On Curiosity, Gin, and Cultivating Interests

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Gin in Mallorca

“Now, lean in and smell it, just like wine,” I instruct the girls before me. Vicky and Candice obey, each leaning into a small glass filled with an ounce of Whitley Neill gin at the bottom.

“Now smell it with your mouth open. It’s just like tasting it! Rachelle taught me that on the trip.”

The girls breathe in and burst out laughing.

“I know, right?”

It’s the final night of our weeklong stay in Mallorca and I’ve decided to give my friends a gin lesson. Partly because I need to free up space in my bag and drinking one of my many bottles of gin is the way to go about it; partly because, well, I just love it.

And while Mallorca is incidentally a major gin producer, I’ve brought several craft British gins with me from my weeklong distillery-hopping trip around the UK.

Whitley Neill was the only full bottle I received during my weeklong journey around the country, making it the perfect subject for gin tasting.

“Now put a little bit of it on your tongue,” I encourage the girls. “Take a sip. Don’t judge it on that sip; you’re not getting the full flavor yet. Now take a second sip.”

“Wow,” they say in unison.

Soon I’m going into the nuances of gin – the main ingredient of juniper, the secondary ingredients of coriander and angelica root (the Holy Trinity!), and the South African botanicals that make up Whitley Neill, including baobab powder and Cape Gooseberries.

London Dry Gin

I never thought I’d be a gin nerd.

This gin trip around the UK was one of the most interesting trips I’ve ever taken, and I can’t stop talking about it to everyone I meet. I went from being a moderate gin fan and thinking that Hendricks was the height of sophistication to becoming obsessed with several small craft distilleries throughout northwest and central England.

Learning about gin has fulfilled a new curiosity in me – and more curiosity is something that all of us could use.

Greenalls Distillery

In the book The Know-It-All, the hilarious A.J. Jacobs spends a year reading the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica in an effort to become the smartest person in the world. While on his quest, he interviews knowledgeable people along the way, including Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.

Jacobs asks Trebek what he thinks the secret to knowledge is. His answer?

“I’m curious about everything – even things that don’t interest me.”

How much do you love that quote?!

I honestly believe that cultivating a wide variety of interests is the key to an interesting life.

I prioritized attending a Jesuit university for this reason – the Jesuits believe in educating the whole person, and that means coursework in a wide variety of disciplines.

At Fairfield University, I had to take two courses each in history, social science, hard science, math, visual and performing arts, religious studies, philosophy, and foreign language, plus three in English, an extra religion/philosophy/ethics course, and courses fulfilling U.S. and world diversity. And that’s before you get into your major!

I absolutely loved the academics at Fairfield, even though I struggled with calculus and philosophy. Courses like Islamic Societies and Cultures, Literature of the Irish Famine, the Minority in American Film, and History of the Jews in Tuscany are among my most memorable classes.

These classes were about topics that I knew nothing about – but I was curious about them. I was rewarded with learning about the struggles of people who are often overlooked in history and having encyclopedic knowledge on extremely narrow topics.

(And here’s Kate’s advice for teens: if you can afford to attend a private university, consider going Jesuit. I am so proud of my Jesuit education. Just remember to bring your own condoms; they’re still Catholic, after all!)

I won’t lie – traveling full-time makes it difficult to keep up outside interests. But I read like a maniac and love picking up nonfiction books that cover topics that I know nothing about, like the historical context of Jesus or eating 100% local year-round or how the French raise their children differently. I read blogs about vegan cooking and running a family farm and even how to care for natural black hair, even though I had no interest in these topics until I randomly came across them.

This gin trip was the perfect way to develop a new interest – one that I can talk about and share with my loved ones.

Cotswolds Distillery

My newfound gin curiosity comes into play a few days later when I visit Charlotte’s W4 in Chiswick, London, with my friend Chris (yep, THAT Chris) and his girlfriend Daisy. The bar has a wide variety of spirits and I immediately flip to the gin section, finding some familiar names.

