Tonight's Negroni #12: Why Do We Hobby?

FYI: This is an archive of my Tonight's Negroni email newsletter.

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be an enthusiast or a hobbyist.

My friend Andrew coined the term "stay at home bartender", and I've taken that and run with it quite a bit. To the point that a few people use the term when they introduce me to strangers. Thanks to my aptitude as a (as some of my friends call it) Twitter whore, I get recognized by genuine professional cocktail experts (you know, actual bartenders) as something close to a peer despite having never been "behind the stick" in a professional capacity.

How did that happen? And perhaps more interestingly, why?

How did I go from making "dry" Martinis by proudly waving a bottle of vermouth near the shaker full of gin, to crafting (cringe) a "Classic Martini" with a solid pour of upscale dry vermouth and orange bitters? I once made "Mojitos" for my mother and my Special Lady Friend in pint glasses and forgot to top them with soda water, so we were drinking PINTS OF RUM...

Point being, I've made the journey from novice (aka: "enthusiastic ignoramus") to something near expert with the passing of time.

Of course, that's nothing unique to me. Lots of us do this. There's the home woodworker (another hobby I claim, but one at which I am much less skilled) making cabinets or furniture for his own household and for no other reason, but with great, carefully developed ability. Home cooks are the classic example of non-professionally skillful practitioners - everyone had a Nana who cooked food better than anyone and never went to school for it.

But she kind of did. She read cookbooks (or recipe cards handed down from her family) and actually performed the skill of cooking over and over until she got good at it.

This is getting close to the Galdwell 10,000 hours thing, but I think that idea (like many Gladwellisms) is oversimplified. It also offers a path to the trope of "following your passion", which is another one that I have grown to distrust. I definitely don't think hobbies are all potential new careers. Nor should they be! Why ruin your joy by making it your job?

(Now I'm oversimplifying. It's an easy trap to fall into.)

Hobbies (at least a certain category of them that challenge you in certain ways) are about the willful acquisition of skill outside of your profession. You have to purposefully educate yourself (reading, taking classes, repeated practice). Maybe this is obvious, but it seems like a really important realization to me. Why would we work so hard to learn something that doesn't affect our professional performance?

The primary answer I keep coming to is quality of life. Some people love their hobbies because they are loads of fun, especially as they become more skillful. They also offer the opportunity to "disconnect from" or "forget about" the 9-to-5 drag. The mental challenge is a useful distraction from the at-work mental challenges we don't have a choice about facing. (This moves us into "check your privilege" territory, I'm aware. Your ability to actually have a hobby reflects a certain amount of slack in your life. A single parent working three jobs to feed the kids is probably pretty sure anyone who talks about "disconnecting from the day to day" is an asshole with too much free time.)

Secondarily, though, I wonder if practicing a hobby keeps your "learning muscles" limber and therefore maybe do end up helping professional life. It's not a thesis I would argue too fervently to defend, but it feels like it's got at least a little truth to it.

Obviously it's something I'm thinking about lately. Let me know if you have thoughts either way. I'd be curious to hear them.

Now, how about a good Grampa drink?

Rob Roy

There's a part of me that resists making cocktails based on Scotch whisky. I prefer drinking the peaty stuff neat or with a tiny splash of cool water. That said, I would never turn my nose up at a well-made Blood & Sand. I also own Blue Blazer mugs, so I have to do that once in a while (no fires yet!).

The Rob Roy falls into this category, too.

  • 1.5oz Scotch (I went with Great King St. Artist's Blend from Compass Box)
  • 1.5oz Sweet vermouth (Cocchi di Torino)
  • 2 droppers Homemade Blood Orange Whiskey bitters (or Cocktailpunk smoked orange)
  1. Stir with ice
  2. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass
  3. Garnish with an orange (or lemon) twist

This one also tugs some nostalgia string for me because it shares the name of a motel in Destin, FL that was owned by family friends who let my grandparents and me use their pool whenever we wanted. (The only slightly recognizable photo I can find is this one of a random family from ~1989 that mostly shows the marina in back.)