Whisky Wind-down, 18: Love and Lightsabers

A Star Wars stein sits on a mantle beside a bottle of 12-year-old Glenkinchie whisky.

Today’s dram: Glenkinchie, 12-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: Dunno. Haven’t tasted it yet.

Today’s thoughts: I love Star Wars.

Since I wrote about that life-long affection a year ago, I’ll focus on something else this time.

The salient point to bring forward is: I waited 32 years* to know what happened to those beloved characters. When The Force Awakens hit theaters two years ago, I was anxious as hell about seeing it, wanting to have hope, but fearing another heartbreak a la The Trilogy of Which We Do Not Speak.

I left that theater feeling renewed hope for the future. Of Star Wars, anyway.

Last year’s Rogue One was also good, but my excitement for a prequel, even a good one, will never match my interest in the futures of Luke, Leia, R2, Threepio, Chewie … and Rey, Finn, Poe, and BB-8.

Tonight The Empress of Whisky and I see The Last Jedi.

She enjoys the films, and we have had tremendous fun at the last two opening night events, but there is, shall we say, an enthusiasm gap. She would, for instance, be happy waiting as long as tomorrow(!) to see this film.

But she indulges me, even when, as it so happens tonight, the occasion falls on, for example, our anniversary.

Twelve years she’s been indulging me. That’s pretty good, no?

In celebration of which she gave me the whisky above, which is as old as our relationship. Pretty good thinking there. We’ll open the bottle tonight, at home, and discuss the movie over a dram.

Happy dozen, love!

Today’s note on sharing: I think it’s worth considering just how much better life is because we’re in it together. I do, in fact, consider this all the time.

Today’s toast: To my love: May the Force be with you, always. Me, too.


* — If you want to be picky — and really, what Star Wars fan isn’t, to some degree? — I waited 32 years and seven months between the release of Return of the Jedi (May 1983) and the release of The Force Awakens (December 2015). That’s a long time with no Star Wars.**

** — No Star Wars. Nope. You imagined that other trilogy. You must have been on a bender. Bad you.

Whisky Wind-down, 22: Let’s Play That Again

A bottle of Talisker Storm whisky sits between a pair of filled glasses, next to a boxed board game, Isle of Skye.

Today’s dram: Talisker, Storm

Today’s tasting notes: Yesterday, all I gave you on this whisky was: “It’s all peat and brine, and I rather enjoy it.” That’s more or less accurate, but I’d add that it also contains a hint of smoke, and I’d defined the brine as mild in nature, just enough to let you know the whisky was born on an isle.

Talisker sits on the Isle of Skye, one of the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. It’s the only distillery on the island. (If that phrase sounds familiar, it’s probably because several of the Hebrides are each individually home to “the only distillery on the island.” Honestly, it’s not such great marketing when you think about it. You’re on an island. Not a tropical, fancy, resort island. A rocky, cold, craggy Scottish island. You can fish, raise sheep, or make whisky. If these islands were any bigger at all the phrase never would have stood a chance.)

Today’s thoughts: As I mentioned yesterday, I opened my bottle of Talisker Storm in the company of friend who likes whisky and board games. The photo accompanying this post was taken in early October this year, on that very occasion. You’ll note the game is called Isle of Skye, and whether you believe me or not, we didn’t plan this. I mean, we planned to play board games that day, and whisky is usually an accompaniment for that, but I didn’t know my friend was bringing Isle of Skye, and he didn’t know I was holding a bottle of Talisker Storm in want of inspiration to be opened. Kismet.

Speaking of kismet, I don’t believe I’ve ever relayed here the story of how I met the woman I would later dub the Empress of Whisky. I was out to dinner to my favorite pub when I encountered a friend who was playing cards with three other people I did not know. We exchanged pleasantries before I settled at my own table. Not long after, he popped over to ask if I would be interested in joining the game, as one of the four players had to unexpectedly leave. As this was a game played in partners, they needed a fill-in player to finish. The woman I was thus introduced to as a game partner would end up being a far more long-time companion.

While we played cooperatively (and ultimately victoriously) that day, we are not at all opposed to being adversaries. Outside the game, we love each other. Inside the game, no quarter is given.

Today’s note on repetition: One of the things you’re likely to learn early on the journey to whisky appreciation is to never judge on the first sip. That one will usually burn a bit, and you need to let your palate adjust before sipping again to get a better assessment.

Games can be like that, too.

This is why the Empress and I generally play each new game at least twice in a row. That, and the loser can never wait for a rematch. That’s true whichever of us happens to have lost.

On this lovely post-post-snow day, we’ve been facing off in various new board and card games. I would like to tell you that I have triumphed consistently. So would she.