“Berkeley Square,” I sigh. “That was one of my favorites. Such fun, playful flavors. I can’t wait for them to sell this one in the States.”

I run my finger down the page.

“Cotswolds Distillery,” I say wistfully. “I loved it there. So beautiful. You can actually taste the landscape in the gin. It’s so soft, like the rolling fields.”

I flip the page. By now, the bartender has a grin on his face.

“Warner Edwards!” I say with a laugh. “Tom Warner is fucking hilarious.”

“Tom Warner led a workshop here a few weeks ago,” the bartender tells me.

“That must have been amazing. I wrote down practically every word he said because it was pure gold.”

Daisy suggests I try the Gin & Tea Party cocktail, made with Beefeater 24 gin, green tea, vanilla sugar, lemon juice, and rhubarb bitters. She chose wisely – it’s one of the best cocktails I’ve had in quite a long time, so delicious that it makes me swoon.

“There’s just one thing,” I tell the bartender. “You should make this with Cotswolds gin instead of Beefeater. It has some nice lavender notes that will play well with the lemon and vanilla.”

As I sip my cocktail, I think to myself, I am so glad that I learned about this.

Tom, Kate, and Johnny Gin Pic

Here is a challenge for you.

Let me ask – are you curious about lots of things? Are they only things that interest you, or things that don’t?

Or do you find yourself swallowed up by one all-consuming interest?

I’ve seen the latter quite a bit in the blogosphere, regardless of niche. Just this week, two of my travel blogger friends told me that they need to find new interests because their lives are all about travel, travel, travel. Photography becomes travel photography; writing becomes travel writing; entrepreneurship is wrapped up in travel.

I challenge you to spend time learning about a completely new interest.

Read a book. Find a blog. Watch a documentary. Take a class.

And you might love it, or you might hate it. But you know what?

I guarantee your life will be richer as a result.

For me, I’ve decided it’s time to learn how to cure meat. (Not the best timing with the WHO’s new findings, I know.) You all know how much I adore eating cured meats, but I’ve never thought about actually making them myself – I should really learn!

I’m going to start with some books and blogs and once I get a place of my own, move on to actually making some easy stuff like pancetta. (I love the idea of a spare room becoming a “meat room” and renting it out on Airbnb. Ha!)

Need a push? Here are some of my recommendations:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – on eating locally year-round
Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman – on how the French raise their children
Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan – on Jesus in a historical context
The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy – on non-traditional relationships
Silver Like Dust by Kimi Cunningham Grant – on Japanese internment camps in America

The Full Helping – on vegan cuisine
The Elliott Homestead – on running a family farm
Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care – on teaching adoptive white parents on how to do natural black hair
I Will Teach You To Be Rich – on personal finance and earning more
Wellness Mama – on living a healthier lifestyle

Jesus Camp – on summer camp for conservative Christian children
Spellbound – on the National Spelling Bee
Jiro Dreams of Sushi – on Tokyo’s most lauded sushi chef
Sicko – on the failed American healthcare system
Somm – on the world’s best sommeliers

This campaign was created and sponsored by the GREAT Britain campaign and UK Trade & Investment in partnership with iambassador. Adventurous Kate retains 100% editorial control and all opinions, as always, are my own.

Thanks also to Chris and Daisy for taking me out to the perfect gin bar to bring my curiosity full circle!

What are you curious about?

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42 thoughts on “On Curiosity, Gin, and Cultivating Interests”

  1. As a vegetarian I’m not too sure about the meat room 😛

    I’m also looking forward to finally getting a place of my own and cultivating some different interests. I’m quite keen on getting into DIY – I follow so many cool blogs that specialise in this and it’s about time I try. I’ll probably start with something small, though, like a laundry basket hack 🙂

  2. You travelled with gin! Excellent! I love gin but I can’t say I’ve ever been to a distillery, that sounds awesome. I’ve done a few whiskey ones but they’re failed to turn me into a whiskey nerd, because, well I don’t really like whiskey.
    It’s amazing when you discover something that ignites your curiosity isn’t it? I felt that my life was entirely travel, with the blogging, the actual travel, the photography. Then a friend introduced me to his native language and it turns out that was the distraction I’d be subconsciously craving! Since starting to learn it I feel like my world has opened up to a whole load of new things, ideas, experiences and people! I’ve become a language nerd!

