2016 Whisky Wind-down, 16: Festive Midpoint Hangover

Today’s dram: Tobermory, 10-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: The beautiful Isle of Mull lies west of mainland Scotland and is home to caves, an ancient stone circle, and one distillery.

Established in 1798 as Ledaig Distillery, the original operation ceased in the 1930s, amid the Great Depression and lowered demand following American Prohibition. It reopened as Tobermory in the 1970s and today makes two lines of whisky.

The lively, joyful single malt in my glass tonight is the 10-year-old version of the Tobermory line, which is unpeated. (The Ledaig line is a more traditional peated whisky; I haven’t had the pleasure.)

It tastes ever so slightly of salt, and there is a sharpness to it that bites at first but quickly fades, leaving only a pleasant, light tingling on the palate and throat. Its color is paler than most Scotch whisky I’ve encountered, but I think it’s the perfect tone for this bright, happy spirit.

I don’t usually comment on packaging, but I am taken with the simple green, date-embossed bottle and its lovely wooden-topped cork, which features an outline of the isle. There is even a faint outline of the distillery complex etched into the neck wrap. All together it’s a pretty presentation complementing a delightful whisky.

Today’s thoughts: I haven’t much for you today, a day I spent in pleasant remembering of a joyful movie night and eager anticipation of a holiday break.

Today’s personal note: Hangovers I get but rarely. Hate me.

Today’s toast: To seeking joy: May we all find it soon and in unexpected places.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 17: It Will Be With Me, Always


Today’s dram: Rogue, Dead Guy Whiskey

Today’s tasting notes: I haven’t had it.

Will it be good? Will it live up to the reputation of the beer it’s based on? No clue. Someday I’ll give it a try, though.

Today’s thoughts: I’m posting this one early. Because it’s movie night.

Tonight I continue an unbroken streak of watching every new Star Wars movie the week it arrives in theaters, on opening night if feasible.

While I don’t distinctly remember it, I’m told I was a well-behaved child when my parents took me to see Star Wars in ’77.* Most of my memories of the movie are from watching it (and re-watching it and re-watching it …) on cable or VHS tape.

Not only do I remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back in ’80, but this is the first real movie theater experience I remember at all. Oh, the anguish I felt when Lando and Chewie flew away and the music rose and the credits started … what? how? no! Best. Cliffhanger. Ever.

Three years is a long time. Three years is forever to a child who can’t wait to know what happened to his favorite heroes. Return of the Jedi is the first movie whose release date I marked on my calendar and counted down the days for. Then I wasn’t allowed to go until the Saturday matinee. “Moooom, I’ve been waiting for-ev-er! Arrrrgh!” Anyway, it was worth the wait. My jaded adult eyes may see flaws now, but for this movie the child inside me will always light up immediately, just like Luke’s new green lightsaber.

And that was it. Thirty-two years went by before anyone made another Star Wars film.

What?

Those other movies?

Yeah, okay. I was pretty excited to see The Phantom Menace in ’99. So were my good friends in college. We scoured movie listings to find a midnight showing, and the closest one that was feasible was an hour and a half away, so we piled in the car and went to see it, then slept on my roommate’s mom’s floor. I mean, we slept eventually. After we were done arguing about it.

By the time Attack of the Clones rolled around to theaters in 2002 I really couldn’t be bothered. And yet, a good friend was visiting when it opened, so we went to the midnight release on a lark. This was better, but still not good.

I did not want to see Revenge of the Sith. I was tired, so tired, of this entire pointless prequel trilogy by 2005. But Mom asked if I wanted to go. So we went, on Sunday of opening weekend. It was okay. At least it was over. And I got to see it with the woman who had taken me to see the original trilogy, so there was a nice closure to the whole experience.

But then … The Force Awakens.

I really tried to tone down my excitement when this came out last year. (The title helped.) This couldn’t be good, could it?

Except, they had Lawrence Kasdan back. And much of the cast. And it was what I had really wanted to see all along: the next part of the story …

So I bought tickets for opening night.

The Empress of Whisky, who did not grow up immersed in Star Wars, and does not think of it with anywhere near the same degree of passion, accompanied me nonetheless because she is awesome and knows what this means to me.

I can no longer remember who said it first, but lots of people said, of The Force Awakens, “There are now four Star Wars movies.”

I have no better words to describe how I feel about it.

