Whisky Wind-down, 17: Void

Today’s dram: None.

Today’s tasting notes: None.

Today’s thoughts: Some days, it hurts to think. On those days, it may or may not hurt to drink. Sometimes, when you stare into the Abyss, it stares back. Other times, the Abyss would just like to know how you’re doing, catch up a bit, put lunch on the calendar.

Today’s bit of honesty: It isn’t always difficult. Just often. Too often. Even accomplishing the joyful things becomes difficult, in this theoretically most joyful month.

Today’s toast: To all who struggle; struggle on.

Whisky Wind-down, 18: Love and Lightsabers

A Star Wars stein sits on a mantle beside a bottle of 12-year-old Glenkinchie whisky.

Today’s dram: Glenkinchie, 12-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: Dunno. Haven’t tasted it yet.

Today’s thoughts: I love Star Wars.

Since I wrote about that life-long affection a year ago, I’ll focus on something else this time.

The salient point to bring forward is: I waited 32 years* to know what happened to those beloved characters. When The Force Awakens hit theaters two years ago, I was anxious as hell about seeing it, wanting to have hope, but fearing another heartbreak a la The Trilogy of Which We Do Not Speak.

I left that theater feeling renewed hope for the future. Of Star Wars, anyway.

Last year’s Rogue One was also good, but my excitement for a prequel, even a good one, will never match my interest in the futures of Luke, Leia, R2, Threepio, Chewie … and Rey, Finn, Poe, and BB-8.

Tonight The Empress of Whisky and I see The Last Jedi.

She enjoys the films, and we have had tremendous fun at the last two opening night events, but there is, shall we say, an enthusiasm gap. She would, for instance, be happy waiting as long as tomorrow(!) to see this film.

But she indulges me, even when, as it so happens tonight, the occasion falls on, for example, our anniversary.

Twelve years she’s been indulging me. That’s pretty good, no?

In celebration of which she gave me the whisky above, which is as old as our relationship. Pretty good thinking there. We’ll open the bottle tonight, at home, and discuss the movie over a dram.

Happy dozen, love!

Today’s note on sharing: I think it’s worth considering just how much better life is because we’re in it together. I do, in fact, consider this all the time.

Today’s toast: To my love: May the Force be with you, always. Me, too.

—–

* — If you want to be picky — and really, what Star Wars fan isn’t, to some degree? — I waited 32 years and seven months between the release of Return of the Jedi (May 1983) and the release of The Force Awakens (December 2015). That’s a long time with no Star Wars.**

** — No Star Wars. Nope. You imagined that other trilogy. You must have been on a bender. Bad you.

Whisky Wind-down, 19: Depths

A bottle of Bruichladdich Port Charlotte whisky and a filled Glencairn glass sit alongside a small tentacled box, on a table in front of a painting in which a long black line dangles over a dark blue background.

Today’s dram: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte

Today’s brief preamble to the tasting notes: Here’s the last of the Bruichladdich tasting pack. After setting itself apart as the lone Islay distillery to make unpeated whisky, Bruichladdich decided to show it can make ’em with peat, too.

Named after the village that lies two miles from the distillery, Port Charlotte is Bruichladdich’s first (but not only) entry into the classic Islay whisky profile.

Today’s tasting notes: It smells like sea wind blowing over a bog. It tastes like water drawn from said bog, first poured over a dead campfire. This is dirty, rough whisky, and I would not advise it for anyone not already into peaty Scotch whisky.

Today’s thoughts: I rather enjoy the sea. Not as seen from a beach. Not with people about. Not in summer. Give me the rough, rocky Atlantic in winter, a sea into which I can stare and imagine the great squid god lying below, waiting to rise.

Today’s wish list notation: As I mentioned, this is the third of three whisky varieties in a Bruichladdich tasting pack. The distillery makes a fourth, “super heavily peated” variety, named Octomore. As a fan of cephalopods and peaty whisky, I need a bottle.

