Whisky Wind-down, 26: Like Last Year, Only Different

Today’s dram:  The Macallan 12-Year-Old, Sherry Oak (with special appearance by The Macallan 10-Year-Old, Fine Oak)

Today’s tasting notes: As you can see from the photo, I only have a little of this 12-year-old available to me. (I love little bottles. But then I love sampling, so of course I do.)

I had not tried the 12-year-old elsewhere prior to opening that little bottle tonight, but I have tried a fair amount (as you can tell from the bottle level) of the 10-year-old expression from the same distillery. I won’t repeat myself too much, since I wrote about that one last year, but I did want to have it again tonight just for the joy of doing a side-by-side tasting.

A year later, I still think the 10-year-old is a fine “workday whisky.” It’s mild, but also warm, in the inoffensive way common to Highland whiskies. I would never be upset to be served this. (Having said that, I have not touched my bottle of this one in a year, given my predilection for bolder whisky.)

The 12-year-old is also delightfully easy to drink. In isolation it’s not a huge departure from its younger sibling, but tasted side-by-side there are richer, sweeter flavors that come across pretty clearly. There’s also a deeper aroma. If the 10 is mostly honey, the 12 is that honey with a dollop of maple syrup. And as you can sort of tell by the photo, the 12 is also just a shade darker. (That’s probably the result of its longer time in the barrel. I have to say “probably” because there are a lot of factors that can affect color — char level on the barrel and age/reuse of the barrel are big ones — and there exists the possibility a distiller might have artificially altered the color, which, long story short, may or may not be legal to do depending on the whisky and country of origin.)

You might be tempted to attribute all of the flavor/aroma differences to the two-year age gap between these two, but there is also a difference in the barrels used to age them. The 12-year-old was aged entirely in oak barrels that had previously been used to make sherry, while the 10-year-old only spent a portion of its aging in sherry oak barrels; the rest was in bourbon barrels. (Trivia note: It’s redundant to say bourbon oak barrels, since bourbon must, by law, be aged on oak. New oak, at that. Since they can’t be reused for bourbon, the old barrels get sold to other booze artists, including an awful lot of Scotch distillers.)

Anyway, my point is it’s hard to know how much of the flavor/aroma/color difference are attributable to age versus wood differences. I’d love a head-to-head tasting of, say, a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old both aged on the same wood, or a 10 versus 10 (or 12 versus 12), one with just sherry, one with sherry/bourbon.

While those combinations don’t seem to be available (at the moment) from The Macallan, other distilleries have such offerings. I might even have a flight like that in my collection. Will it show up in this Whisky Wind-down? Not even I know at this point.

Today’s thoughts: So, my spur-of-the-moment inspiration for this pairing tonight was looking back at last year’s entry for the same day. I thought it pretty appropriate to follow up that post with a related whisky and a related update.

I still have a day job, though not the same one as last year. And while I’m still not inclined to deviate from my policy of declining to comment on anything work-related here, I’ll simply say I had a good decade at the old job, and I look forward to many good years at the current one. Great places, both of them, with great people.

Today’s bit of perhaps useful information: It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Time zones.

Today’s toast: To the working stiffs, again and always.

Whisky Wind-down, 28: Hectic Night Calls for Basic Done Right

Today’s dram: Wild Turkey, 101

Today’s tasting notes: Oh, she bites, this bird.

Between the high proof and the elevated rye content in the mash, this one is a bit of a spicy burner. Now, bourbon is usually sold around 90 proof, so it tends to be a little rough around the edges. At 101, this one shoots a mite further, as they might phrase it in the backwoods.

(Yes, the 101 in the name is also the proof, which, if you don’t know booze math, is a fancy — overly complicated? — way of saying it’s 50.5% alcohol.)

Unless you’re new here, you know I like high-proof whisky. I don’t think a jolt of alcohol in and of itself makes a tipple more enjoyable, but I am pretty fond of cask-strength booze: whisky right off the wood, undiluted, flavors raw and pure as nature made them.

I don’t just mean that as pretty language, either. Tour Kentucky bourbon country and more than one distillery tour guide will tell you, “We make white dog; nature makes bourbon.”

“White dog” is what licensed distillers call raw, unaged whisky; folks in the backwoods distilling outside the law call the same stuff moonshine.

Take that raw whisky, place it in a charred new oak barrel for a length of time — years, folks — and what emerges is bourbon. As it was explained to me at my very first distillery tour — which *cough* was at Wild Turkey’s Lawrenceburg home — it’s the changing temperatures across the four proper seasons in Kentucky that make the magic happen, pulling the whisky in and out of the charred wood, slowly drawing flavor while time concentrates the liquid into something far greater than the pile of corn, rye, and malted barley it started as.

