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.

My Fat Tuesday

When I was in college I was talked into visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

“It’s an experience you must have!” friends assured me.

The trip entailed an eight-hour ride in a filled-to-capacity van to a friend’s aunt’s home, where we slept on the floor. This to facilitate spending several days wandering through tightly — oh-so-tightly — packed streets of people wildly enthusiastic about beads, boobs, and booze.

It was, indeed, an experience.

Most of it is now a long, crowd-induced anxiety blur, but I do remember one beautiful moment: on a side street where the distance between people actually increased to more than arms-length, a street musician belted a bright melody on trumpet, and I was moved to dance.

I don’t know that one moment was worth the days of hassle, but, then again, I still remember it nearly twenty years later, so maybe so …

Cheers, New Orleans.