2019 Whisky Wind-down, 1: The Down

A calico cat, in closeup, stares at you. Over her shoulders, just out of focus, sits a bottle of Ardbeg Kelpie and a tumbler with a dram poured in it.

Today’s dram: Ardbeg Kelpie.

Today’s tasting notes: If you love big, cask-strength Islay whisky, the sort where the first sip scores your mouth to prepare to lay down a sweet ride on the ocean … get thee to your best bottle shoppe and acquire this. I don’t have a seal of approval or such, but this would be on any such list I developed.

Today’s brief preface to thoughts: A kelpie is a legendary creature, specifically a shape-shifting water-beast in Celtic lore, said to haunt the lochs of Scotland.

I don’t know if such things are real. Legends tell us stories we may choose to believe, of things that may have been real once (or remain real but hidden). It’s a matter of choice to believe in them, to seek them out, to find our own truths.

Today’s thoughts: I suffer from depression and anxiety.

This has been the case for me for at least half my life. Until recently, however, my struggle was carried out on a personal level only.

That changed this year.

I finally acknowledged it was time I had some assistance. Getting to that point took an incredible amount of time, frustration, and overcoming fear. So much fear. When you’ve lived half your life learning to cope in certain ways, you really might not be inclined to give those ways up on the hope that someone — an external someone — might have a piece of the solution you’ve been needing.

This is especially true when the one and only person you really trust to talk to about such things is yourself.

I’m not going to make this a long, mopey recovery post. Frankly, I don’t have that in me. I’m still a bit amazed I have this much in me. But one of the remarkable things about the ongoing improvements in my mental well-being is an ability to look at something, keep looking at it, and even start to do something about it.

Not coincidentally, these are all common factors to overcoming writer’s block.

I may never be the scribe I aspire to be. I may never be good enough to be the understudy to the person who carries the pencil box of the person who holds the backup pencils for the official pencil box carrier to a third-tier, semi-notable writer … but dammit I’m going to stop worrying about the outcome and just get some words down.

Nothing else for it.

My mental improvement has been a journey, and it’s not over. I owe tremendous thanks to so many people who helped me get to the point of seeking help, receiving help, and keeping going when the help takes time to, well, help.

Several friends, whom I will not name here, have gone through, and continue to go through, similar issues. Their support — especially, in many cases, just their examples in living their lives — has made such difference in mine.

Several family, whom I will not single out, have also helped tremendously in this regard.

Okay, I will single out a couple, only because I know specifically they will not mind.

Without The Empress of Whisky, my life partner, I would not be here, full stop. She’s the pole star in my wanderings, and the constant that keeps my going. I love her fully and forever.

Also, Cat. She really is the best cat.

Today’s toast: To the future, and to the joy that comes of having one.

2019 Whisky Wind-down, 2: The Wind

A bottle of Passport Scotch whisky sits next to a poured dram and U.S. passport, which is open to a page showing a Costa Rica entry stamp.

Today’s dram: Passport Scotch

Today’s tasting notes: It’s a blend. It tastes as much like generic Scotch whisky as you can imagine, in this case on the peaty side with a slight rough edge. The label says its contents are “predominately from Speyside” — I don’t get a particular Speyside vibe off it, though — and it’s made by William Longmore & Co. It’s fine.

Today’s thoughts: I’m rarely drawn to blends, but this bottle called to me in the duty-free shop, so I picked it up on a lark because the name amused me in an international airport.

(There’s actually a stor y about buying this and then fighting with the TSA about it, but I don’t have a lot of time tonight, and I don’t need to get on any government watch lists, so I’ll save that gem for another day.)

This purchase was on the way back from Costa Rica, which you may recall was where this blog got stuck for a bit.

Frankly, I could still be there.

No, really. Everything in the past two years might just be a fever dream I’m having because I fell asleep in the sun on the beach. Totally possible. Partially desirable.