(If you want to be pedantic, there’s more to it than that, legally speaking. I admire pedants, and often am one, but not tonight.)

At any rate, Wild Turkey makes fine bourbon, and 101 is probably my favorite widely available variety. We can talk later about Rare Breed. Or Kentucky Spirit. Or Forgiven. All fine bourbons, all made under the same roof.

Still, there are times when a spicy belt is called for, and at those times, I go back to 101.

Today’s thoughts: It’s late, I’m tired, there a thousand things to do, and … well, whisky.

Actually, it isn’t that late, just after 8 p.m. as I sit to the keyboard, but that’s plenty late enough to have zero words and not even so much as a whisky in mind to profile.

I am tired, though. Not for any particular reason besides maybe Monday, which in legend of song and feline comic strips, is the worst day that ever there was.

Monday unto itself is bad enough, but then there’s listening to how bad everyone else’s Monday is going, which just makes your Monday all the worse, and yes — self-awareness! — I realize I’m adding to the vicious cycle.

“Who invented Mondays, anyway?!” groused a coworker recently, only to be set back when another, cleverer coworker (not me) chimed in that it’s just a product of the weekend. Blame the labor movement. Once upon a time, everyone worked all the time, and so Monday meant not much. Now you get to experience the joy of weekends, which set you up for the misery of Mondays. Praise labor.

Have I mentioned that I like the people I work with? I like the people I work with. That’s another post. Maybe. Right now I owe one of them a Secret Santa gift for the office holiday party tomorrow, and I might have kinda sorta also committed myself to baking something, too.

These are a few of the thousand things I have to do. And it’s only the fourth of December. As the month rolls on, the tasks pile up. Only a fool would add to his pile with a commitment to write daily, too.

But I like you people.

Also, whisky.

Today’s thought on the passage of time: It takes time to make whisky. Bourbon is relatively quickly made, compared to some others, like Scotch whisky. Blame the relative climates. Still, the older I get, the faster the time seems to go. That’s not an original thought, I know, but how about: I should start some whisky. It won’t be long now before it’s ready.

Today’s toast: To taking the time to take the time for things that make the time worth taking.

Whisky Wind-down, 29: Form

[Note: If you’re new, catch up at the 2017 Whisky Wind-down Primer.] 

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Books on poetic form rest on a table next to a filled Glencairn glass and a bottle of whisky, all in front of a bookcase holding academic tomes.

Today’s dram: Atlanta Spirit Works, Ameireaganach, Huddled Mashes No. 1

Today’s tasting notes: I learned of Atlanta Spirit Works when a friend brought their single malt rye to a party last year. I’ve since had the opportunity to try several of their other offerings, including this one, which was released about a month ago.

Although Atlanta Spirit Works is young, the company uses ancient techniques, including classic Scottish-style double copper pot distillation. From there they often deviate from tradition, or switch traditions. This bottling, for example, was aged on new charred American oak. So, basically what you’ve got here is a whisky that’s Scottish by distillation style finished with an American aging method. (I’m not getting into the grain bill; suffice to say it’s mostly classic malt varieties for a Scotch-style whisky.)

The result is a warm whisky with a bit of bite, smooth enough to be pleasing but stout enough (at 92 proof) to encourage sipping. It finishes clean, with an aroma of honey over fresh bread.

Today’s thoughts: At university, I knew a guy who could not write free verse poetry. He was killer at any form of sonnet, loved classics like anaphora and terza rima, and became almost physically aroused by villanelles.

But he had an aversion to free verse that I can only describe as writer’s agoraphobia — all that open space on the page terrified him.

And so he wrote around it by building form into formless assignments.

The technical term for that is a nonce form. Created for the occasion. Not a recognized form, maybe not even one you would ever come back to. Or possibly a variation on a recognized form.

Sometimes nonce forms stick and become something. Shakespearean sonnets, for example, began as nonce variations on the English sonnet. Sure, now that’s a classic form onto itself, but when he penned the first one, Bill’s peers probably thought him a wee bit pretentious.

Trouble is, we had several assignments that were meant to be written as true free verse, not nonce. They should be formless and flowing exercises of pure language, unconstrained by stanza patterns, line lengths, or syllable emphasis.

After my classmate turned in a couple of “free verse” assignments that actually contained fairly noticeable patterns, the professor called him out and threatened to fail him the next time he incorporated so much as a whiff of pattern in his work.

We were pretty sure the guy was cooked, but the next week he turned up with a proper free verse poem. You’ll forgive me if I don’t recall the specifics after two decades, but it was thirty or so lines of varying length, beautiful language, not a trace of form.

