In last week’s Happy Hour column, we explored, through the theories and beliefs of Tim Hanni MW, why we like what we like. Hanni’s research and teachings have taken some well-entrenched, generally held viewpoints and turned them on their ear. Or nose and mouth, as it were.


With these “new” thoughts in mind when it comes to our individual abilities to discern and define what we like, maybe we should also explore the liquids we love and why we love them. Better to deal with liquids than life-mates, friends, pets, politicians, or electronic gadgets.


At least with liquids, the user, probably you and me, remains in some control. If you don’t like something, no big deal. On any of the other topics, there is always the chance the user comes off uninformed, or maybe ill-informed. I speak from great (and unhappy) experience here.


There is so much more to choosing a favorite wine, beer or spirit than subjective taste/smell preferences. We often make choices based on thoughts and perceptions that have nothing to do with the real quality or maybe not even the type of the beverage.  


  • It’s what my friends drink.” Peer pressure or a desire for acceptance drives more than one purchase in our lives. Marketers play on this situation all the time. You do want to fit in, don’t you? You don’t want your friends to think less of you, do you?
  • It’s what I can afford, or is as much as I am willing to spend.” Sure, available resources can limit choices. Who wouldn’t want to drive a (insert here the name of your dream car)? But on my budget all I can afford is (insert here the name of the car you are driving now).


The corollary on this point is that sometimes we set a threshold to avoid spending more than a certain amount of money on a particular purchase. Where that figure comes from is often a mystery. But that’s the limit of our desire to possess the object. Sometimes the dollar figure is based in reality. Often it’s just a figure we pulled out of our….well, you know.


We buy products because we love the advertisements/packaging/community service projects/employees/convenience of purchase/whatever. None of these reasons have anything to do with product features or the fact that this particular product can do more for what you want than any other product out there. How many of us, when we are grocery shopping, really plan on waiting until we get into the check-out line before buying a pack of gum? It’s impulse. You are standing there with nothing else to do but stare at more purchasing opportunities while waiting our turn to pay for our purchases. The National Enquirer prays that the person in front of you at the register has no credit card issues. When the line moves fast, you don’t have time to read the Enquirer. You have to buy it to learn the latest gossip about Kevin Bacon.


I bring these items to the forefront of today’s discussion because why we buy certain brands can be a puzzle, even to us if we think about it.


Let’s take vodka as an example. Colorless, relatively tasteless, plenty of alcohol and within price ranges, one brand is pretty much similar to the other. Yes, I know some vodkas are triple-distilled, or are made from differing basic ingredients, or come from a place renowned for making that spirit.


But you are going to dump a portion of the vodka into acid. Tomato juice, orange juice, olive juice, whatever… Honestly, can you discern the vodka that is in your Bloody Mary when you have also added pickled green beans, lemon, hot sauce, celery, salt and an olive (more salt)?  


So how did you settle on X vodka as being your favorite? Based on what criteria of the finer points of distillation, or a quality, salient point of reference about the details of the product itself? You don't have to think hard here. These are not trick questions.


How many kinds of gin do you feel strongly about? At least gin offers more subtle differentiation points than vodka. The contents of the herbal "tea bag" used during the distillation process, every gin maker's most closely guarded industrial secret, differs from one gin house to another, likely not in big ways, but different.


Nevertheless, when you add gin to fizzy tonic water, drop in a few slices of lime and maybe a bit of mint, you have pretty well diluted the subtleties the distiller created. You now have generic gin propping up your G&T.


The point of all of this is to note that maybe you should pick your spots as to when to use the "good stuff" and when to use something that will deliver the good taste without the premium price, AND to remind you to know why you made a choice. If you like something because you find it fulfills your requirements for taste quality then by all means, embrace your decision.


But if your favored label is one that you think other people will be impressed by your good taste, or the size of your credit card limits, look again at your need to be looked at favorably by others. What should be a request to the bartender for another round could just be a cry for help with self-image issues.


Not you, of course, but other people you know.