2019 Whisky Wind-down, 2: The Wind

A bottle of Passport Scotch whisky sits next to a poured dram and U.S. passport, which is open to a page showing a Costa Rica entry stamp.

Today’s dram: Passport Scotch

Today’s tasting notes: It’s a blend. It tastes as much like generic Scotch whisky as you can imagine, in this case on the peaty side with a slight rough edge. The label says its contents are “predominately from Speyside” — I don’t get a particular Speyside vibe off it, though — and it’s made by William Longmore & Co. It’s fine.

Today’s thoughts: I’m rarely drawn to blends, but this bottle called to me in the duty-free shop, so I picked it up on a lark because the name amused me in an international airport.

(There’s actually a stor y about buying this and then fighting with the TSA about it, but I don’t have a lot of time tonight, and I don’t need to get on any government watch lists, so I’ll save that gem for another day.)

This purchase was on the way back from Costa Rica, which you may recall was where this blog got stuck for a bit.

Frankly, I could still be there.

No, really. Everything in the past two years might just be a fever dream I’m having because I fell asleep in the sun on the beach. Totally possible. Partially desirable.

Part of the joy of the Costa Rica trip, after all, was spending some time outside the States, in the company of people who also needed, after our first year in neo-fascist America, to get away for a bit. The temptation to just never come back was mighty tempting.

I did not succumb to that one.

Instead, I let another temptation take me — the one to just lie down and shut up, to let the world go by, to let the bad things go unremarked.

I still don’t know what I should be saying about things, but I am here, in my home country, which will probably always be my home country, and I daily surround myself with the kind of people who make this a country worth staying in and worth fighting to keep free.

Today’s pseudo-philosophical attempt to relate whisky to life: A blend may or may not be stronger than the sum of its components, but it is a sum, not a single thing. Seems like there’s a lesson in there worth applying out here.

Today’s toast: To there (and back again).

Following Al: Weird Weekend

(Note: This is the second post in what was intended to be a trio. Like the first, it has languished in Draft Hell for a good portion of the time I was away from the site. I have finished it more or less as originally intended, so maybe just pretend you found it in the Archives? Great. Thanks. The final one will also happen, though maybe not immediately following this one.)

So, in 2018, “Weird Al” Yankovic was free for the first time.

Free from obligation, that is, to a record label. The prior year, with the release of Mandatory Fun, his 14th studio album, he had, at long last, fulfilled his recording contract and no longer owed anyone anything, professionally speaking.

How did he choose to celebrate? By taking the band on tour. Just the band, though. No costumes, fancy sets, monitors, backups, or extras. Not even the previously obligatory guest appearance by the local 501st Legion garrison.

It was just, as Al put it, “five old guys on stools, playing music.”

Some background here: I already mentioned how long I’ve been a fan. My concert-going days had to wait a while, but ever since I’ve had the means — starting during my college years — I have seen Al at least once on every tour that has come through Georgia, and he almost always comes through Georgia.

I’ve see him everywhere from terrible lawn seats in the Valdosta heat at Wild Adventures to front row at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta, something like a dozen shows all together.

I had not, however, generally gone to the effort to see him more than once on any particular tour. Not that I don’t love the shows, but the big shows have always been pretty predictable — the latest hits, plus a few old favorites, with the odd deep cut tossed in. I loved the shows, but within a tour, they were the same, night to night.

Not this time.

This time, the shows would feature mostly original songs. None of the big parody numbers. And, and … every night would feature a different set list, pulled from about 70 songs the band rehearsed for this tour.

To say I was a little excited would be to terribly understate the issue. I immediately sought out dates near me and found two: A show in Augusta on Saturday, followed by an Atlanta show the next night. I set an alarm on my phone for the time tickets went on sale, and I pounced to get good seats for both.

Two shows! Both different! Wooo!

And yet … there was the temptation for more.

I looked around to see where else, within relatively easy driving distance, the tour would swing through.

Chattanooga.

It’s only two hours from Atlanta. Easy. But … that show was the Friday right before the Augusta show on Saturday. Augusta is also two hours (plus a bit) from Atlanta. Did I really want to drive two hours to Chattanooga, see a show, drive two hours home, sleep (a bit), get up, drive two more hours to Augusta, see a show, sleep (a bit), drive two hours home, then watch a third show?

No, I did not.

Want to drive that much.

I absolutely wanted to see three shows in three nights.

Reluctantly, I let the opportunity pass, consoling myself that I would have two shows in two nights, and that would be fantastic.

Then a funny thing happened.

My job decided I needed to attend a conference the week leading up to these shows. The conference was in Nashville.

Funny thing about Nashville — it’s two hours north of Chattanooga, a total of four from Atlanta.

Now, some people, having bought tickets to see shows on Saturday and Sunday and now having to drive an extra four hours the day before said shows, might be a tad grumpy.

I was ecstatic.

See, I had to drive through Chattanooga to get home.

And if I was going to drive through Chattanooga anyway, damned if I wouldn’t stop for a “Weird Al” show.

Thus it came to pass that, counting from Friday morning through Sunday night, I drove a little over eight hours (traveling about 550 miles), watched three concerts (about six hours total), and slept, well, some.

I was a tired monkey come Monday.

A tired, happy monkey.

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.