Praise and an A for him.

After class, when just a few of us were left, slow to file out, he confessed: There’d been a hidden form. It was subtle, but there was a pattern to the opening and closing words of each line.

Upon hearing this, I wasn’t disappointed. Rather, impressed. He’d found a way to be comfortable enough to make the words flow.

Today’s relevant numbers: Two down, 28 to go.

Today’s toast: Here’s to old what’s-his-name, whose pattern I forget; to someday meet again, in rhythm quite legit.

2017 Whisky Wind-down, 30: Wrecked

[Note: If you’re new, catch up at the 2017 Whisky Wind-down Primer.] 

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A bottle of Ardbeg Corryvreckan lies on its side, apparently empty, its cork a filled whisky glass nearby. These items are arranged near a keyboard and a computer monitor. On the monitor is writing about whisky.

Today’s dram: Ardbeg, Corryvreckan

Today’s tasting notes: This is cask-strength, big Islay whisky at its finest, and it’s where I left off last year.

I am tempted, by both laziness and a love of my own words, to just repeat the description I wrote last year, but that would be a disservice to you, me, and this cask-strength 57.1 ABV monster.

Really, calling it a monster is another sort of disservice. A kraken is a monster. A corryvreckan is a swirling whirlpool about which a kraken might feel a trifle anxious.

As an anxious person whose sigil is squid, I find this whisky delightfully appropriate.

Much like its namesake, the whisky is a complex swirl. Sometimes I get straight campfire in the aroma, followed by a woodsy burning on the palate. Other times, it’s brine in my nose and saltwater burn on my throat. I can’t say it’s the same thing every time I try it. It’s shifty, spiraling on my palate and in my mind, and that’s why I keep coming back to it.

I know my perception is influenced by the name and legend, but isn’t that part of the point? If labeling and legend don’t matter, just buy a bottle of Fermented Grain and call it a day.

I remember my first dram of this one, taken in the kitchen of an old friend. I’d gifted him the bottle, which he immediately opened and poured, and we were both blown away. I’d bought it on reputation alone, and we were both expecting … something. What we got was a punch in the mouth, but one that left us refreshed and searching.

Today’s thoughts: Here’s where I tell you the plan that didn’t come to fruition.

Last year, I had this bottle set aside for the conclusion of 2016 Whisky Wind-down. My intent was to take it with me to an annual New Year’s Eve party hosted by some lovely friends of mine, at which I would share it, wax philosophic about it, and generally commiserate with like-minded folk over the wretched year ending and the one to dread ahead.

I would have written the post, published it, then perhaps added updates as the night wore on and the year wound down.

Alas, I got sick instead. A few days shy of the end of the year, actually. And it wore down my enthusiasm for writing, as well as my capacity for fully experiencing whisky.

I didn’t miss any posts, but I still feel those last few were not what I wanted them to be. Granted, little of my published work is ever what I wanted it to be. There’s a disconnect between thoughts, writing, and publication that I shall never put together to my satisfaction. Frankly, I don’t know how any writer does. I don’t know if the ones who seem to are just the rare breed, or liars. I do know I once spent half an hour in the leasing office of my college apartment complex because I got writer’s block when the office manager asked me to write down my reason for not renewing my lease.

That’s … not really uncommon for me. The feeling, if not the outcome. Deadlines are good, if only because something will (usually) get done, but deadlines are horrible because whatever gets down will (usually) not be as good as it could have been.

Nothing ever is. Struggle, struggle, struggle.

And here, where there are no deadlines except my own, and I am the most lenient deadline-giver that ever there was … things don’t always get done.

What have I been doing all year, instead of writing?

Well, to be accurate, instead of publishing? I’ve written. My drafts folder rivals the size of the published folder.

But nothing’s ever good enough.

Let me explain, by going back to the bottle.

I’ve been nursing this one all year. In and of itself, that’s not unusual. I tend to keep whiskies around forever, pulling a dram now and then as the mood strikes, but acquiring new bottles at a far greater pace than emptying old ones.

But I’ve been at this one lately, reminding myself what it represents, why I’m compelled by it. I’ve been caught in a corryvreckan for over a year, treading water, going with the flow.

I want to find the optimism with which I pretended to face this year, the hope with which I believed I could still proceed, the faith in certain people …

But, no.

I stopped writing for a reason.

Reasons.

Beyond any particular personal failings (or illusions of such), I did not think a string of words mattered, anymore.

At some point, if you do not have common ground with people who are important to you … what?

Don’t misunderstand. I am as close as ever to almost everyone I care about. I have, even, to my own surprise, formed a few new friendships and found formidable firmness in some others already extant.

