Whisky Wind-down, 20: Barley is a Vegetable

Today’s dram: Bruichladdich, Islay Barley

Today’s less rambling preamble to the tasting notes: I’m still on the Bruichladdich tasting pack I mentioned yesterday. Here’s another example of unpeated whisky from the distillery, but this one’s a bit … different.

As I said, there was a 20-something page booklet accompanying this trio of whiskies, most of which focused on the philosophy of the distillery. Along in there was something of a screed explicating the Bruichladdich credo: “We believe terroir matters.”

Terroir, if you’re not familiar, is a French term whose literal translation is “earth,” but whose meaning is wrapped up in the belief that the land upon which a crop is grown has a unique and inextricable effect upon the final product. If you’ve heard the term, it was likely in relation to wine-making, where long-accepted wisdom is that the land has a huge effect on the grapes grown upon it, which is an important — or the important — factor upon the wine produced from them.

The concept goes beyond wine, though. Within the ranks of the producers of virtually any crop — coffee, various vegetables, cannabis(!) — you’ll find a contingent that claims terroir matters.

Whether this is science, marketing, or merely a delusion beneath which people who paid too much for their land operate, depends who you ask.

If you ask the folks at Bruichladdich, they’ll tell you it matters that they buy all the barley used for their whisky directly from farmers on Islay.

For this one, which is a bit of a peculiar bottling not part of the regular range, they used barley from a trio of Islay farms grown in 2008, distilled in 2009, and bottled in 2016.*

Today’s tasting notes: Here’s another unpeated whisky you’d swear hit the earth when the distiller wasn’t looking. Damn, that’s big in the glass. Bold earth with a raucous burn — those are the flavors that greet you, and it’s intimidating to take that second sip. But do. Once your mouth has acclimated a bit, there are subtle flavors to key in on here. The literature accompanying this one touts its honey, citrus, and salt notes, over spice notes from the bourbon barrels in which it was aged and the young barely from which it was made.

I can get the honey. It’s subtle but there, on the third or subsequent sip, once your mouth stops throbbing. Spice, yes. From bourbon or barley, I wouldn’t dare say. There’s a tinge of salt, but I wouldn’t expect less from a whisky aged in a warehouse on the shores of Islay.

What else? Oh, aroma. I can’t note anything extraordinary here, except that it threatens to burn your nasal passages, if you take a heavy whiff. Salt? The high proof? Can’t say. Breathe gently and enjoy, instead.

Today’s thoughts: Eat your vegetables, they told me. They’re good for you, they told me.


Potatoes are vegetables. So, too, is barley.**

Yet if I have a dinner of fries and whisky, I can just feel the scowls forming on the foreheads of (at least) my parents, my siblings, my physician, some coworkers, and (even though she loves me enough to let it go) The Empress of Whisky.

Today’s obligatory disclaimer: I also eat peas, and sometimes corn. Peppers, on occasion.

Today’s toast: To barley and potatoes. You are the best vegetables.


* — Seven years is on the young side for Scotch whisky, with 10 being the traditional starting point and three the legal minimum. I’ve gone on record as not minding the rise of No Age Statement whiskies, but I know it drives some people up a wall. Me? I just want good whisky. How long it takes is neither here nor there.*** In this way, I’m rapidly becoming a fan of the distillers at Bruichladdich, whose focus is terroir, good barrel selection, appropriate blending (where needed), and damned fine whisky. Are they a touch pretentious in their methods and marketing? Perhaps. But as with any artist, I’ll judge on the results, thank you.

** — Scientifically speaking, I mean. All technicalities count. Someday I may even convince my physician. After all, she’s a scientist. This should be easy!

*** — Welllllll, you can do it wrong, of course. For example, the not-to-be-named operation I encountered where the head distiller, no shit, touted the fact that “whisky only has to touch new oak to be considered bourbon; it does not need to age” as a selling point … yeah. His “bourbon” was terrible.

Whisky Wind-down, 25: New Things

Today’s dram: Bunnahabhain, Toiteach

Today’s tasting notes: Yeah. So, apparently “toiteach” is Scotch Gaelic for “smoke.” That’s obvious as soon as you pop the cork on this one. Big, campfire aroma jumps right out at you. Sip, and you get another blast of that, coupled with heat and peat. The distillery’s description suggests sweetness and delicate pepperiness, but I get a pronounced pepperiness and barely any sweetness. The smoke fades pretty quickly on the palate, but the spice lingers with the warmth.

This is my first time sampling a Bunnahabhain whisky, but apparently Toiteach represents a bit of a departure from the distillery’s usual offerings, which emphasize subtle smoke, moderate peat, and sherry sweetness. Yay for new things.

Today’s thoughts: Generally speaking, I have not been big on trying new things, food-wise. I tend to stick to a “meat and potatoes” kind of diet. So, recently, when the Empress of Whisky suggested we try Incan cuisine, I was dubious. Turns out, though, they’re big on meat and potatoes, too, with maybe a few spicy peppers along for the ride.

Turns out, I like Incan. Glad I gave it a try.

Similarly, I once stuck to a pretty basic booze regimen that consisted of mostly rums. A friend suggested Scotch whisky, and I’ve never looked back. Yay for new things.

Today’s regret: A friend of mine is trying something new. Has been for a while now. Improv comedy. Turns out, she has a knack for it. I could have guessed as much; she’s pretty funny overall. Anyway, I’ve been to most of her grad shows as she’s worked her way through the various class levels, but I’m missing the final one tonight. Break some legs, friend.

