Jake O'Brien Murphy worries that he doesn't know enough stuff about enough stuff – but he’s met plenty of those who do and generously share their expertise.

I’d describe myself as a generalist. I know a little about a lot and a lot about a little – which feels like the right way round to do things. In real terms I know just enough to sustain a light conversation, but – and this is crucial – not enough to keep it going. Which has worked out well so far. It means I can exploit my own ignorance as a conversational parachute if I ever get stuck talking to someone awful at a house party – like people who rock climb for a hobby.

I’m currently sitting my WSET level 3 Spirits with the Mixing Class. While I am enjoying the classroom immensely it has provided corroborative evidence to my theory that I might be terminally thick. There’s so much stuff out there to know about. For example, have you ever had baijiu? I had it once in my early 20s. I tried it a little too quickly then made a mental tick in a metaphoric box under the title The Spectrum of Human Experience. And continued on with being an utterly shitty 22 year old. Then during the Asian Spirits lesson, the other students and my tutor had a 25-minute conversation about the specifics of sauce aroma baijiu. Meanwhile, I sat repeatedly opening and closing my mouth like Ursula the sea witch had stolen my voice.

I’ve written a lot in CLASS about how I think bartending is a noble profession and up until recently always thought that it was the bartender’s lot to be a professional generalist. We need to do lots of things, in tandem, that require a certain base-level proficiency. We should be able to hop, skip and jump around any number of diverse topics while never attaching ourselves to any one school. Jack of all trades, master of none. I was, of course, wrong. Bartenders have always been and continue to become more specialised with every passing second.

Fond memories

I once spent an evening asking Chris Moore about Crème de Cassis de Dijon. I didn’t mean to. That wasn’t my big plan for the night – blackcurrants. It just happened. Chris just knew an inordinate amount about the product. So I, being remedial as always, got to ask the kinds of questions idiots ought to ask of the well-informed. I remember it with the same fondness as I do for when Megs Miller patiently explained abacante to me. Or how Ardbeg’s Jackie Thomson described the provenance of peat like it was poetry. Or when Sly Augustin showed me why Panamanian overproof rum tastes like hot chocolate. One thing I think we tend to take for granted is the magnitude of human endeavour that culminates in a mixed drink. It takes the convergent elements of chance, science, culture, geography, politics and law to eventually get to a passable peach liqueur. It takes one person who truly cares to relay it meaningfully. Remember that the next time you slag off a Woo Woo.

Long has the insufferable whisky snob existed, supplanted now in my opinion by the Mexi-bro – manbuns who can sneer and recite every wild agave from Sinaloa to Oaxaca but somehow can’t iron a shirt. I think maybe that’s why I pulled so hard in the other direction. I didn’t want to be one of those people who made it a club with artificially high walls. I think knowledge should be shared far and wide. Otherwise, what’s the point? These things we drink and make are truly wonderful but they can’t be enjoyed in a vacuum. I once had the profound privilege to see Dave Broom speak while I was in Cuba. FYI I have a deep admiration for Dave Broom, I see him as the Nick Cave of spirits writers. I’d quite like him to mentor me and brush my hair just before I go to bed. He didn’t speak about rum directly. He spoke about claves, an Afro-Cuban percussion instrument used in the sugarcane plantations that have become inextricably linked to Cuban rumba music. He stood up in front of all of those people and recontextualised an entire category of spirit, through music, to tell us about the people from which it flows.