A week after it was released, we went to see it again. We were in my hometown for the holidays. Mom and my younger sister joined us, and we watched it in the same theater where I had seen the original trilogy.

A few weeks later that theater closed forever, but I feel like that old building and I had come full circle. It hadn’t changed much in almost 40 years, and maybe that’s why it finally shut its doors, but I felt like I was saying goodbye to an old friend, who had been with me for so many good times, but none, none, as important as Star Wars.

Now, it’s another opening night.

Again, I’m filled with a bit of trepidation. Yes, the new minds in charge of Star Wars have my faith, and yes, the trailer looked damned interesting …

But I have my doubts, and they are almost entirely the fault of the prequel trilogy. Aside from all its other shortcomings, its biggest problem was telling a story whose ending we already knew. Everything you ever needed to know about Anakin Skywalker was told in the original trilogy. Spending nine hours watching him grow up and go bad, awash in outrageous digital effects, was pointless.

And so, Rogue One.

We know this story.

We know the outcome.

Or do we?

There’s something in me, some longstanding attraction to a story where the ending seems inevitable, a small band against incredible odds. They aren’t going to overcome. It’s not about winning. It’s about how and why they lose.

Maybe that’s what this is.

Maybe it’s more about the nature of resistance, the forming of rebellion.

Maybe it’s exactly what we need to hear right now.

Today’s comment on word counts: Yeah, I hear you. All this and no real whisky, either, right? Sheesh. I owe you a double.

Today’s toast: To the Rebellion: May the Force be with you.

—–

* — That’s the title of the movie, Star Wars. Star Wars (no italics) is also the name of the franchise. I refuse to participate in the revisionism of calling the first movie A New Hope.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 18: Other Good Uses for Grain


Today’s dram: Jameson Irish Whiskey, Caskmates (Stout Edition)

Today’s tasting notes: Before I tell you how it tastes, I should really make note of how it’s made.

As I mentioned back in Whisky Wind-down Interlude: Terminology, and further discussed in Whisky Wind-down 24, whisky barrels get reused a lot. Many begin life holding bourbon, then, since they can’t be reused for bourbon, they get sold off, mostly to other distilleries making other types of whisky.

Lately, however, some brewers have taken to buying used bourbon barrels and using them to age beer, particularly high-gravity stouts, barleywines, and Belgian-style ales.

Given this disruption to their supply lines, it was probably just a matter of time before some clever whisky maker decided to strike back.

Enter Jameson Caskmates.

The distillery partnered with a local brewery, Franciscan Well, to mature some of its whisky in barrels that had been used to age stout.

That sounds somewhat straightforward, but it’s actually a little more complicated.

Jameson usually matures only in barrels that formerly held bourbon and fortified wine. The distillery took a set of its used barrels to the brewery, which used them to age stout, then sent them back, were they were used to further age regular Jameson.

So it went: bourbon, fortified wine, Jameson, stout, Jameson again.

Whew!

And for all that? The distillery’s tasting notes indicate this lends the whisky flavors of cocoa, coffee, and butterscotch.

I can’t say I perceive all of that, but this is definitely a whisky that has been spending time at the brewery. It’s darker and richer than pure Jameson, and I rather enjoy it.

Today’s thoughts: So, it may surprise you to learn I don’t only drink whisky.

Sometimes, I reach for beer.

Okay, a lot of times.

Okay, maybe even more than whisky.

I rather enjoy brewery tours, and The Empress of Whisky and I make a point of looking for them wherever our travels take us.

It’s a good time to be a beer drinker. The United States has more breweries now than at any point in its history (~4,200), but almost two-thirds of those were founded in the last decade. Beer is booming, and there’s probably a local brewery near you. Check it out.

I’ll surely write more about beer later, especially if I follow through on becoming a certified beer judge. (Plans are in motion.) 

Today’s note on a future objective: Acquire Franciscan Well’s Shandon Stout and Jameson Aged Stout.

Today’s toast: To all the makers of the all the fermented beverages: Cheers!

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 19: On Distant Shores


Today’s dram: Pusser’s Rum, Original Admiralty Blend

Today’s tasting notes: This is not whisky. Cry foul if you want, but I’ll defend the inclusion here. As far as process goes, this shares much with whisky, from small batch wooden stills to aging three years minimum on charred oak. The key deviation that makes this rum, not whisky, is the mash: sugar cane.