But.

I let some go. Others, I keep only beneath a modest shroud of shared pretense.

To be perfectly frank, I stopped writing here because some of the things I was compelled to write about threatened to pull that shroud right off.

Right.

Off.

But it’s a year later, and the world rolls on, and I’m still aboard, and growing bored, and, well, shit, what is a writer who does not write?

Today’s overwrought symbolism: Obvious, isn’t it?

Today’s pithy summation: Writers’s block is all in your head. Too bad you live in your head.

Today’s toast: To being back at the keyboard.

2017 Whisky Wind-down: Primer

If you follow my writing here on even a semi-regular basis, you’ll have noticed, well, “semi-regular basis” is about as good as it gets. There are, shall we say, “gaps” in my publishing schedule, assuming I have a publishing schedule, which, of course, I do not.

And yet, last December, I posted daily for an entire month.

I owe that rare publication streak to whisky and friends. In the course of friendly conversation, I and several “booze enthusiasts” of my acquaintance noted the growing prevalence of alcohol-based advent calendars. Not only were they suddenly everywhere, there were seemingly collections curated for every palate and budget. It occurred to me that it would be fun to use one of these as a daily jumping-off point for writing.

Advent was starting by the time I had that realization. However, while I am overall pretty bad at planning ahead (and shopping), I am aces at keeping whisky on-hand.

I daily profiled (to the limit of my amateur-but-improving abilities) one whisky from my collection, with accompanying anecdotes and other ramblings each somehow thematically related to the selected dram.

It wasn’t advent, exactly.

That term has a particular meaning in liturgy relating to Christmas; since what I really wanted was to say goodbye to a shit year, the exercise instead became a countdown to the end.

I’m not going to rehash my loathing for 2016. I’m not even going to (yet) get into my feelings about 2017.

What I am going to do is get my ass back to the keyboard. I’ve been away longer than I meant to be. Now the whisky is calling me back.

With that, lastgreypoet.com proudly presents “2016 Whisky Wind-down 2: 2017 Whisky Wind-down, The Quickening Boogaloo for More Money.”

Or “2017 Whisky Wind-down,” if you’re into brevity.

Later today, maybe, I’ll get started.

Writing, I mean. The whisky is already open.

Obviously.

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Note: If you missed last year’s adventure, you can catch up by hitting the 2016 Whisky Wind-down category tag. If that seems like too much reading, you can get the basics in last year’s primer or just skip to the end. If you are unfamiliar with whisky (or need a refresher) there is also this post on terminology.

 

2017 Whisky Wind-down, 346: Not My Whisky

[Editorial note: You probably remember 2016 Whisky Wind-down. Hell, it basically just ended. Am I saying 2017 is already so bad that it’s time to start a similar countdown already? No. I am not. However, some days beg to be noted in time. Also, some days call for a stiff drink.] 


Today’s dram: Ruskova Vodka Real American Whisky

Today’s tasting notes: Blarg. Gak. <string of expletives>

Today’s thoughts: Appropriately enough, I woke up sick today. Psychosomatic? Could be.

At any rate, I hadn’t been awake long when my phone rang. T-Mobile customer service. Without getting into the specifics, I’ll just say the company and I have an ongoing billing dispute. They’re wrong, of course. The service reps — I talked to three, over the course of 90 minutes — acknowledge the problem, but say they “can’t change that in the system.”

All in all, it was a frustrating experience, being in the right but still unable to make a positive change. Powerless before the needs of the corporation. Pay up or lose.

Which is, again, appropriate enough for the day at hand.

All the facts in the world don’t matter if one side has power and the willingness to use it.

All the reason in the world doesn’t matter if the other side is unreasonable.

Try as you might, the inertia of the system will carry you away, regardless.

Today’s notes on the immediate future: And so … I drank my selected “whisky.”

I poured a second.

After a bit, it got easier.

I mean, if you have low expectations.

No, lower than that. 

Afterward, I went to my happy place. 

Not the bar. 

My other happy place: the kitchen.  

There, I baked Christmas cookies.

What with travel, various sicknesses, and other conflicts, this weekend is the earliest I have been able to coordinate gathering with my family to observe the holiday.

It’s harder than it used to be, and I don’t just mean the scheduling. 

See, try as I might, I can’t convince some of them we’re better off, by far, than we were eight years ago, and the next four years bode poorly for all of us.

(In fairness, try as they might, they can’t convince me of the opposite, either.)

We resolve these differences mostly by ignoring them. 

At least we agree on cookies. 

Today’s toast: Nostrovia, comrades! “May the wings of liberty never lose a feather.” –Jack Burton