Whisky Wind-down, 22: Let’s Play That Again

A bottle of Talisker Storm whisky sits between a pair of filled glasses, next to a boxed board game, Isle of Skye.

Today’s dram: Talisker, Storm

Today’s tasting notes: Yesterday, all I gave you on this whisky was: “It’s all peat and brine, and I rather enjoy it.” That’s more or less accurate, but I’d add that it also contains a hint of smoke, and I’d defined the brine as mild in nature, just enough to let you know the whisky was born on an isle.

Talisker sits on the Isle of Skye, one of the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. It’s the only distillery on the island. (If that phrase sounds familiar, it’s probably because several of the Hebrides are each individually home to “the only distillery on the island.” Honestly, it’s not such great marketing when you think about it. You’re on an island. Not a tropical, fancy, resort island. A rocky, cold, craggy Scottish island. You can fish, raise sheep, or make whisky. If these islands were any bigger at all the phrase never would have stood a chance.)

Today’s thoughts: As I mentioned yesterday, I opened my bottle of Talisker Storm in the company of friend who likes whisky and board games. The photo accompanying this post was taken in early October this year, on that very occasion. You’ll note the game is called Isle of Skye, and whether you believe me or not, we didn’t plan this. I mean, we planned to play board games that day, and whisky is usually an accompaniment for that, but I didn’t know my friend was bringing Isle of Skye, and he didn’t know I was holding a bottle of Talisker Storm in want of inspiration to be opened. Kismet.

Speaking of kismet, I don’t believe I’ve ever relayed here the story of how I met the woman I would later dub the Empress of Whisky. I was out to dinner to my favorite pub when I encountered a friend who was playing cards with three other people I did not know. We exchanged pleasantries before I settled at my own table. Not long after, he popped over to ask if I would be interested in joining the game, as one of the four players had to unexpectedly leave. As this was a game played in partners, they needed a fill-in player to finish. The woman I was thus introduced to as a game partner would end up being a far more long-time companion.

While we played cooperatively (and ultimately victoriously) that day, we are not at all opposed to being adversaries. Outside the game, we love each other. Inside the game, no quarter is given.

Today’s note on repetition: One of the things you’re likely to learn early on the journey to whisky appreciation is to never judge on the first sip. That one will usually burn a bit, and you need to let your palate adjust before sipping again to get a better assessment.

Games can be like that, too.

This is why the Empress and I generally play each new game at least twice in a row. That, and the loser can never wait for a rematch. That’s true whichever of us happens to have lost.

On this lovely post-post-snow day, we’ve been facing off in various new board and card games. I would like to tell you that I have triumphed consistently. So would she.

We’re both right, depending on the game in question.

At least the loser has whisky. Then again, so does the winner.

Today’s toast: To the Empress of Whisky: I love you. Outside the game.

Whisky Wind-down, 23: Drinking Buddies

On a snow-covered table, Peppermint Jack, the Christmas Jester, cavorts with friends, all of whom have been into my bottle of Talisker Storm.

Today’s dram: Talisker, Storm

Today’s tasting notes: It’s all peat and brine, and I rather enjoy it.

Today’s thoughts: My first experience with Talisker was The Distillers Edition, a bottle of which I opened the day I received news of a friend’s death, and thereafter it became a whisky I went for in melancholy times.

When I received this bottle of Storm, I therefore made a point of waiting to open it on a happier occasion. Said occasion was playing board games with a whisky-loving friend.

Today’s short entry excuse: It’s a post-snow day, and I spent it lazing about before taking in an annual party with friends. Good friends. The sort you go out on a post-snow day for.

Today’s toast: To good company. May you have it and be it.

Whisky Wind-down, 24: Snow Day

A bottle of Resurgens Rye and a glass of same sit on a snow-covered table in front of a brick wall.

Today’s dram: Atlanta Spirit Works, Resurgens Rye

Today’s tasting notes: I first tried this at a party last year, and I’m pretty grateful to the person who brought it, both because I went to the party in need of a subject for a Whisky Wind-down post and also because it was my introduction into Atlanta Spirit Works, which has since become a favorite of mine.

