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

Whisky Wind-down, Interlude: Terminology

As I was writing my latest, I caught myself drifting into whisky esoterics, and it occurred to me I should probably not assume everyone reading this series has the same level of familiarity with this, uh, hobby as I do.

With the casual drinker (or interested non-drinker) in mind, here are some whisky basics:

Wait, whisky? Or, whiskey? You seem unsure on this. 

Depends where you live.

Most of the world prefers to spell it “whisky.”

Here in the States we mostly spell it “whiskey,” but being contrary Americans we are not consistent and sometimes use “whisky.” (There is probably an American somewhere selling “wisky.” Or maybe whiskay. Whiz-K. Schwizkee. I’ll stop.)

The Irish, meanwhile, spell it “whiskey.” Or uisce beatha.

I prefer “whisky” because I prefer the way it looks. (Also, the AP Stylebook says to use “whiskey.” That book has irritated me one too many times, so I sometimes go against it on principle.)

At any rate, I use “whisky” in my writing unless the distillery uses “whiskey” in its name, in which case I’ll defer to that.

Unless I typo it. Whicth hapens.

At any rate, if spelling inconsistencies get on your nerves, maybe don’t take up drinking whisk(e)y.

Fuck the spelling, what is it?

Booze. Made from grain. (Goes like this: Make grain soup. Let it ferment. Boil it down. Let it sit for a few years, usually in a wooden barrel. Dilute. Bottle. Profit.)

If you want more detail, try Google. (Or take a distillery tour. Serious fun, those.)

What sort of grains are we talking here?

A little bit of everything. (I recently tried a quinoa whisky. It was … an experience.)

But let’s narrow focus. Most of what I drink is malt whisky.

Malt whisky?

Whisky made from malted grain (Malted basically means “sprouted.” It’s … well, it’s a whole process unto itself. Seriously, if you want more detail, hit Google.)

The grain in malt whisky is usually barley. In fact, when someone says “malt whisky” it’s safe to assume they mean a barley whisky. (I’ve never seen or heard “barley whisky” used as a marketing term.)

What about other grains?

Malted rye makes rye whisky.

There might be other single malts to which I’m not savvy, but those are the big two. And, really, when someone says “single malt” odds are they are talking about Scotch whisky.

Okay, so what exactly is Scotch whisky?

Only malt whisky made in Scotland can legally be called Scotch whisky. There are several major regions, each with a distinct whisky-making style, and some of them have sub-regions as well. (I’ll spare you several hundred words of description here, as these are characteristics I tend to mention in my tasting notes.)

And single malt?

One malt, one distillery. Single malt whisky. AKA, the good stuff.

Although the term is not limited to Scotch whisky, that’s the whisky type with which it is most commonly associated.

(Do not confuse single malt with “single barrel.” A single malt whisky, like most types of whisky, is usually a mixture of dozens of barrels, which may or may not have been from the same distillation batch or aged for the same duration. These are joined under the guidance of a distillery’s master tasters to produce a consistent product.)

In that case, what exactly is a blended whisky?

Different malts. Possibly different grains.

Generally speaking, single malts are seen as having more character than blended whiskies, but that’s not to say a master blender can’t make something you will enjoy more.

Some blended whiskies are quite popular, i.e., the (in)famous Johnnie Walker lines of Scotch whisky, which bring together multiple malt whiskies from multiple distilleries to produce their various “colors.”

Other blends have names — such as bourbon.

What about bourbon? 

Bourbon is whisky. But it’s a very particular type of whisky, with some special legal caveats. The mash bill has to be a least 51% corn. (Barley is nearly always in there, too, as is rye, though some blends use wheat instead.) The spirit must be aged on charred new oak barrels. (The time varies, but it’s a minimum of two years to be called straight bourbon, and anything younger than four years is supposed by labeled as such, I guess so people can laugh at the baby bourbon. There are currently some distillers out there flaunting these age requirements, using technology to speed the process and calling the result bourbon. Some people call them innovators. I call them assholes. Which is not to say they aren’t making good whisky; but c’mon. Call it what it is — make up something snazzy; employ a marketing department ! — but don’t pretend it’s bourbon.)

It has to be made in Kentucky, right?

No. Common misconception. However, nearly all bourbon is made in Kentucky, due to tradition, marketing, and groovy whisky weather. Bourbon must be made in the United States. (Unless you’re a foreign government that disagrees. Also assholes.)

That it?

No, there are some regulations about distillation strength and bottling strength, but frankly that’s a lot of math, and I am a writer, not a, er, math person.

And Tennessee whisky?

It’s usually (not always) legally speaking bourbon, but most Tennessee whisky makers don’t use that term because they like their exclusive term better.

Also, it has to be filtered through charcoal. Or something. I’m not a big fan.

Irish whiskey?

There are some pesky legal specifics (on distillation proof, aging time, and something else, I think) but the big deal is to be made on the island.

Irish whiskey is generally regarded as smooth, and this is often attributed to the common technique of triple distillation (which is exactly what it sounds like).

Personally, I find Irish whiskey a little too easy drinking, but that is only a bad thing depending on context.

A while back you mentioned single barrel. What’s the big deal with those?

A single barrel is just what it says — whisky bottled from one barrel, not a mixture. This is whisky with nuance. That one barrel might have, for example, been left in storage longer or been exposed to more or less heat than typical. Maybe the distiller got a weird idea and (depending on the whether this is allowed for the whisky in question) used an unusual wood or char level. Perhaps … you get the idea. This is one-of-a-kind stuff, and it’s generally priced to match.

What about cask strength? You tossed that term around back in Whisky Wind-down 30

At maturity, nearly all whisky is diluted with pure water to bring its proof down to a standard level, usually between 80 and 90 (40-45 % alcohol) depending on style.