Part of the joy of the Costa Rica trip, after all, was spending some time outside the States, in the company of people who also needed, after our first year in neo-fascist America, to get away for a bit. The temptation to just never come back was mighty tempting.

I did not succumb to that one.

Instead, I let another temptation take me — the one to just lie down and shut up, to let the world go by, to let the bad things go unremarked.

I still don’t know what I should be saying about things, but I am here, in my home country, which will probably always be my home country, and I daily surround myself with the kind of people who make this a country worth staying in and worth fighting to keep free.

Today’s pseudo-philosophical attempt to relate whisky to life: A blend may or may not be stronger than the sum of its components, but it is a sum, not a single thing. Seems like there’s a lesson in there worth applying out here.

Today’s toast: To there (and back again).

2019 Whisky Wind-down, 3: Appropriate to the Occasion

Two glasses full of whiskey clink in front of a bottle of Balvenie 14-year-old Caribbean cask-finished whisky.

Today’s dram: The Balvenie, 14-year-old, Caribbean Cask

Today’s tasting notes: It’s a warm, easy whisky. Well, easy is relative, I guess. It’s full, rich, with a faint burn but nothing like harshness. There’s a sweetness to the finish. I’m told it has a lovely faint vanilla in the aroma, but I can’t quite catch it yet, dammit.

Today’s thoughts: This year’s wind-down should have been a weekly feature, right?

Yes, yes, I’d have missed that deadline, too. Shush.

Earlier this month, The Empress of Whisky and I observed our 14th anniversary.

When I say “observed” I really mean that. This year we just watched it go by, what with it falling on a day when neither of us was feeling much like celebrating, due to the case of never-ending plague we contracted.

At least, it sure felt never-ending while it was going on. We have both, finally, after about a month all told, returned to our more-or-less usual set of senses and sensibilities. We feel like doing things, such as getting up from bed and even trying exotic foods that are not soup or crackers and drinks that didn’t start their lives on a citrus tree.

We have resumed our hobbies.

In my case, that includes drinking whisky and writing about it.

You don’t get a name like The Empress of Whisky by not enjoying the stuff, so when it came time to pick an anniversary gift, I thought it would be fun to select for us a bottle of something aged 14 years. (This is not a novel concept; she hit on the idea two years ago.)

There aren’t that many options in that specific age. The great majority of whisky is sold after aging 10 or 12 years. I know of a good 13-year-old whisky, but I’ve only seen a few aged 14 years. Next year, if I try this, I’ll have a wealth of options at the 15-year-old mark, but sadly that’s also the mark where whisky prices take a nice jump.

Then there are scarce offerings at 16 or 17 years old before you start to see several offerings at 18, with prices that might start to make your hair stand on end. Those are the common ages you’re likely to see on your friendly bottle shoppe shelves. Anything older is usually behind a glass case or a locked door.

Anyway, back to the 14 at hand.

It’s apparently (according to the distillery’s marketing copy) aged for 14 years and then finished (for an undefined length of time) in freshly emptied rum barrels, said barrels having been previously filled with a blend of Caribbean rums selected by the Balvenie master distiller. Lovely.

I found this lovely option to offer my lovely wife, and once we were both well, we shared a lovely dram. ‘Twas lovely.

Today’s word of the day: Lovely, apparently.

Today’s toast: Here’s to 14 years behind, and many more ahead.

2019 Whisky Wind-down, 13: Re-hashed Favorites

A hand holds a goblet of whisky. The hand is attached to an arm that is emerging from a Jedi robe.

Today’s dram: Resurgens Single Malt Rye (ASW Distillery, Atlanta)

Today’s tasting notes: I know it tastes like warm bread and smells of a barn full of spent grain on a warm day. I’m not a huge fan of rye whisky, but then I’ve never had another single malt rye whisky, either. This is a rare find.

Today’s thoughts: Yes, that was a big gap between posts. I said there’d be gaps, but, no, I did not mean to take the concept this far.