I still love the aroma on this. It’s like the best warm loaf of bread right out of the oven. The flavor has bite, but maybe not as much as you’d expect on a rye whisky. It’s in beautiful balance with the mild sweetness and finishes oh so warmly. Just the thing for a cold night.

Today’s thoughts: Atlanta is renowned for its responses to snow storms. If by “renowned” you mean “mercilessly mocked” and by “responses” you mean “hahaha, we’ll come up with a plan two hours after it starts to stick.”

Now, in fairness, as Mayor Kasim Reed famously huffed at a news conference during Snowpocalypse 2014, the actual city of Atlanta makes up just a tiny portion of what most outsiders consider ATLANTA, which is roughly everything ITP (local colloquial for Inside the Perimeter, the area within I-285).

And while I give Reed marginal props for making that nitpicking point, it’s rendered moot when the larger issue is our leaders can’t decided whether to under- or over-react to any particular storm. 

I vastly prefer the over-reaction end of the cycle. It’s fine and well to be the city that gets mocked for taking a day off at the slightest suggestion of snow. I like that city. That’s a safe city to live in. It beats the hell out of being the city where government officials and business owners are so damned stubborn that they fail to take action until after the last minute, leaving people stuck in their cars for hours on end or stranded in powerless schools or worse, all-in on the off-chance that “productivity” might take a slight hit for calling a snow day too early. Fuck productivity. Nobody’s getting a damned thing done except anxiously staring out the window and refreshing their weather apps, anyway.

Today’s personal observation: I do go on about this, don’t I? Nonetheless, the site motto will remain as is … although “whisky ramblings and snow musings” does have a nice ring to it.

Today’s toast: To a warm dram on a cold night.

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, 26: Like Last Year, Only Different

Today’s dram:  The Macallan 12-Year-Old, Sherry Oak (with special appearance by The Macallan 10-Year-Old, Fine Oak)

Today’s tasting notes: As you can see from the photo, I only have a little of this 12-year-old available to me. (I love little bottles. But then I love sampling, so of course I do.)

I had not tried the 12-year-old elsewhere prior to opening that little bottle tonight, but I have tried a fair amount (as you can tell from the bottle level) of the 10-year-old expression from the same distillery. I won’t repeat myself too much, since I wrote about that one last year, but I did want to have it again tonight just for the joy of doing a side-by-side tasting.

A year later, I still think the 10-year-old is a fine “workday whisky.” It’s mild, but also warm, in the inoffensive way common to Highland whiskies. I would never be upset to be served this. (Having said that, I have not touched my bottle of this one in a year, given my predilection for bolder whisky.)

The 12-year-old is also delightfully easy to drink. In isolation it’s not a huge departure from its younger sibling, but tasted side-by-side there are richer, sweeter flavors that come across pretty clearly. There’s also a deeper aroma. If the 10 is mostly honey, the 12 is that honey with a dollop of maple syrup. And as you can sort of tell by the photo, the 12 is also just a shade darker. (That’s probably the result of its longer time in the barrel. I have to say “probably” because there are a lot of factors that can affect color — char level on the barrel and age/reuse of the barrel are big ones — and there exists the possibility a distiller might have artificially altered the color, which, long story short, may or may not be legal to do depending on the whisky and country of origin.)

You might be tempted to attribute all of the flavor/aroma differences to the two-year age gap between these two, but there is also a difference in the barrels used to age them. The 12-year-old was aged entirely in oak barrels that had previously been used to make sherry, while the 10-year-old only spent a portion of its aging in sherry oak barrels; the rest was in bourbon barrels. (Trivia note: It’s redundant to say bourbon oak barrels, since bourbon must, by law, be aged on oak. New oak, at that. Since they can’t be reused for bourbon, the old barrels get sold to other booze artists, including an awful lot of Scotch distillers.)

Anyway, my point is it’s hard to know how much of the flavor/aroma/color difference are attributable to age versus wood differences. I’d love a head-to-head tasting of, say, a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old both aged on the same wood, or a 10 versus 10 (or 12 versus 12), one with just sherry, one with sherry/bourbon.

While those combinations don’t seem to be available (at the moment) from The Macallan, other distilleries have such offerings. I might even have a flight like that in my collection. Will it show up in this Whisky Wind-down? Not even I know at this point.

