Whisky Wind-down, 1: Life’s a Beach

A pair of hands hold mini-bottles of Maker's Mark bourbon. In the background, rain begins to fall on a tropical beach.

Today’s dram: Maker’s Mark

Today’s tasting notes: This is an old favorite. A classic for a reason. Well made to the same standard for better than a century. Good, warm, just enough bite.

Bourbon is an American creation. Today, it’s a reminder to me. Of home, when I’m away from it. And of the good things there that make it worth going back to.

Mostly that’s people, of course. Family. Friends. Friends who are like family.

But also ideals. Liberty. Equality.

We may fail, often, and years like 2017 may make us question the strength of our society and its commitment to those ideals, but we endure.

Today’s thoughts: Privilege. I acknowledge it. From a beach in another country, together with like-minded friends, I prepare to watch a new year roll in, and I know, within a reasonable margin of error, I’ll be fine in the coming year.

I didn’t feel this way as this year began. I felt quite a lot of trepidation, in truth. And 2017 has not been a year to be proud of, as an American.

Or, bluntly, for me as a writer, as someone who feels compelled to speak up, speak out, but all too often fails, allowing inertia, apathy, and whisky to prevail in place of the long, difficult slog that is activism.

Will 2018 be better?

I don’t know.

But as I sit on a tropical beach, miles away from responsibility and stress, I still find my thoughts turning toward all the things I could have said and done better this year, and I’m not ready to leave off just yet.

Today’s observation on the weather: It rained pretty hard for a couple of hours today, eventually driving most everyone away from the beach, and throwing kinks into the evening plans of locals and tourists alike.

That happens, even in tropical paradise.

But now it’s clearing, and the sun’s gone down, and plans will be re-configured, or new ones made.

Time will roll on, weather and human perceptions of its passage notwithstanding.

Today’s toast: To tomorrow. Always tomorrow.

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.

Whisky Wind-down, 3: Away

A hand holds a mini-bottle of Chivas Regal 12-year-old Scotch whisky. In the background, a foot clad in a black high-top Converse shoe rests upon a balcony railing. In the distance, a few scattered lights shine in the darkness of a mountain view.

Today’s dram: Chivas Regal, 12 Years Old

Today’s tasting notes: I’ve had this little bottle kicking around in my travel bag for at least a couple of years now. I think it was a gift in my Christmas stocking. Regardless, tonight was the night.

It’s warm and easy, with a fair amount of (sherry?) sweetness. The slightest hint of peat.

I can see why this is a popular Scotch whisky. It’s easy to enjoy, warm and welcoming. The flavors are inviting, not assertive. It would be a handy whisky to keep around.

Today’s thoughts: I’m enjoying this from a mountainside lodge room with a view of Arenal Volcano.

Well, view is a bit of a stretch, as it’s night now and there’s little to see except shadows in the distance. Still, I saw the volcano from here earlier, so I know it’s out there.

Right now, I’m sitting and enjoying the rain, which comes and goes every few minutes at night in this part of Costa Rica at this time of year. Now and again the wind will deliver a hit of mist upon me, and it’s all pretty fabulous, to be honest.

In a few minutes I’ll go next door and join my travel companions, who are likewise enjoying the view and weather from their connected balconies in the next two rooms. They’re chatting, reviewing our day over local cervezas artesanal.

That day included a hike up Arenal, to see the flow from its 1992 eruption, then another hike to nearby Lake Arenal, followed by an excellent dinner in the town of La Fortuna.

Tomorrow we hit the road for the rain forest and beaches to the southeast. We’ve already seen a lot of beautiful country; we’re ready for more.

Today’s toast: To the road ahead. May it be as fulfilling and enlightening as the road behind.

Whisky Wind-down, 4: Take a Chance

A hand holds a half-pint bottle of Crown Towers whisky, holding the loose cap so as to show the price: 1,778 colones (about three U.S. dollars). In the background, the beautiful Costa Rica countryside stretches forth.

Today’s dram: Crown Towers, Malt Based Spirit Distilled Admixture, Fine Spirit

Today’s tasting notes: Burn. Just burn. Like when a cartoon character drinks from a jug marked XX.

Today’s thoughts: I generally like to know what I’m buying, but in this trip I’m living in a bit of grey area with the language barrier. Costa Rica is pretty English-friendly, with many menus and labels appearing in both Spanish and English. Most establishments seem to have at least one fluent English speaker on staff, and many others speak some basic phrases. All of which is great, as my limited Spanish language education is two decades old and wasn’t that thorough to begin with.

A trip to a local grocery today was interesting. Lots of U.S. brands, with prices only slightly elevated for their importation. We mostly purchased locally made beer and snack foods, but I did, of course, peruse the whisky offerings. There weren’t many, and those were mostly familiar brands I could get back home.

But this little jewel was also there.

If I’ve translated the label correctly — no guarantees — it’s made in France from a mixture of malt whisky and neutral grain spirits.

Note to self: In future, avoid whisky made by the French for the Central American market.

Today’s toast: To adventure! En el supermercado!

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 9: Travel, Tours, Tastings

Today’s dram: Woodford Reserve, Distiller’s Select

Today’s tasting notes: This is fine bourbon. The aroma is all sweetness, a touch of honey on a warm breeze. Sip it. Warm, sugary, with just a faint bite. A subtle burn fades down the throat. Smell it again. Stare into the distance. Sip. Life is good. 