Thing is, I am still recovering from the lingering cold that just won’t go away.

Yes, still.

Apart from fatigue and one other thing, I’m doing pretty well.

The one other thing, naturally, is sense of smell.

Oh, how that screws with appreciating whisky!

So I’ve mostly been sitting around grousing — restingI mean — and waiting to feel better. I’ve started to think, however, that it may be time to wind down 2020 before I get back to normal.

With that in mind, I’ll be writing some more in the coming days. They may be mostly posts re-hashing old favorites, until and unless I can actually taste some new stuff, but I’ll at least try to keep them entertaining.

Speaking of re-hashing things and trying to keep them entertaining after a long break … it’s opening night of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

At this point I shouldn’t need to tell you how I feel about Star Wars, but if you’re new, hit that link and read everything I’ve ever written here about the series.

It’s mostly positive.

And I remain positive toward Star Wars, in the face of cynical fans, friends, and press. No other series has ever — will ever, can ever — take its place in my heart.

Doesn’t mean I’m unaware of its low points.

Oh, no.

Just get a whisky in me — for this or any other reason, really — and ask me about the prequel trilogy … or those damned cartoons.

Then stand back.

But I love the first three movies like no other three movies ever made, and they’re the three I’d take with me to that hypothetical deserted isle where you can only take so many of some thing, and a long-distance radio and Bear Grylls are never among the options.

When The Force Awakens came along, I commented (as did others), that it was nice there were now finally four Star Wars movies.

The Last Jedi felt less like that and more like some weird amalgam of a Star Wars movie and something else I can’t quite put my finger on it. Not wrong, exactly, but not quite right. 

Tonight the last movie of the new trilogy comes out. Which way it goes swings the whole set. I’m optimistic, but cautiously so. I’ve felt this way before, many times, heading into a theater to see one of these films on opening night.

I love that, too.

Today’s historical note: Resurgens is the motto of the city of Atlanta. It’s Latin for “rising again,” and it accompanies a phoenix on the city seal. Come to think of it, it’s maybe a terrible name for a whisky.

Today’s toast:  May the Force be with you, always.

2019 Whisky Wind-down, 26: Comfort

[Note: As foretold, this begins the return of Whisky Wind-down. It’s a little late, for reasons to be noted below, but it’s the first of this year’s series, which will, if not be as extensive as those of prior years, at least exist.]

[Secondary note: Post numbering will be consistent with what I’ve done previously, which is to say each day’s number will be an advent-style indicator of days left in the year (as of post publication). This year there will, however, be gaps in the series. Thanks for bearing with me.]

Today’s dram: Buffalo Trace, standard bottling

Today’s tasting notes: It tastes like recovery.

Today’s thoughts: I’ve had this lingering cold that just won’t go away. It’s down, at this point, to a few fits of coughing, the occasional sneeze, and such. Also, my voice is down about half an octave. Also, also, and more relevant to the matter at hand, my tasting apparatus is not functioning at full faculty, damn the luck.

I kinda need that for the general enjoyment of life’s little culinary luxuries, specifically and especially whisky, dammit.

I’m on the mend, getting a bit better day by day, but it means I’m going to have to put off some of the better drams I have lined up waiting, simply because I refuse to waste good whisky on bad tasting equipment.

So what does that say about today’s choice? Well, for one thing, I’ve had so much Buffalo Trace that I know what it’s supposed to taste like. Hell, it makes a good test sample for how well my sense of taste is recovering. Consider it, if you will, a calibration dram. As of this tasting, I’m running about 80% capacity. Not bad, but not what I want for trying some fancy and new-to-me drams. We’ll get there, though.

A few words about Buffalo Trace in general. I’ve written about it before, twice, so I’ll try not to repeat myself, but say just that it’s a great everyday bourbon, affordable (especially with the 1.75 liter option) and good to keep around. I don’t even mind if guests put ice in it or use it in a cocktail.

