2016 Whisky Wind-down, 1: Strong Finish


Today’s dram: Ardbeg, Corryvreckan

Today’s tasting notes: Before I can describe the experience of drinking this, I need to tell you how I found it.

I owe my love of Scotch whisky to reading and friendship.

Principally, it’s due to one of my oldest, dearest friends. We’ve known each other about three-quarters of our lives, and over the course of that time we’ve been influencing one another in various ways, the most consistent of which is reading recommendations.

Several years ago, he recommended to me Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon. Among other vices, the protagonist drinks Scotch whisky, with Laphroaig a favorite.

The writing made it sound good, so my friend picked up a bottle and has been collecting ever since. Whenever I visit his home, he brings out whichever bottle(s) he’s recently acquired and we enjoy a dram or two while catching up.

Lately, it’s been the same when he’s visited me. I was slow to pick up an enjoyment of Scotch whisky, but with time I’ve come to love it, and I take great joy in finding something before my friend does.

Thus, when he recently hit a milestone birthday, I turned to an author I was pretty sure he had not gotten around to yet, Joe Abercrombie. He writes grimdark fantasy, so Scotch whisky doesn’t appear in his fiction. But oh, does he go on about Scotch whisky on his blog.

I was pretty sure my friend would not be prepared for Abercrombie’s Whisky Deathmatch winner, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, and I was proven correct when I gave him the bottle.

Then he opened it, and we realized no one can be prepared for Ardbeg Corryvreckan.

This is cask-strength, big Islay whisky at its finest, with complexity galore added in.

At 57.1 ABV, it threatens to sear itself into your senses just on aroma. Fight through that. Inhale deeply. Find yourself in a peat bog on fire. Seek the ocean nearby. Promise of safety. Sip. Crashing. Waves overhead. Timbers around you. Someone screams. Darkness. Across from you, a hag in plaid smiles a broken-toothed smile and shakes her head at your foolishness. She gestures at the glasses laid out on her table. You toast. You drink. You wake. Gasping.

Today’s thoughts: A few months later, I thought, Shit, I need a bottle of that for myself.

It has been sitting, quietly, lurking at the back of the Scotch whisky shelf, waiting.

I’m still a bit under the weather, with diminished senses, but fuck it; I’m ending Whisky Wind-down the way I wanted.

The tasting passage above is half-memory, half bowled-over-just-now.

Wow.

Just, wow.

The Corryvreckan, if you are unfamiliar, refers to a sea passage off the northern coast of Scotland. It is famous for a persistent whirlpool, which is the subject of myths, legends, and lost souls.

There are but hours left in the year as I sit and sip and ponder, staring into that swirly abyss.

“The year went by fast.”

“The year can’t end soon enough.”

“2016, you monster!”

All true. All false.

All depends on your perspective.

I fancy no one ever said it better than Dickens, writing the intro to A Tale of Two Cities — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ” — but I imagine even that wily old wordsmith would look around at 2016, then quietly strike through half of that famous opening. The hopeful-sounding half, obviously.

And yet … can’t we, in every age, look at those words and think they apply? Are we not always lurching from the spring of hope to the winter of despair? Did not half (or, er, just shy of half) of American voters actually want an evil tangerine in the Oval Office?

I look around, and beyond the doom, I see a swirly mix of all that is wrong and right with the world. For every dark bastard, I see a hopeful naif. For every disillusioned Baby Boomer, a determined millennial.

I see the growing ranks of those who would, through active malice or indifferent selfishness, drag us to the dark depths.

Yet I see still more struggling against these currents to stay in the light.

Today’s solemn conclusion: What matters when a clock strikes midnight?

Today’s toast: To passing the time: May you do so with a suitable dram, in the company of friends.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 5: Home, Health, Heartache

 

Today’s dram: Conecuh Ridge, Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey

Today’s tasting notes: This is borrowed. Specifically, I begged a sip from The Empress of Whisky, who received it as a gift from her sister this Christmas. 

Conecuh Ridge is something of a newcomer, one of few distilleries operating in Alabama. 

This bottle is an homage to Clyde May, who was something of a legend among the state’s moonshiners.  Whereas his contemporaries were content to sell the raw product of their stills, May aspired to something greater. Inspired by the great bourbons of Kentucky, he aged his spirit in new charred American oak, but he included a twist — dried apples. The result he dubbed “Alabama Style Whisky.”

Roughly a century after May’s heyday, the Alabama state government finally got around to legalizing the distilling of spirits. Enter Conecuh Ridge. Among their offerings is this homage to the late great May and his innovative whisky. 

I think it tastes like apple juice spiked with vodka. 

Today’s thoughts: I had not intended to write about this one, but life intervened. Between a long drive home, a sore throat (that might be the foretelling of something worse), and the news of Carrie Fisher’s death, I am just burnt today. This is my token effort, based on a sip I begged yesterday. I am currently drinking bourbon for medicinal purposes. May tomorrow be better. 

Today’s note on the passing of an icon: If you read Whisky Wind-down 17, you know something of what Star Wars means to me. This year has been relentlessly reaping celebrities, many of them icons of my youth, but Fisher’s death is a stab in the damned heart. I know only little of her struggles with substance abuse and mental illness, but she is a hero for the way she openly wrote and talked about those issues, aside from anything else she ever did. Obviously, she will always be Leia. I can barely begin to say how important she was as an icon to young girls, but I know just how much she meant to one young girl in particular, my younger sister, whose love of Star Wars is second to nobody’s, my own most definitely included. I’ll write more about that in happier times, I’m sure. Today, though, I’m going  to leave the last words to my favorite Star Wars fan. 

Today’s toast: Courtesy of Jennifer Pierson: “To my favorite princess, thank you for inspiring me at a young age to speak my mind, take no crap, stand up for what’s right, and be brave. You’ll be missed.”

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.