2017 Whisky Wind-down, 30: Wrecked

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

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A bottle of Ardbeg Corryvreckan lies on its side, apparently empty, its cork a filled whisky glass nearby. These items are arranged near a keyboard and a computer monitor. On the monitor is writing about whisky.

Today’s dram: Ardbeg, Corryvreckan

Today’s tasting notes: This is cask-strength, big Islay whisky at its finest, and it’s where I left off last year.

I am tempted, by both laziness and a love of my own words, to just repeat the description I wrote last year, but that would be a disservice to you, me, and this cask-strength 57.1 ABV monster.

Really, calling it a monster is another sort of disservice. A kraken is a monster. A corryvreckan is a swirling whirlpool about which a kraken might feel a trifle anxious.

As an anxious person whose sigil is squid, I find this whisky delightfully appropriate.

Much like its namesake, the whisky is a complex swirl. Sometimes I get straight campfire in the aroma, followed by a woodsy burning on the palate. Other times, it’s brine in my nose and saltwater burn on my throat. I can’t say it’s the same thing every time I try it. It’s shifty, spiraling on my palate and in my mind, and that’s why I keep coming back to it.

I know my perception is influenced by the name and legend, but isn’t that part of the point? If labeling and legend don’t matter, just buy a bottle of Fermented Grain and call it a day.

I remember my first dram of this one, taken in the kitchen of an old friend. I’d gifted him the bottle, which he immediately opened and poured, and we were both blown away. I’d bought it on reputation alone, and we were both expecting … something. What we got was a punch in the mouth, but one that left us refreshed and searching.

Today’s thoughts: Here’s where I tell you the plan that didn’t come to fruition.

Last year, I had this bottle set aside for the conclusion of 2016 Whisky Wind-down. My intent was to take it with me to an annual New Year’s Eve party hosted by some lovely friends of mine, at which I would share it, wax philosophic about it, and generally commiserate with like-minded folk over the wretched year ending and the one to dread ahead.

I would have written the post, published it, then perhaps added updates as the night wore on and the year wound down.

Alas, I got sick instead. A few days shy of the end of the year, actually. And it wore down my enthusiasm for writing, as well as my capacity for fully experiencing whisky.

I didn’t miss any posts, but I still feel those last few were not what I wanted them to be. Granted, little of my published work is ever what I wanted it to be. There’s a disconnect between thoughts, writing, and publication that I shall never put together to my satisfaction. Frankly, I don’t know how any writer does. I don’t know if the ones who seem to are just the rare breed, or liars. I do know I once spent half an hour in the leasing office of my college apartment complex because I got writer’s block when the office manager asked me to write down my reason for not renewing my lease.

That’s … not really uncommon for me. The feeling, if not the outcome. Deadlines are good, if only because something will (usually) get done, but deadlines are horrible because whatever gets down will (usually) not be as good as it could have been.

Nothing ever is. Struggle, struggle, struggle.

And here, where there are no deadlines except my own, and I am the most lenient deadline-giver that ever there was … things don’t always get done.

What have I been doing all year, instead of writing?

Well, to be accurate, instead of publishing? I’ve written. My drafts folder rivals the size of the published folder.

But nothing’s ever good enough.

Let me explain, by going back to the bottle.

I’ve been nursing this one all year. In and of itself, that’s not unusual. I tend to keep whiskies around forever, pulling a dram now and then as the mood strikes, but acquiring new bottles at a far greater pace than emptying old ones.

But I’ve been at this one lately, reminding myself what it represents, why I’m compelled by it. I’ve been caught in a corryvreckan for over a year, treading water, going with the flow.

I want to find the optimism with which I pretended to face this year, the hope with which I believed I could still proceed, the faith in certain people …

But, no.

I stopped writing for a reason.

Reasons.

Beyond any particular personal failings (or illusions of such), I did not think a string of words mattered, anymore.

At some point, if you do not have common ground with people who are important to you … what?

Don’t misunderstand. I am as close as ever to almost everyone I care about. I have, even, to my own surprise, formed a few new friendships and found formidable firmness in some others already extant.

But.

I let some go. Others, I keep only beneath a modest shroud of shared pretense.

To be perfectly frank, I stopped writing here because some of the things I was compelled to write about threatened to pull that shroud right off.

Right.

Off.

But it’s a year later, and the world rolls on, and I’m still aboard, and growing bored, and, well, shit, what is a writer who does not write?

Today’s overwrought symbolism: Obvious, isn’t it?

Today’s pithy summation: Writers’s block is all in your head. Too bad you live in your head.

Today’s toast: To being back at the keyboard.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 2: Revival


Today’s dram: Four Roses, Single Barrel

Today’s tasting notes: I really can’t taste today. I had a brief reprieve from my head cold yesterday, but that was just the tease before the end, apparently. Today I am stuffy and coughing and cranky. Boooo.

Anyway, let me tell you a story.

I first heard of Four Roses while reading an older book. Not old-old, just mid-’90s. But in this book, which was set in the ’70s, I think, there was an older gentleman (Korean War veteran) who, as a matter of routine, had a nightcap from a bottle of Four Roses.

That’s it. No detail given. As I was reading this prior to the blossoming of my own interest in whisky, and prior to the days of good old reliable Google-at-your-fingertips-to-answer-anything, I lived for a time in mystery as to exactly what Four Roses was.

(It’s bourbon.)

Once, it was a famous brand, and I now realize part of the author’s purpose in having that character drink that whisky nightly was to place him in time and attitude as a certain type of man, an older gentleman who knew the good stuff when it came to whisky.

Trouble is, by the time I learned this, Four Roses had fallen greatly in stature and had become seen as cheap rotgut whisky, not worth drinking neat or savoring.

For a time, it was no longer even sold in the States as straight bourbon whisky. Here, it became a cheap blended grain “brown spirit,” hardly worth the name whisky and legally not allowed to be sold as bourbon.

And yet, overseas, especially in Japan, Four Roses remained true to its heritage and sold straight bourbon. Its success there was such that a Japanese company bought the distilling operation and, gradually, restored the traditional methods while expanding capacity to return to one, global, superb product.

Today, if you visit Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky — as The Empress of Whisky and I did, last October — the tour and tasting staff are upfront about all of this. I appreciate that. Rather than try to cover an inglorious past (as some marketing hacks might recommend) the company admits and embraces its history and uses it as a springboard to talk about the quality bourbon it turns out today.

And it is. Quality.

The standard Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon is fine sipping whisky, and the small batch is quite a lovely step up from there.

The single barrel promises a unique experience — hand-selected by the master distiller and bottled at a higher proof (though not quite cask strength) for a rich, decadent sipping experience.

In my experience, single barrel whisky is good stuff. It is also, usually, available only sporadically, at a higher price, in good bottle shops. And while many (maybe half?) of the distilleries we visited offered some for sale at their in-house stores, only Four Roses made it available in tiny 50ml bottles.

Naturally, I bought one.

I’d planned to drink it today, but it would be a shame to waste that good spirit on my hampered senses just now.

So, it will wait.

Today’s thoughts: I was gone for a long time. I wasn’t writing much, here or elsewhere. That has changed, and I hope to keep going as a new year dawns. I have thoroughly enjoyed 2016 Whisky Wind-down, and not just for the daily drams. It has been a good excuse to get me to the keyboard daily, and it is my hope that when this ends, I shall keep that momentum, like a child who keeps pedaling after the training wheels come off.

I hope to keep giving you something to come back for, anyway.

Today’s sincere note: Thanks for reading along. One more to go, then we’ll see where life takes us.

Today’s toast: To many happy returns.

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.”