Cask strength whisky is undiluted. This is whisky off the wood, unadulterated the way the elements made it. The longer it aged (and the warmer the climate) the stronger a cask strength whisky will be.

Sometimes cask strength is also single barrel. AKA, the best stuff.

(Some people cut cask strength with water. I have nothing but contempt for that practice. Just save money and buy regular whisky, fool.)

You take this stuff pretty seriously, huh?

You have no idea. This is the polite, condensed version.

Anything else?

I agree with Warren Ellis on the subject of cocktails.

Who? What?

Shh. I’ll get to it eventually.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 27: Actually, We Have Tried Turning It Off And On Again


Today’s dram: Jack Daniel’s Special Edition White Rabbit Saloon Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey

Today’s tasting notes: Near as I can tell — the bottle description is not helpful — this is just the regular Jack Daniel’s whiskey, only bottled at 86 proof rather than the usual 80. It’s been a decade or so since I’ve had the regular stuff, and I never much cared for it. This? It’s not bad. Drinks pretty light to me. Still has that signature almost-cloying sweetness of Tennessee whiskey.

Oh, it’s a limited bottling, only available at the distillery or select locations in Tennessee. The name refers to the saloon where Mr. Daniel first sold the old No. 7.

Today’s thoughts: So, here in the States it’s Repeal Day, which marks the anniversary of the end of Prohibition. Yes, once upon a time (1919) a majority of the country thought it was a good idea to ban the consumption of alcohol, to the point of enshrining said ban into the U.S. Constitution. It only took a little more than a decade to admit that wasn’t working and then go through the constitutional shenanigans necessary to reverse course.

On December 5, 1933, the booze started (legally) flowing again.

And then …

You know, what? I’m not going to get into it. Suffice to say the nation remains a patchwork of varying legalities on the matter of booze, as it does on any number of other issues.

Since I’m drinking Tennessee whiskey, I should probably mention that prohibition there was even longer (1910-1938). Also, Jack Daniel’s distillery is located in a county that is still a dry county today. The “land of freedom” is weird, man.

Some other day I may post the thousand words I just wrote (and chopped) on the subject of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms beyond legal inebriation, but that’s a more serious topic than I want to dash off just now.


Today’s note on valuing what’s legal while it is legal: Drink ’em if you got ’em. Who knows what tomorrow brings.

Today’s toast: To the United States Constitution: It mostly works. Mostly.

Interlude: 6/8/11

Just a few words here to break up the string of Wordless Wednesday posts.

I’m working on a couple of essay-ish posts now, but I’m not yet happy with them. More later, though, for sure.
Brief update on Liquid Pro Quo: So far, so good. I have only broken stride a couple of times, under the Rum ‘n’ Coke provision I outlined. Unfortunately, my prediction regarding that drink was accurate, which is to say, I have lost the taste. My once favorite booze-laden concoction now lands upon my palate as an overly sweet, fizzy, acidic mess. Pity. The quest for a go-to cocktail now commences.

Liquid Pro Quo

Today completes an improbable week, one in which I consumed no soda.

When I say “improbable,” understand that, going back to at least my high school days, twentyish years ago, I have rarely gone a DAY without soda.

For most of that time, I didn’t have what you’d call a slight consumption rate, either.

Over the past several years, on a typical work day, I consumed absolutely no less than 48 ounces of high-caffeine diet soda, generally followed up by another 24-48 ounces at home.

On weekends, especially game nights, the numbers frequently went higher.

That’s sort of a lot, no?

I decided it was, and, rather than just stop at the acknowledgement, I chose to drop the stuff.


All at once.

No tapering off.


This seemed a more likely route to success, especially when I considered that gradually cutting back would involve some math, maybe even a chart or two. Piled atop the willpower this was going to require, that just sounded like too much work.

So, cold turkey.

Easy enough, except for The Problem, by which I refer in ominous capital letters to my not inconsequential caffeine addiction.

Turns out, you can buy that stuff in pill form: 200 mg tablets, 16 to a box, 93 cents for the store brand.


So, during the Sunday shopping run I picked up several boxes of those and one bottle of water.

On Monday, I popped pills and drank the bottle of water.

On Tuesday, I refilled the bottle from the water fountain and continued popping pills.

Same routine through the rest of the work week.

At home, water and more pills.

Aside from last night, when I enjoyed a beer with dinner and a few fingers of rum while writing (alcohol consumption is a whole other topic) I drank nothing aside from water all week.



• Health impact, part one: Caffeine pills are wonderful. I calculated a dosage equivalent to what I’d been receiving via soda and scheduled taking a pill every few hours, like some kind of medication. My alertness level has gone unchanged.

• Health impact, part two: It takes about half the volume of water to quench my thirst as the volume of soda to which I was accustomed.

• Economic impact: Purchasing caffeine in pill form is far more cost effective than purchasing it suspended in solution.

• Environmental impact: In just one work week, I have eliminated 15-20 plastic bottles (based on my previous consumption of three or four 24-ounce bottles of soda per day.)

• Pain-in-the-ass impact: A few packages of caffeine pills take up negligible space in the grocery cart, the car, and the pantry. The same cannot be said for several packages of soda. Similarly, carrying a packet of pills to work is easier than lugging a couple bottles of soda in my lunch tote.

• Inventory: The few bottles I have left at home may sit around for a while, at least until a soda-drinking friend visits.

• Exclusion: I am going to make one possible exception to my soda-free plan: full-strength regular Coke. For years I have kept my soda consumption almost exclusively to high-caffeine diet sodas, saving only this beverage, which I employ to slightly dilute lesser rums, e.g., Bacardi. (I drink fine rums neat, however.) I am curious whether I might now lose my taste for this concoction; I’ll do some research and report.