Today’s toast: To the sea, and every wonder within.

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.

Meh.

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, 21: Are We There Yet?

A small bottle of Bruichladdich Laddie whisky sits next to a filled Glencairn glass and tabletop clock.

Today’s dram: Bruichladdich, The Classic Laddie

Today’s rambling preamble to the tasting notes: Yesterday I mentioned the Hebrides. I’m not going to give you a complete Scotland geography lesson — not least because my knowledge of this subject is almost entirely whisky-related — but I will note that these islands are collectively home to several distilleries.

The whiskies made on the Hebrides — with one exception — are considered part of the Highlands, but that region is vast and it’s probably just a matter of time before the Scotch Whisky Association elevates The Islands to region status, which is what happened with the former sub-region Speyside. (Despite this recognition, a few Speyside distilleries still describe themselves as makers of Highlands whisky, but that’s marketing inertia for you.)

Anyway, the exception: Islay.

It’s part of the Hebrides, but it’s not part of The Islands for whisky purposes. Oh no; this island is a region unto itself, as well it should be.

Unless you’ve just stumbled upon this series — in which case, welcome! — you may recall me mentioning Islay frequently. A couple of my favorite distilleries (Laphroaig and Ardbeg) are located there, as well as Bowmore (of which I have enjoyed one and want to try more) and Bunnahabhain (new to me, and also fascinating). Still on my list are Caol Ila, Kilchoman, and Lagavulin.

All of these are known, to one degree or another, for the heavily smoky, often briny flavors in their whiskies.

Now, the exception within the exception: Bruichladdich.

Founded in 1881, but dormant for a good part of the 20th century, this distillery is now run by folks who are, well, let’s call them a tad eccentric. My bottle of The Classic Laddie was part of a three-bottle set that came with a 20-something page booklet almost entirely comprised of anecdotes about the history of the distillery, the people who work there, the local farmers who supply the barely, the antique Victorian-era coal-fired machinery they use to dry the barley …

I’ll stop on that last point, as it has some bearing on the whisky at hand. By using coal, (rather the traditional peat) as a fuel source for malting the barely used to make its whisky, Bruichladdich makes Islay’s only* unpeated whisky.

Today’s tasting notes: It’s briny, innit? You get it first on the aroma, which is sea air with a hit of alcohol burn mixed in. As for flavor, it bears a hint of earth about it, despite the absence of peat in its making. Then the brine comes in again; there’s not overmuch at first, but it lingers in an otherwise smooth finish. There is some burn on the back of it, too, probably attributable to the highish 100 proof.

I hesitate to admit this, considering I generally mock the practice, but after finishing two-thirds of the dram, I contemplated adding a few drops of water, just to see whether that might “open” it up. But then I realized that would require a trip downstairs, so I just finished it as poured.

Today’s thoughts: One of the first single malt Scotch whiskies I ever had, a gift courtesy of the Empress of Whisky, was a bottle from the first run of The Laddie 10. And while I do not recall exactly enough to relate the nuanced differences between that bottling and this lesser-aged version, I can report that sipping this dram brought back fond memories of that long-gone bottle.

Today’s aside: Laugh now, but when Scotland Geography shows up on Jeopardy!, I’ll be smiling. Also? I will crush in Potent Potables.

Today’s toast: To trivial knowledge, which I do not take trivially.

—–

* — Yes, there are exceptions even to this exception-within-an-exception. But Bruichladdich is the only Islay distillery regularly producing unpeated** whiskies as part of its standard range, rather than as special one-off offerings.

** — While I’m foot-noting, anyway, I’ll take the time to point out that a lot of whiskies produced with barley dried without the benefit of peat-fueled fires nonetheless still bear the subtle combination of smoke and earthiness attributed as “peatiness” in tasting notes. Why? Blame the water. When you live surrounded by peat bogs, apparently it permeates your groundwater. And while that may or may not be detectable out of the tap, it shows up when you toss in barley and boil it for whisky.

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.