The taste profile isn’t like your typical rum at all. It drinks more like a sweet bourbon, say a wheated version with a corn-heavy mash.

It’s sweet, but not cloying. It has rough edges, but not serious bite. I could sip this all day.

Point of fact, I have.

Honestly, though, I love this stuff as much for its history as its flavor. From the mid-1600s through July 31, 1970, the British Navy issued a daily rum ration (a “tot” of rum) to its sailors. This was all very regulated and full of pomp and tradition, down to the exact rum to be used.

This stuff? It’s made to the British Admiralty’s specifications.

For the duration of the rum ration, that recipe was not shared. The rum was never made available to the public until Pusser’s Rum Ltd. purchased the rights to make and sell the blend (and use British Navy iconography). About a decade after the rum ration went away (they called it Black Tot Day) the rum became available to the public for the first time, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Royal Navy Sailors’ Fund.

Today’s thoughts: A friend of mine is currently serving as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

It may be somewhat odd that an ancient British Navy rum recipe makes me think of an American Marine, but, well, that’s how my mind works sometimes.

Though I have not seen him since his appointment some 16 years ago, we have kept in touch, sporadically, over that time. Our lives are pretty different, but we are bound by a deep friendship started long ago.

And whisky.

Last time I saw him, we drank cognac and I wished him well on his journey. Next time, maybe we’ll have a tumbler of Pusser’s Rum. The 15-year-old, if I can lay hands on it.

Today’s thoughts on toasts and traditions: I like toasts. I don’t like starting a round of drinking without at least a polite “cheers.” Maybe it’s my Irish heritage (or the relatives who drilled that into me, anyway). Whatever, you may rely upon me at your wedding.

The tradition-minded British Navy has lots of toasts. Aside from the daily loyalty toast (“The Queen!”) and others for special occasions, there is one for each day of the week:

Monday: Our ships at sea
Tuesday: Our sailors
Wednesday: Ourselves
Thursday: A bloody war or a sickly season
Friday: A willing foe and sea room
Saturday: Our families
Sunday: Absent friends

Today’s toast: To my friend the Marine, away across the sea: Be well until we drink together again.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 20: Peat, Politics, Pigs


Today’s dram: Springbank, 10-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: This is a bit of strange one. I was given this bottle in my early days of whisky collecting, before either I or my wife (aka, The Empress of Whisky, who delights in favoring her loyal subject with gifts of the water of life) knew exactly what we were doing. She bought it, if I remember correctly, mostly because it was a rarity at the bottle shoppe, the only Campbeltown whisky on offer.

Some history: Springbank is an old distillery, with its Campbeltown production facility dating to 1828. Back then, this whisky region was home to more than two dozen distilleries. Today, only three remain.

Springbank is family-owned, a rarity in these days of global booze conglomerates. It’s also one of only a couple of distilleries that does pretty much the entire whisky production process on site, from malting the  barley to distilling the spirit, from aging the whisky to bottling it. About the only thing they don’t do is grow their own barely. (There is a distillery that does so, but alas I haven’t any of that in my collection.)

So, historic, local, quirky … how does it taste?

Oily.

Or, more precisely: It tastes like fermented canola oil with a touch of peat, salted.

Which is not to say I don’t like it. But it is, shall we say, a whisky for a certain mood, one that strikes but rarely.

Today’s thoughts: So, pigs.

It’s been a long hard year, made worse by the events of November 8, when a minority (albeit an electorally well positioned minority) of Americans chose to elect as president an odious marionette of tainted meat stuffed into an ill-fitting suit.

I really do want to just have fun with Whisky Wind-down, but let’s be honest — kinda the whole reason I’m doing this in the first place is to take my mind off the shitstorm that is 2016. Letting the entire series go without at least touching on politics would be somewhat incomplete.

So, where do we go from here?

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

That’s Nietzsche, of course.

“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

George Bernard Shaw this time, saying perhaps the same thing?

I wonder. There are days when it feels like all the effort in the world doesn’t amount to more than pig-wrestling, and at the end I just sit there, dirty, while the bastards grunt back at me, wondering why in the fuck I ever bothered.

But other days, when I squint right, I don’t see the sty. I see the bleak pit of the abyss, its gaping maw clamoring to consume the world’s last beauty. 

And that’s worth fighting for. 

Today’s pithy summation: There will be a time to make bacon.

Today’s toast: To the good fight: May we be ready for it.