We’re both right, depending on the game in question.

At least the loser has whisky. Then again, so does the winner.

Today’s toast: To the Empress of Whisky: I love you. Outside the game.

Whisky Wind-down, 29: Form

[Note: If you’re new, catch up at the 2017 Whisky Wind-down Primer.] 


Books on poetic form rest on a table next to a filled Glencairn glass and a bottle of whisky, all in front of a bookcase holding academic tomes.

Today’s dram: Atlanta Spirit Works, Ameireaganach, Huddled Mashes No. 1

Today’s tasting notes: I learned of Atlanta Spirit Works when a friend brought their single malt rye to a party last year. I’ve since had the opportunity to try several of their other offerings, including this one, which was released about a month ago.

Although Atlanta Spirit Works is young, the company uses ancient techniques, including classic Scottish-style double copper pot distillation. From there they often deviate from tradition, or switch traditions. This bottling, for example, was aged on new charred American oak. So, basically what you’ve got here is a whisky that’s Scottish by distillation style finished with an American aging method. (I’m not getting into the grain bill; suffice to say it’s mostly classic malt varieties for a Scotch-style whisky.)

The result is a warm whisky with a bit of bite, smooth enough to be pleasing but stout enough (at 92 proof) to encourage sipping. It finishes clean, with an aroma of honey over fresh bread.

Today’s thoughts: At university, I knew a guy who could not write free verse poetry. He was killer at any form of sonnet, loved classics like anaphora and terza rima, and became almost physically aroused by villanelles.

But he had an aversion to free verse that I can only describe as writer’s agoraphobia — all that open space on the page terrified him.

And so he wrote around it by building form into formless assignments.

The technical term for that is a nonce form. Created for the occasion. Not a recognized form, maybe not even one you would ever come back to. Or possibly a variation on a recognized form.

Sometimes nonce forms stick and become something. Shakespearean sonnets, for example, began as nonce variations on the English sonnet. Sure, now that’s a classic form onto itself, but when he penned the first one, Bill’s peers probably thought him a wee bit pretentious.

Trouble is, we had several assignments that were meant to be written as true free verse, not nonce. They should be formless and flowing exercises of pure language, unconstrained by stanza patterns, line lengths, or syllable emphasis.

After my classmate turned in a couple of “free verse” assignments that actually contained fairly noticeable patterns, the professor called him out and threatened to fail him the next time he incorporated so much as a whiff of pattern in his work.

We were pretty sure the guy was cooked, but the next week he turned up with a proper free verse poem. You’ll forgive me if I don’t recall the specifics after two decades, but it was thirty or so lines of varying length, beautiful language, not a trace of form.

Praise and an A for him.

After class, when just a few of us were left, slow to file out, he confessed: There’d been a hidden form. It was subtle, but there was a pattern to the opening and closing words of each line.

Upon hearing this, I wasn’t disappointed. Rather, impressed. He’d found a way to be comfortable enough to make the words flow.

Today’s relevant numbers: Two down, 28 to go.

Today’s toast: Here’s to old what’s-his-name, whose pattern I forget; to someday meet again, in rhythm quite legit.

Please Be Quiet After 5 p.m.

My first newspaper job — writing, not throwing them on lawns — was for a small daily in my hometown.
Years before larger papers began bleeding personnel, cuts began at the smaller ones. 
First, little staff luxuries, like receptionists and news clerks, disappeared. Then, traditional posts like lifestyle editor became part-time roles, and sports departments were reduced to “the sports guy” on staff. 
By the time I joined up, researchers, copy editors, and such were long gone.
Also departed was the full-time photographer, the specialist whose job it was to understand light and lenses, craft and composition, the distillation of 1,000 words into one image, and the mysteries of the dark room.
There was no ready replacement for the full-time photographer in practical terms, let alone in terms of quality. Instead, the reporters were expected to take photos as needed to supplement their stories.

This took place in that gap before digital photography was cheap enough to be deemed feasible by the smaller papers, so we each carried either a cheap point-and-shoot 35-mm camera or, cheaper still, a disposable camera.
The paper still had a dark room, but it was used for storage. The tools and the chemicals, like the photographer, were long gone. None of us knew a thing about film developing, anyway, so the decision was made to farm it out.
Hello, one-hour photomat.
This being a small town, there was, however, a slight wrinkle: the photomat closed at 6 p.m., making the effective deadline for one-hour processing 5 p.m.
Our press ran at midnight.
Any photos taken after 5 p.m. therefore had to be either non-breaking news or really damned good because, either way, they weren’t making the next day’s edition.
Very rarely was the standard of “really damned good” even achievable, especially at night, with a cheap disposable camera with no flash.
My first venture into newspaper work was short-lived.