There’s a lot to be said, some of which I think I have said, about the process by which Buffalo Trace is made, and the somewhat ancient (by bourbon standards) distillery at which it is made. Seriously, if you’re ever in the heart of bourbon country (north central Kentucky) swing over to Frankfurt and take the tour.* It’s lovely.

*(It’s not on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail, so even if you’re doing that, you need to schedule a side-trip. Just do it. Trust me.)

For today, though, I’ll just say when I’m feeling under the weather, I’m glad to have a bottle of Buffalo Trace at hand. People talk of “medicinal purposes” for whisky, often in jest, but it warms my heart and spirits to have one like this around, especially for any ailment entailing a sore throat.

Today’s random ramblings: Yes, that’s me in the photo. First time I’ve posted one of myself in this series, or, for that matter, on this blog in general. There’s a story there, one that I’ll get into in a non-Whisky Wind-down post, but for now just now that I’ve opted to give anonymity the finger.

About that pic, I shall point out three things:

1) The pipe is unlit. It has, in fact, never been lit. It’s my pondering pipe, which I like to have in hand when I’m deep into writerly thinking and also want to indulge in a little writerly cosplay. It’s made of mahogany and was carved in Mozambique. The Empress of Whisky purchased it there, during one of her travels, and she made a gift of it to me during the first Christmas we spent together. She also made a gift of ….

2) The smoking jacket. It’s silky, oh-so-comfortable, and has dragons. What more could I ask for, especially for the writerly cosplay I just mentioned? I love it dearly. (Also it has a pocket just the right size for keeping the pondering pipe.)

3) Yep. That’s branded Buffalo Trace glassware I’m sporting. It’s not our usual thing, but The Empress and I have kept a few from our distillery touring, mostly ones that are fun sizes or just neat. This has a raised buffalo on it, and you can measure a two-ounce dram by pouring to his, uh, bits. It’s a handy piece of glassware, is my point.

4) I can’t count. Or, at least, I can’t always anticipate the number of things I really have to say about something when setting up a numbered list. Yes, I could edit, but this is funnier, at least to me.

5) There is no 5.

Today’s toast: To recovery, and the whisky encountered along the way.

Whither Whisky Wind-down?

By far the most popular series I’ve written here is Whisky Wind-down.

The original, set in 2016, was my way of combining my love for whisky, my disdain for the events of 2016, and my fascination with advent calendars.

The result? 31 days of drinking, talking about random things, and really enjoying my own words again.

Through 2017, my writing tapered off again, but I got fired up at the end of the year, and I once again laid down a month’s worth of (almost completely consecutive) posts, even though I spent the last few days of that year traveling around Costa Rica.

Then the silence. I still haven’t explained that (and am perhaps inclined not to?) but for the next twenty months the newest post on the site remained 2017 Whisky Wind-down, 1: Life’s a Beach.

For all you knew, I had died on that beach. Or decided to live on it.

Anyway, I didn’t.

I spent the next year not writing here, and when December 2018 rolled around, a few people — I have fans! Tens of them! — wrote to me when Whisky Wind-down didn’t start that year. I told them (truthfully) things had been difficult but I still planned (honestly, I planned) to write a reduced 2018 Whisky Wind-down. At first I thought it would just have a late start. Then a late start became “maybe a top 10 list,” which became “maybe just one good, long post to wrap the year,” which became 10 months not writing anything at all here.

Well, I’m writing here again. And whether I ever get around to properly explaining the time I wasn’t writing here, I am, right now, enjoying myself again.

And I still drink whisky.

It’s my pleasure, therefore, to tell you to expect, in the coming days, Whisky Wind-down The Third: The Saga Continues, Following A Hiatus That Will Likely Not Be Elaborated Upon During This Series, Though You May Read With Eagerness Just In Case I Change My Mind, Or, Just, You Know, Read It Because You Like Reading Whisky Ruminations.

I’ll call it 2019 Whisky Wind-down, for short.