Whisky Wind-down, 2: Done?

A hand holds a mini-bottle of Bushmills 10-year-old single-malt Irish whisky. In the background, a pool, Christmas lights, and a palm tree bedecked with Christmas lights.

Today’s dram: Bushmills Irish Whisky, Single Malt, 10 Years Old

Today’s tasting notes: It’s clearly Irish whisky, smooth and easy, but there’s also some slight edge to it, with a pronounced maltiness you don’t get in the original Bushmills.

I’d like to tell you something about the aroma, but I drank this right out of the mini-bottle, so I didn’t get much.

Today’s thoughts: Bluntly? I’m tired. Good tired, but still.

I spent the day on the road, crossing from mountainous northwestern Costa Rica down to the central Pacific coast. It was a lovely drive, in good company, but still.

Now I sit, resting my bones, in a hostel by the beach, with my whisky and muchos cervezas artesanals, in good company, and it’s all I can manage to post this by midnight back home.

It’s been a long day, one of many in this interminable year, and it’s all I can manage to imagine finishing this commitment as the year ends.

I may not.

It may be the mood will take me away, and I’ll spend the day in good company, ending the year sans whisky, sans writing, sans commentary.

It may be I shall touch the Happy Isles, and see the great Achilles … no, wait, that’s not me.

Sure, I sometimes roam with a hungry heart, but I am no Ulysses, nor his chronicler.

I have much to say before winding the year down with one last whisky. Thoughts that have been brewing all year. Thoughts I alluded to at the beginning of this series.

Only now, at the end, I find myself not wanting to think. Or write. Only pura vida.

So, it may be you’ll hear from me tomorrow, as scheduled.

But if not, don’t worry. I’m fine.

And I’ll return. Some day.

Today’s toast: To good intentions.

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.


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.

My Challenger Lesson, Strong 30 Years After

I was 10.

Space was exciting, astronauts were cool.

I’m sure I had watched other shuttle launches. In memory, it seems there was always an emphasis on them at school, and they would always be on the news.

I don’t remember when, exactly, I learned of the explosion. I’m pretty sure we didn’t watch it live at school — that would have left a definite impression — but I don’t know if it was announced there or if I heard about it later, at home, on the evening news.

What I distinctly remember is my father, discussing it at the dinner table.

I think, perhaps, he was trying to ease my fear about the incident. (I was afraid of a great many things when I was young, often irrationally, and something as awful as the shuttle explosion would set me right off.)

I don’t remember a lot of the details in the conversation, but I remember one part of it very distinctly: my father, saying, “I’d go up tomorrow if they asked me.”

I imagine he’d say the same today, as would I.

We do not fear our failures; we learn, we move on, ever hopeful.

Let’s Gallup

So, by Chinese reckoning, we are about to mark the beginning of a new year.

I don’t know much about Chinese New Year, except that the festivities last about two weeks, a fact of which I highly approve. I am, in general, greatly in favor of extended holiday celebrations, an area in which the United States lags woefully behind the rest of the world.

Here, it takes a weekend conjunction to manage more than one day off for holiday festivities, and that’s just sad. We need these breaks for mind, heart, and soul, and, yet, for all too many working Americans, a holiday break is just a day off and then back to the grind, unless you work in a service industry, in which case holidays are just grind, grind, grind, same as every other day of the year.

Sorry. I hadn’t intended to get grumpy there. I was, in fact, meaning to remark upon new beginnings.

I don’t know whether it is traditional in the East, but I think this is a fine time for reflection, new direction, even, if you can bear the burden, resolution.

Although I have groused about the Western New Year’s Day tradition of resolutions, I am very much in favor of reflection and goal adjustment.

Whether that reflection/adjustment comes at an officially recognized occasion, such as marking the rollover of the local calendar, a personal mark such a birthday or anniversary, or just, “this Thursday,” I appreciate the process.

I have, in fact, been engaged in such a process myself lately, and you are seeing some of the results in the form of new content in this once-dusty space. Granted, snow days played a part there, but that was just fortuitously coincidental. This space, as you will see, is not all dead, but, in fact, only mostly dead, which, as you probably know, is slightly alive.

See you tomorrow.