Today’s thoughts: As I mentioned back in Whisky Wind-down 24, The Empress of Whisky and I embarked upon a lengthy tour of Kentucky bourbon country last year, hitting up many, many distilleries along the way. One of those was Woodford Reserve. 

It’s a lovely facility, sitting on a historic site where bourbon was made as far back as the early 1800s. Between the stone buildings, newly filled barrels are rolled along a set of metal tracks — think barrel railroad — to the warehouses where they will rest for six years or more until a master distiller decides they are ready to incorporate into the next small batch of bourbon. 

It’s a homey sort of place, the type that dedicates a bronze plaque to commemorate the life of a favorite distillery cat. The people are lovely, and every tour is partly the story of making bourbon and partly the history of bourbon and Kentucky. 

I’ve said this before, but I’ll repeat myself: If you enjoy whisky, go to where they make it. Meet the makers. Taste the rare stuff that isn’t sold elsewhere. 

The Empress of Whisky and I had a grand time in Kentucky. Likely we will go back someday, visit some of the smaller distilleries that lie even farther off the beaten path. 

First, though: Scotland. 

Today’s note on travel: There are some pretty good whiskies available in tiny bottles. You can fit at least ten into a TSA-compliant quart-size zip-top bag. 

Today’s toast: To vistas on vacation: Ahhh. 

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 14: Getting Out

Today’s dram: Crown Royal, Limited Edition

Today’s tasting notes: This one is special. It’s a blend of extra aged whiskies, specially selected to be smooth, sweet, and a cut above the regular Crown Royal. It was only sold in Canada, and, as far as I can tell, is no longer being made. (The company has since introduced other limited bottlings under other names.)

Crown Royal has a bit of an interesting history. It was created (so the story goes) by Seagram’s owner Sam Bronfman to impress and be worthy of the whisky-loving British King George VI upon his visit to Canada in 1939. The truth is probably more that Bronfman, who rose to wealth selling whisky across the border during American Prohibition, simply knew a good marketing ploy when he saw one.

Whatever the truth, Crown Royal — good enough for the King! — has been the best-selling Canadian whisky for many years now.

I acquired a couple of bottles of the Limited Edition a few years ago on a trip to Toronto. Between the exchange rate and the lack of American taxes, I paid only slightly more for the rare pair than I would have for one bottle of the regular back home.

Thing is, I don’t really care for it straight-up. It is, to be sure, well-made whisky, but I am not its target. It is sweet — the aroma is even sweet — and ultra smooth, and I could probably drink a pint of it as easily as a pint of beer.

That isn’t what I look for in whisky, though.

So what do I do with this rare whisky that was never sold in my home country and is now no longer available anywhere?

I put it in my coffee when I’m feeling decadent.

As disrespectful as that may sound, it makes for really good coffee. Take a rich, dark coffee. Brew it strong in a French press, then add sugar, a slug of heavy whipping cream, and a couple of ounces of this. Mmm.

Today’s thoughts: I was in Toronto visiting friends. Specifically, one of The Empress of Whisky’s oldest, dearest friends and her wife.

They are wonderful people, and we have seen them often elsewhere, but this was our first trip to their home. Point of fact, it was my first trip outside the States.

I enjoy travel, but most — all, aside from Toronto — of mine has been within the bounds of my own country. To be fair, it is a big country, and I have barely scratched the surface of all the fun places to go. Yet the outer world is bigger still, with even more destinations worthy of the visit, so I suspect we shall voyage farther afield in the years ahead.

Travel is still somewhat novel for me. I grew up poorish in rural southern Georgia, and I was an adult before I began to voyage in any serious way. The Empress of Whisky is a much more experienced traveler and has friends around the globe.

I will say it is true about travel that it broadens the mind. Seeing and experiencing other places (even within one’s own country) firsthand, meeting and getting to know other cultures, other ways of life, does more to fight the spread of hatred and small-mindedness than all the bombs ever built.

Pity the people who most need this exposure are stuck at home, comfortably hating The Other from afar.

Today’s serious suggestion: Get out. It will help.

Today’s toast: To the travelers: May your passport pages runneth over.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 25: Faraway Friends



Today’s dram: Jameson Irish Signature Reserve

Today’s tasting notes: Jameson is smooth, rich easy-drinking Irish whisky. This stuff? Head of the class. It has almost no rough edge to it. Gently sweet. The body is light if you’re used to single malt Scotch whisky, but it’s in the medium range for Irish whisky.

Today’s thoughts: This bottle was a wedding gift from one of my wife’s friends who lives in Ireland. I’m told you can’t buy this in the States. She gave us this bottle and a pair of lovely Irish crystal tumblers. Once or twice a year we have a measure and I talked her into doing so tonight. (It was not a difficult conversation. My wife is fond of whisky, too, with the notable exceptions of smoky or peaty Scotch whisky.)

Why this dram tonight? Faraway friends are on my mind. I’ll leave it at that.

Today’s maudlin notation: Hug the ones you love, and don’t put off taking that trip to see them (or saying yes when they ask to visit you).

Today’s toast: To all I hold dear, but especially those not near: Be well. I love you.