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, 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, 26: Day Job

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Today’s dram: Macallan 10-Year-Old, Fine Oak

Today’s tasting notes: Tastes like Scotch whisky, a single malt from the Highlands.* Which is what it is. Good whisky. Warm whisky. Comparable to The Glenlivet 12? Kinda. I feel like this goes down a bit easier, but it’s really a push between the two for me. It’s easy whisky. Workday whisky.

Today’s thoughts: I once worked for a man who kept a bar in his office. It was one of those globe bars, the kind that looks like it’s just a swanky wooden model of the Earth — nothing to see here, merely the fancy of a geography aficionado —  but then swings open to reveal a half-dozen bottles and glassware.

Not that this guy was trying to hide his bar; he just liked the look of the thing. He wasn’t shy about being a drinker, and on a good evening, when he was particularly pleased — with himself or, rarer, with something an employee had done — he might just offer a drink, possibly paired with a cigar from his office humidor.

Did I mention this was a man who owned his own business? Yeah. Perks of ownership.

I haven’t worked in a place like that before or since, but I do imagine one day having that sort of set-up myself. Not as a boss or business owner. I have zero interest in either. But an office with a bar appeals. Nice desk. Good view. Maybe of the mountains. Yes, I’m describing retirement.

Day job retirement, anyway.

For now — and, let’s be honest, likely the next couple of decades — that’s a necessity.

I’m not going to discuss my current work, but suffice to say it’s not an open bar environment.

On the plus side, it’s rarely so stressful that I feel like heading straight to my own bar afterwards, either.

That’ll do for now.

Today’s note on balance: I’m not going to say balance is essential, either in whisky or life, but there are areas where I prefer it. Day job is one. Happy to have that.

Today’s toast: To the working stiffs: It may not feel like it, but 5 o’clock is coming.

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* — I know. Speyside. Look, if the distillery doesn’t go to the trouble of labeling its own sub-region, who am I to go chasing after it? But, yes. Speyside.

Tomorrow

Here’s a story I’ve not told before.

Eight years ago, the day after Election Day, I walked alone down the stairs to the train platform at my local MARTA station. As I reached the bottom and walked toward the far end, I passed an older African-American man, maybe mid-60s.

Just the night before, our country had, by a respectable margin, elected Barack Obama president. As I passed this man, I could see aspects of wonder, disbelief, and joy mixed upon his face. I passed right by him, but I don’t think he noticed me.

He was in another world, a dream world that had just become his reality, and while I was certainly happy with the election outcome, I knew in that moment I could never appreciate it even remotely the same way this man could. As a young, white man I could certainly be happy for the outcome, for having done my small part to elect President Obama. I could rejoice that we shared policy priorities and visions for our nation’s future, yet I knew the election outcome could not come close to having the same significance for me that it had for this man, or millions like him, and tens of millions before, who fought, bled, and died, for just the right to vote, let alone see one of their own elected into our nation’s highest political office.

As I said, I haven’t told this story before.

I’ve thought about it a lot, though. At every election, certainly. And often at random, at that MARTA station, or elsewhere when my mind turned to thoughts of — paraphrasing Dr. King — the long arc of the moral universe and its journey toward justice.

It was a private moment, something I was not party of, but rather witness to.

As a middle class, hetero white male I can only begin to empathize. I can only try to understand. I can only be an ally, strive for change, hope for better, ply the few words left to me in service to progress for all.

I tell this story now so you will understand when I say I do not look forward to the expressions I expect to see upon any non-hetero, non-white, non-male faces I encounter at that same train station a few hours from now.

But I will look.

And if any of them can see through their pain, anguish, uncertainty, and fear to register my pale countenance, I hope they find there only a reflection of those same emotions.

The next four years do not bode well, and I don’t for a moment pretend they will be as hard on hetero white male me as they are on my allies.

They stand to lose so much, and I can only offer empathy, understanding, hope.

I can only promise to never look away, nor run.