2016 Whisky Wind-down, 6: North, South, Shalom

Today’s dram: Highland Park, 12-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: This is a new one. At least, I don’t recall having tried it. It’s the product of another venerable whisky distillery, the northernmost in Scotland. 

There, on Orkney Island, they still malt their own barley before drying it over a fire fueled by peat with a heavy dose of heather. 

The marketing spiel says that heather gives the whisky a floral character. I can’t say I detect that by smell, but then I may be a touch stuffy at the moment. On the tongue, it is warm and smooth. It goes down easy, leaves a lingering pleasant warmth with maybe the faintest kiss, almost a memory, of smoke. 

Today’s thoughts: I grew up in the South. Rural southern Georgia, if specifics matter. There are things about Chrismas in the South that are different than Christmas elsewhere. 

We don’t expect snow, for starters. 

Sure, we dream of a white Christmas, but we know it’s just that — a dream. Actual white Christmases happen to other people. Northerners, mostly. 

My first Christmas in Maine was a bit of a revelation in that regard. Christmas there is like the Christmas I had only seen on greeting cards. Snowy landscape. Smoke curls from cute chimneys. And everywhere everyone was eager to stay indoors, playing cards and drinking something warm.

Also, they have this weird substance called “stuffing” which is used in place of dressing* at the holiday meal. I can’t say I completely understand the reasoning, but it is enjoyable enough. 

Also, wine. 

I realize I am at risk of generalzing too much, but wine was never a thing at my southern family’s dinner table. We had sweet tea. (They call it “the table wine of the South” and that really isn’t an exaggerattion.)

Something else I never encountered? Chanukah. It’s not that we don’t have Jews in rural, southern Georgia, but they are few and far between, and I was a young adult before I knew any personally. Today I am friends with a few, inlcuding my sister-in-law’s husband.** 

He’s a New Yorker by birth, but now he and his Maine-born wife are raising a Texas-born son in Alabama. That kid has culture out the wazoo, even before his aunt and uncle come calling.***

This is the third evening of Chanukah, and I have enjoyed the past two, so today shall I stand respectfully quiet as the family kindles their menorahh and my five-year-old nephew tries to keep up with the words of prayer and song that go along with the lighting of candles. 

Today’s note on passive-agressive holiday greetings: There really is a lot to celebrate. Be gracious, wherever you find yourself . 

Today’s toast: L’Chayim.


* — If you are not from the South, I will forgive you not knowing about dressing. I am not talking about the stuff that goes on salad. Think of southern dressing as a stuffing casserole and you will have close to the right image. I miss it and will very probably have to make my own before the year is out.

** — Is there a word for that relationship?  A proper word, I mean? Some people would refer to the two of us as brothers-in-law, but that is both confusing and technically incorrect. As Ann Landers put it, “You are no relation; you are just two men who married sisters.” But we are family. We need a word. 

*** — I am not the drunk uncle. Mostly. I try to restrict my uncling influcence to hats, beards, and Star Wars. Sometimes I consult on train layouts or LEGO arrangements. Also, I make pancakes. 

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 7: Pleasant Surprises

Today’s dram: Bowmore, 12-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: The aroma is captivating — you opened open a jar of honey minutes after lighting the fireplace. Someone nearby sliced a lemon. 

On the tongue it is soft and mellow. Swallow it, though, and feel a gentle burn, with a kiss of smoke as it fades away. 

This is an Islay whisky, but it is unlike other Islay whiskies I have known. 

I am mostly familiar with the big peaty, smoky works of Laphroaig and Ardbeg. 

If that whisky is a dragon that grabs you by the throat, Bowmore is a dragon that seduces you first. 

Today’s thoughts: This one was a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law, and oh, was I delighted to find it addressed to me. The magic of Christmas may be mostly reserved for children, but now and then a glimmer lands even on a sot like me.  

As my five-year-old nephew ran from sparkling toy to joyful book to holiday sweet, I could just sit back, smiling. He’d wear out eventually, then the adults could settle and sip. 

Today’s note, as an observing uncle: Did I ever have that much energy, even in my single-digit ages? I think not. 

Today’s toast: To families everywhere: Happy holidays, whatever yours may be. 

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 8: American Classics

Today’s dram: Bulleit Bourbon

Today’s tasting notes: Bite. Such bite. But it gets sweeter as you sip. Benefits of a high rye content. Good stuff. 

Today’s thoughts: Despite the spelling, Bulleit is pronounced “bullet” and is as American as your favorite cliché. 

I make my favorite cliché mostly for holidays. This year, with the help of my five-year-old nephew, I successfully completed the task.   

Today’s deep-dish thought: It’s only pie. Relax. 

Today’s toast: To the bakers: May your calculations be correct and your pies rise as expected. 

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 9: Travel, Tours, Tastings

Today’s dram: Woodford Reserve, Distiller’s Select

Today’s tasting notes: This is fine bourbon. The aroma is all sweetness, a touch of honey on a warm breeze. Sip it. Warm, sugary, with just a faint bite. A subtle burn fades down the throat. Smell it again. Stare into the distance. Sip. Life is good. 

Today’s thoughts: As I mentioned back in Whisky Wind-down 24, The Empress of Whisky and I embarked upon a lengthy tour of Kentucky bourbon country last year, hitting up many, many distilleries along the way. One of those was Woodford Reserve. 

It’s a lovely facility, sitting on a historic site where bourbon was made as far back as the early 1800s. Between the stone buildings, newly filled barrels are rolled along a set of metal tracks — think barrel railroad — to the warehouses where they will rest for six years or more until a master distiller decides they are ready to incorporate into the next small batch of bourbon. 

It’s a homey sort of place, the type that dedicates a bronze plaque to commemorate the life of a favorite distillery cat. The people are lovely, and every tour is partly the story of making bourbon and partly the history of bourbon and Kentucky. 

I’ve said this before, but I’ll repeat myself: If you enjoy whisky, go to where they make it. Meet the makers. Taste the rare stuff that isn’t sold elsewhere. 

The Empress of Whisky and I had a grand time in Kentucky. Likely we will go back someday, visit some of the smaller distilleries that lie even farther off the beaten path. 

First, though: Scotland. 

Today’s note on travel: There are some pretty good whiskies available in tiny bottles. You can fit at least ten into a TSA-compliant quart-size zip-top bag. 

Today’s toast: To vistas on vacation: Ahhh. 

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 10: Family Time

Today’s dram: Crown Royal

Today’s tasting notes: Remember when I described how smooth and easy I found Crown Royal Limited Edition? This is the regular stuff. It’s still pretty smooth for whisky, but it has a bit of an edge to it. Along with a fair amount of sweetness, too. 

Today’s thoughts: This was not on my draft whisky list, and I am not a huge fan of Canadian  whisky overall, but I am a huge fan of enjoying a drink with family. This is one of my father-in-law’s favorites, so when I saw him tonight and he said, “Let’s have a drink,” I could hardly refuse. (You’ll have to ask him why he drinks from a coffee mug.)

Today’s advice to anyone anxious over holidays with family: Whisky can be a common denominator. 

Today’s toast: To holiday mingling: Cheers!