  3. I’m an opera singer and it’s so easy to get tunnel visioned. I’ve been watching a lot of cooking documentaries and TV shows–Mind of a Chef, Chef’s Table, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, etc.

  4. Kate,

    I love this! I’ve never been much of a gin fan, but maybe that’s because I haven’t had craft gin in England. I do like the Ginever that a local distillery in Pittsburgh makes, it’s so good.

    Having hobbies is so necessary. Lately I’ve been getting into knitting and crocheting again, which has also renewed my interest in cooking shows (I just can’t knit alone in a quiet room). And this weekend my husband and I are brewing our second ever batch of beer. You’ll love having a “meat room” we thoroughly enjoy that we have a “beer shelf” in the hall closet. It’s right between towels and extra blankets.


  5. This is a very cool post. Love the encouragement to get curious! There is SOOO much to learn about in this world.

    Another fascinating documentary is one we just watched last night “Going Clear” which is all about Scientology. It’s on HBO now and my gosh, it is sooo intriguing. I’d definitely recommend that.

    Nathan & I are both definitely interested in learning about religion. That Jesus in the historical context book sounds really neat.

    Even if you can’t learn about something new firsthand, sometimes reading a book (even fiction) about an unfamiliar topic will help you explore a new realm.

    PS: those college classes sound awesome! My most interesting ones that weren’t part of my major were The American West, and Women in China.

  6. Curiosity is so important! I’m definitely a life-long learner. Honestly the only thing that upsets me about not being able to go to college right now is that I just miss learning. But there are so, so many opportunities out there…I use Coursera and EdX a lot and, like you said, follow blogs and read books. Religion fascinates me so I’m studying and doing research on Christianity right now and eventually I want to read/study all major religious texts. I love tying the things I’m curious and learning about into travel too…I’m doing a course on the history of prison and prison writing right now…then I’m going to visit Eastern State Penitentiary when I visit Philly next month.

    And I pretty much just added every book you mentioned to my (already ridiculously long) Amazon wishlist…so many random interests and good books out there!

  7. That insatiable curiosity you describe is exactly why I became a journalist. I just like knowing things. All sorts of things. And as a reporter it was my job to speak to people about anything and everything and writing about it seemed like a bonus sometimes.
    I never did get to drink gin on the job though 🙂

  8. I really like this post about gin. Perfectly up to date LOL! I’m curious about history, literature, art films and independent music.

    Whenever I visit a new city, country or destination, the first thing that I want to visit is the “people’s museum” and a gallery of the 18th/19th century as you can clearly see the link between their time, and ours.

    I also love classical literature as I like reading. The bigger the book, the better. I sometimes read 3 or 4 books at the same time. Not. A. Problem! In order to get a variety of different styles and genres, I attend a lot of independent film and music festivals. In fact, I’m a great supporter of new talent and regularly do what I can to promote alternative creativity.

  9. I love learning new skills – the weirder the better. This week I’ll be learning weaving, dying, cooking, knife making, bow and arrow making, carving and rice wine making! How’s that for a list?! 🙂

  10. Great article!

    I have a fickle heart which means I have many many interests. Diving, photography, travelling are only highlights. I love TV series, movies, and books on all kinds of different subjects. There’s never a genre I would say no to, everything interests me. Whenever I read about an interesting subject I investigate it: after reading Tokyo by Mo Hayder a few years back I became interested in the Japanese side of the Second World War for example. As a result I have read a few books about the subject – Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is my favourite!

