are blessed with very good ones here in New Orleans, can answer a lot of what is on your mind.


There are other knowledgeable people out there. If you like these ramblings each week, I am happy to assist in any way that makes you feel comfortable. Leave a comment or send me an email with your query. I will do my best not to use tech-speak or obfuscation and will stay with the question until it is answered to your understanding.


Then there are industry professionals who work every day in the field. Here I am thinking particularly of the spirits folks working behind the bar. New Orleans is recognized as a leader in the revived art of cocktails. Not only are our mixologists, bar chefs, bartenders or whatever they want to be called knowledgeable about the ingredients they are using, they have done a great deal of study and concentrated learning to know what works where and why. These talented and creative hands-on workers know their stuff. And they are standing right in front of you. Convenient.


Lastly, and if it’s spirits about which you want to know more, you have an excellent opportunity this very week, right now, to go one-on-one with the people involved in every aspect of the manufacture, the marketing and the distribution of spirits. Practically the entire spirits’ world is in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail, in full force through this Sunday, July 21, 2013.


Seminars and tastings are happening galore. You can rub elbows with famous celebrities from this world, meet them and ask them questions about their products and their craft. It’s a wonderful time to learn and be exposed to new information.


I promised myself at the beginning of this article that I was not going to use the shop-worn phrase, “The only stupid question is an unasked question,” but I fear that tiresome statement fits here. After all, “If the shoe fits….” Oops, I did it again.