Whisky Wind-down, 7: Holiday’s End

A bottle of Seagram's VO Gold sits next to a pair of glasses, in front of a Christmas tree.

Today’s dram: Seagram’s VO Gold, 8-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: It’s smooth Canadian whisky, a tad sweet, with just a touch of bite. Finishes clean and easy.

Today’s thoughts: For most of my adult life, whenever I’ve been home for the holidays, we end up at my dad’s home by late afternoon and stay there for dinner and dessert. And once the blizzard of grandchildren and presents has passed, and things quiet down, Dad usually asks if anyone feels like a Christmas drink. For as long as I can remember, for him, that means a couple of ounces of Seagram’s VO Gold, over ice, topped with Coca-Cola.

The older I get, the more I appreciate this ending to a long Christmas day. I’m even getting to like the VO Gold, minus the cola.

Today’s toast: To holiday traditions, holiday tipples, and holiday tipple traditions.

Whisky Wind-down, 8: Happy Place

A glass of Crown Royal rye whisky stands next to an empty mini-bottle on a yellow KitchenAid stand mixer.

Today’s dram: Crown Royal, rye

Today’s tasting notes: How do you make traditionally easy-going Canadian whisky bite back? Mix in rye.

This one is 90% rye, though, so maybe it’s actually the Canadian bit that’s smoothing an otherwise harsh rye?

At any rate, it’s a pseudo-sweet, biting-but-smooth dram, just right for a nightcap at the end of a long day.

Today’s thoughts: The long day was mostly in the kitchen, which is one of my favorite places, with two of my favorite people, Mom and The Empress of Whisky.

Between us, we produced two varieties of cupcakes, lemon chiffon pie, lemon syrup, a chicken and pasta dinner, and pizza dough for the traditional lunch tomorrow.

We also played games, told stories, went shopping, and assembled furniture.

All in all, great day.

Today’s toast: To the holiday hustle; it’s the good kind of tiring.

Whisky Wind-down, 9: Home Again

A bottle of Canadian Mist whisky sits next to a filled glass, next to a tiny tabletop Christmas tree. All of these items sit upon a kitchen counter.

Today’s dram: Canadian Mist, blended, aged 36 months

Today’s tasting notes: Look, it’s young Canadian whisky, so it doesn’t hold much. What’s there is warm, sweet, and pretty smooth. It goes down damned easy, actually.

Today’s thoughts: This is my favorite dram yet, and it has nothing to do with the whisky and everything to do with the setting and the company. This is from my mom’s liquor shelf, in the kitchen of her new home, to which we just toasted.

Today’s toast: To home, there really is no place like it for the holidays, no matter how new or old.

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, 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!

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 11: The Price of Admission


Today’s dram: Ardmore, Traditional Cask (Peated Single Malt, No Age Statement), dressed for the holidays

Today’s tasting notes: Full, rich, warm Highland single malt with a pleasant earthy aroma and plenty of peat on the way down.

I’ve had this bottle kicking around for a bit, but I just went looking for more information on it and learned a couple of things: 1) It won a gold medal in the Highland Single Malt — No Age Statement category at the 2010 World Whiskies Awards. 2) It is no longer being made, having been supplanted by a different line from Ardmore.

Since this whisky lacks an age statement, let’s talk about what that means. (For your sanity and mine, we’ll stick to Scotch whisky, since age statements mean different things to different types of whisky.)

Say you are a distiller with some whisky you have been aging for 12 years, but you aren’t happy with it as-is and feel it needs a bit of mellowing to be just right. You don’t want to wait another year (or two or three), so you decide to mix in a bit from an older batch to get the flavor profile you seek.

First, so long as you’re using another whisky made at the same distillery with the same ingredients and methods, you can still call it single malt. So long as it’s all malted barely distilled at the same location, it qualifies, even if you end up blending different batches of different ages. (The term blended Scotch whisky refers to one that is made from multiple malt whiskies made at different locations OR one that contains grain whisky in addition to malt whisky. Or both. If that sounds confusing, well, yell at the next member of the Scotch Whisky Association you meet.)