    I like food and drinks as well, so whenever there’s a food tour or I can learn more about a region I will sign myself up 🙂

  11. I love this! I have always been naturally curious – and my family has made fun of me for it forever! My husband has to listen – ok he pretty much pretends to listen – to all kinds of facts and tidbits about life. Obviously, it’s one of the reasons I love travel. Fantastic post! (And I’m checking out all the blogs and books you recommend)

  12. wow…. Jesuits?? Seriously?! You’re now promoting Jesuit crap to youth?! The most deceiving and disgusting bunch in History!

    Yes, I am entitled to my opinion about Jesuit bs, after making my own private research in South America and in other places around the world.

    You can continue brainwashing someone who doesn’t know better. Now go kneel to your Emperor The Great aka Pope.

    Happily Unsubscribed.

  13. “Jesus Camp” sounds interesting haha, I actually worked on a Christian camp in the US many years ago, even though I am not really Christian, and it was a really awesome experience. They were not too preachy but very encouraging to the kids and staff alike which I loved! Such a positive atmosphere and eye-opening to what religion should be about. 🙂

    I totally agree that people end up swept up in one interest and it can be hard to find the time to explore anything else. I’m sometimes guilty of that myself; plus the internet provides us with endless possibilities and yet it’s such a distraction!

  14. In college I was getting credits for an environmental internship I’d gotten working on the nearby military base. As part of the “course” requisites, my guidance counselor required me to write a paper on where I saw myself in 5 years. I refused, which is a long and sordid tale in itself, but culminated in him saying, “You can’t live your life being a Jack of all trades but an expert at none.” And while now, as an adult, I understand he was trying to teach me that in order to accomplish something you need to pick a focus, but the thing I love about the profession of writing is that it’s my job to know a little bit about everything.

    I’m trying my hand at writing a fiction novel, and one of my minor characters is a hobby fisherman. It ended up taking me several hours to write a simple descriptive paragraph because I had to research what kind of fish he’d be catching in his region, the type of lures he’d use, etc. Fishing doesn’t interest me, but I’m curious about it. And writing fiction allows me to explore a little bit of everything I’m curious about. I always knew Alex Trebek was brilliant!

  15. For me its cooking. That is not as specific as curing meat but I love experimenting with new recipes!

    The Food Channel is also my guilty pleasure!

    I also can’t wait to get back into reading after I finish exams. So many books I want to read and even re-read. Outlander, Harry, LOTR are all on that list!

  16. Curiosity is part of what drives me to travel, and travel further feeds that curiosity! What better way to learn than to see for yourself?

    I do admire people who have specific things that they’re passionate about. I wish that I had a long-term hobby like knitting or photography or running – something that I get really good at, and make it part of my life. But I also like that I can talk to my friends about topics ranging from the rash of skyjackings in the 1960’s to the issues with compulsory hijab in Iran. Sometimes my friends don’t like it that much though… turns out, not everyone is interested in skyjackings! (But if you are – read the book The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Skyjacking)

  17. I once went to a panel that included Stephanie March (aka Alexandra Cabot on SVU) and she said something that has resonated with me ever since: “If you’re a curious person, then the world is always unfolding.” I have aimed to be a curious person in life and it’s led to some amazing discoveries along the way.

  18. Two of my favorite subjects – gin and curiosity. Gin – my favorite distilled spirit, and here in the U.S. (and particularly on the west coast), artisanal distilleries are the new craft breweries. Thank you, I’ve learned a lot I didn’t know about gin, now off to make a G & T.

    Curiosity – Though I travel and write a travel blog, I really find that both are the means to an end – to give me an excuse to explore and be exposed to subjects I didn’t even know I was curious about!

    Thanks for the provocative post – Linda E.

  19. My job can keep me occupied 18 hrs a day, 7 days a week, so I try to use blogging as an outlet, and it makes me broaden my interests and activities to generate content for. When not writing about my trips, the blog is very Moscow-focused, so I try to seek out new restaurants, galleries, and lately I have been on the themed walking tours kick, which introduced me to so many new sides of the city I’ve called home for ages.

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