Today’s toast: To the adventurous among us.

Whisky Wind-down, 27: Heritage

Today’s dram: Bushmills, Original Irish Whiskey

Today’s tasting notes: If you open a distillery in 1608, and it’s still making whisky over 400 years later, you’re doing something right.

I’m not going to go into a long and winding explanation of the making of Irish whisky (tonight) but I’ll just say if you want a classic example it is impossible to do better than Bushmills Original.

It’s so smooth and easy to drink that I rarely touch the stuff, having developed a fondness for rough-edged, heavy-flavored whiskies full of peat, smoke, brine, and etc.


Every now and again, when I’m feeling in the mood for something light, I’ll pour a measure or three of this stuff and then have to remind myself to sip it slowly because while it may be easy to drink, it is still 80-proof potent.

For the most part, I don’t abide cocktails or other mixed alcoholic beverages, but I am fond of a little tipple in my coffee now and again. Irish coffee is a well-known classic for a reason, and you can’t go much better than a robust brew into which is stirred sugar (brown, if you’re feeling feisty), heavy cream, and a healthy slug of Bushmills.

Today’s thoughts: I’m a quarter Irish by way of my paternal grandmother, whose Irish immigrant forebears left the Emerald Isle for the land of opportunity, specifically Texas. If that weren’t weird enough, she took a liking to a Georgia boy, whose family had been living south of Macon for longer that there was a Macon to live south of, and followed him home.

I hate to admit that I don’t know whether the woman liked whisky. I don’t think so. At least I can’t recall her keeping any in her house, but then my memories of her house are mostly kid memories of big family gatherings: my immediate family plus my dad’s three sisters and their spouses, a gaggle of cousins, usually a random relative or five … and somewhere, sitting quietly, watching the proceedings, Big Mama.

I do know she liked coffee. Strong coffee. No, stronger than that. No, keep pouring grounds. There you go. Now use half a pot of water. Good boy.

She never, to my knowledge, made Irish coffee. Hell, she probably would have complained the whisky was diluting it.

Seriously, you are not imagining this coffee as strong as she made it.

And she drank it right up until the day died, still living in the little house she and my grandfather had bought together more than half a century earlier, where she’d finished raising their four kids after he died an early death, where those kids had brought their kids and then some of those kids brought their own, where she was surrounded by those she loved.

Today’s other thing: Pecan pie. I wish I’d learned to like it while she was still alive to bake it. Legendary.

Today’s toast: May the sun shine upon your face (unless you prefer the indoors), may the rains fall soft upon your fields (unless it’s harvest), and until we meet again …


Note: There may or may not be some errors in this or any post, but the inconsistencies in spelling whisky/whiskey are not by accident. Usually. I prefer “whisky,” but some folks (including the Irish) use “whiskey.” I try not to make a big deal out of it, but it comes up, over and over, and is especially noticeable on days like today, when a featured bottle uses one spelling while I’m used to writing the other. For more about this (and other whisky terminology) read this post I wrote last year

Drinking Update, Non-alcoholic Division

I’m not much for marking personal fitness milestones.

Okay … I’m not much for having personal fitness milestones.

Still, a few exist.

I have been soda-less for six years.

If you’re curious about the back-story, I wrote about it at the time: Liquid Pro Quo.

I rarely miss it.

Six years later, that’s still the biggest surprise.

Despite spending decades swilling carbonated sugar water, I managed to drop the habit like a hot slippery thing. Then, having let go, I wondered why I ever wanted to pick it up in the first place. I mean, look at it. All hot. And slippery.

My daily routine hasn’t change much since that first experimental week six years ago. I now buy caffeine pills in bulk online and drink tap water from a refillable stainless steel bottle. My body, wallet, and recycling bin remain grateful.

As for rum-and-Coke … just the thought of drinking that again makes me feel a little sick inside. (Who needs it when there is so much good whisky to drink neat? Not I.)

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.”

Just Some Words, 9/11/13

“Here is history, how it sounds: what do I love? Remind me.”
— Bin Ramke, “When Culture Was Popular,” Massacre of the Innocents

Those words, from a better poet, echoed with me 12 years ago, and they always run through my head whenever this anniversary rolls around.

The same thoughts, the same memories, the same feeling of helplessness.

Some tempering, though. Some acknowledgement of powerlessness. Some realization of accountability.

I spent the afternoon 12 years ago in my favorite pub of my hometown, commiserating and consoling with friends, some good, some barely acquaintances, all together in the same doubt-filled boat, applying alcohol to our wounds in lieu of better medicine.

Sometimes I think I’m still in that place, still having those conversations, still wondering whether this is how the world ends, neither bang nor whimper but instead the look-at-me destructive antics of fanatics, followed closely by the look-at-you destructive antics of patriots … and we’re all simmering together, oblivious to our fate, a needle in the groove of a record, but the music is so terrible no one really hears the scratch-and-repeat rhythm.

Some day I’ll remember how to spell rhythm.

Today is not that day.

Today is yet another day when I rely on the spell-checker.

Today is yet another day.

A day I’m tempted to make a list, make a reminisce worth reading, make a better memory, make something, anything, preferably a difference.

It’d be easier to say I have no words, but these are the words the I have, and it’s time I at least put them somewhere.

Remind me.