Today’s thoughts: So, my spur-of-the-moment inspiration for this pairing tonight was looking back at last year’s entry for the same day. I thought it pretty appropriate to follow up that post with a related whisky and a related update.

I still have a day job, though not the same one as last year. And while I’m still not inclined to deviate from my policy of declining to comment on anything work-related here, I’ll simply say I had a good decade at the old job, and I look forward to many good years at the current one. Great places, both of them, with great people.

Today’s bit of perhaps useful information: It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Time zones.

Today’s toast: To the working stiffs, again and always.

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.

But.

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

Whisky Wind-down, 28: Hectic Night Calls for Basic Done Right

Today’s dram: Wild Turkey, 101

Today’s tasting notes: Oh, she bites, this bird.

Between the high proof and the elevated rye content in the mash, this one is a bit of a spicy burner. Now, bourbon is usually sold around 90 proof, so it tends to be a little rough around the edges. At 101, this one shoots a mite further, as they might phrase it in the backwoods.

(Yes, the 101 in the name is also the proof, which, if you don’t know booze math, is a fancy — overly complicated? — way of saying it’s 50.5% alcohol.)

Unless you’re new here, you know I like high-proof whisky. I don’t think a jolt of alcohol in and of itself makes a tipple more enjoyable, but I am pretty fond of cask-strength booze: whisky right off the wood, undiluted, flavors raw and pure as nature made them.

I don’t just mean that as pretty language, either. Tour Kentucky bourbon country and more than one distillery tour guide will tell you, “We make white dog; nature makes bourbon.”

“White dog” is what licensed distillers call raw, unaged whisky; folks in the backwoods distilling outside the law call the same stuff moonshine.

Take that raw whisky, place it in a charred new oak barrel for a length of time — years, folks — and what emerges is bourbon. As it was explained to me at my very first distillery tour — which *cough* was at Wild Turkey’s Lawrenceburg home — it’s the changing temperatures across the four proper seasons in Kentucky that make the magic happen, pulling the whisky in and out of the charred wood, slowly drawing flavor while time concentrates the liquid into something far greater than the pile of corn, rye, and malted barley it started as.

(If you want to be pedantic, there’s more to it than that, legally speaking. I admire pedants, and often am one, but not tonight.)

At any rate, Wild Turkey makes fine bourbon, and 101 is probably my favorite widely available variety. We can talk later about Rare Breed. Or Kentucky Spirit. Or Forgiven. All fine bourbons, all made under the same roof.

Still, there are times when a spicy belt is called for, and at those times, I go back to 101.

Today’s thoughts: It’s late, I’m tired, there a thousand things to do, and … well, whisky.

Actually, it isn’t that late, just after 8 p.m. as I sit to the keyboard, but that’s plenty late enough to have zero words and not even so much as a whisky in mind to profile.

I am tired, though. Not for any particular reason besides maybe Monday, which in legend of song and feline comic strips, is the worst day that ever there was.

Monday unto itself is bad enough, but then there’s listening to how bad everyone else’s Monday is going, which just makes your Monday all the worse, and yes — self-awareness! — I realize I’m adding to the vicious cycle.

“Who invented Mondays, anyway?!” groused a coworker recently, only to be set back when another, cleverer coworker (not me) chimed in that it’s just a product of the weekend. Blame the labor movement. Once upon a time, everyone worked all the time, and so Monday meant not much. Now you get to experience the joy of weekends, which set you up for the misery of Mondays. Praise labor.

Have I mentioned that I like the people I work with? I like the people I work with. That’s another post. Maybe. Right now I owe one of them a Secret Santa gift for the office holiday party tomorrow, and I might have kinda sorta also committed myself to baking something, too.

These are a few of the thousand things I have to do. And it’s only the fourth of December. As the month rolls on, the tasks pile up. Only a fool would add to his pile with a commitment to write daily, too.

But I like you people.

Also, whisky.

Today’s thought on the passage of time: It takes time to make whisky. Bourbon is relatively quickly made, compared to some others, like Scotch whisky. Blame the relative climates. Still, the older I get, the faster the time seems to go. That’s not an original thought, I know, but how about: I should start some whisky. It won’t be long now before it’s ready.

Today’s toast: To taking the time to take the time for things that make the time worth taking.