So, you think that 12-year-old whisky needs a bit of older whisky mixed in to mellow it out. Even if you add some of your precious 25-year-old to the mix, you still have to call it 12-year-old on the age statement, which legally must be no older than the youngest whisky included. (So, even if you went barking mad and produced a mix that was 99% whisky aged 25 years, with the remaining 1% aged only 12, legally you would have to sell it as a 12-year-old whisky. Right after you got your head examined, I suppose.)

So, what’s the big deal with No Age Statement whisky?

The rise of NAS whisky (as the kids call it) is allowing Scotch whisky distillers to meet today’s increased demand for good whisky by using younger (minimum aging three years) products, blended perhaps with a bit of precious older stock, to make new expressions.

Generally, such whisky is marketed as an artful creation of master tasters, rather than an expedient answer to demand in a booming market.

It’s either that or sell less whisky.

It’s not like there’s a way to speed up the aging process … wait a minute … there is, sort of.

Let’s talk about quarter casks.

These smaller vessels hold less whisky (duh) so it’s a more labor-intensive, materially-expensive way to mature whisky, and you don’t see them employed very often.

The advantage of this method — aside from being able to use nifty marketing spiel about “19th century methods” — is that the whisky spends more time in contact with the wood, owing to the greater circumference-to-volume ratio. Or something. Pi may be involved.

Point is, more contact means more flavor, faster.

Also, being able to say you used “traditional methods,” hearkening to the days when casks had to be lighter to fit on the backs of the donkeys who would carry them through the Highlands, well … it helps people get over their snootiness about your lack of an age statement.

Rounding back to the beginning, the whisky in my glass today was produced in quarter casks, and it has no age statement.

Some people have a philosophical beef with both those factors. For them, Scotch whisky that does not display an age statement, but does use marketing as cover for a distillery’s changing methods, is to be looked down upon.

Me? I can’t say I’m indifferent to these factors, but I care more that you’re serving a good whisky for the price you’re asking.

This fits the bill. It’s a full, flavorful peaty whisky that compares well to many 10- or 12-year-old Highland single malts I’ve had the pleasure of sampling.

Today’s thoughts: The distillers who laid down their whiskies a quarter-century ago might well have thought they were making enough, or more than enough, to meet the future’s demand. Long-term gambles like that are very difficult to get right.

It’s almost as difficult, say, as having children and then wondering what your life will be like a few decades hence when they bring home their spouses for the holidays.

<cough>

I like to think my in-laws are at least tolerant of their poet-in-law. I’ll ask them again in a day or so.

Today’s observation on holiday decor: If you think a whisky bottle dressed as Santa is weird, you should see my mistletoe-bedecked bourbon.

Today’s toast: To families coming together for the holidays: May your homes be as warm and inviting as a good Highland single malt, however old.

 

Barkeep, Another

A hand lifts a chalice of beer in toast. The glass bears the name of the Trappist monastery that brews the ale inside: Spencer. The ale is the color of copper and topped with a stiff, high foam.
Here’s to you, Nanny.

 

In the very near future my writing will have a tendency to focus on drinking and reminiscing.

Before that starts, I’d like to revisit a piece wherein I did both of those things, albeit for rather different reasons. I’ve mentioned before — and it would likely be obvious to you, anyway — that I sometimes have trouble making the words flow. There are a number of times when I want to be here, saying something, and I can’t make it happen.

Then, sometimes, all it takes is a beer in a bar on my grandmother’s birthday.

I think about that evening a lot, actually. Whenever the words won’t come, which is all too often. My maternal grandmother never really knew me as a writer, but I still think of disappointing her when I’m not living up to my own expectations.

Anyway, here’s one occasion when I did, if only briefly:

A Trappist Toast

Notes: The font is funny on that page. That’s because I composed and posted the entire entry at the bar, using my phone. It bugs me, but not enough to change it, because seeing it reminds me that much more of the act of writing itself, which, well, not to belabor the point entirely, was much more important to me that evening than the actual words themselves.

(Also, I forgot the photo.)