The water of life runs through my blood, keeping the arteries clear and promising a lifespan of 100+ years… or at least that’s what some studies say that I choose to read and accept as gospel because I want them to be true. Aqua Vitae, baby.
You see, I have this obsession with whisk(e)y, particularly scotch, and a love for other whiskeys as well. This amber liquid has had me excited for several years now, which is a key indicator it’s the real deal as I have a tendency to bounce around with things that catch my interest and then “oooh! Squirrel!”. It’s something that until recently I could not fully explain to anyone who asked about this – this *thing* I have with whiskey. It’s just a damned drink after all. Pour a glass and drink it. Move on.
My first venture into the whiskey world was in my mid-20’s with Knob Creek bourbon. I was so proud to have bought not only my first ‘expensive’ bottle of hooch (expensive = >$15), but a whiskey! A tough drink. John Wayne shit. Sure, I’d drank before this time. Primarily beer and vodka. And that terrible time Zima entered the picture at a local bar in my home town and yes, you can indeed hurl your guts out hours later by ingesting several bottles. John Wayne likely never drank anything even resembling Zima. But I was so enamored with the Knob Creek and the freedom of buying it that it was proudly displayed on the mantle over the fireplace. I know I drank it, but only recall its place of honor on the mantle and not the taste. There weren’t too many drinks of whiskey of any type after that and I don’t really know why, likely because most of the people in my immediate circle were beer drinkers.
It was not until I took my first trip to the UK that true scotch made its way into my glass… in a 16th century pub in Wendens Ambo, England. That along with my first real Guinness served at room temperature and it was damned tasty! The Bell Inn had not been a pub until sometime in the early 19th century, but the building’s earliest written mention was in the latter half of the 1500’s. The Bell is a small two-story timber and plaster building with low ceilings and an old stone fireplace. You should check it out one day if you’re ever in that general area. Though I have no recollection of what whisky was served on the worn and dark-stained bar top, the taste and immediate enamorment are not forgotten. It was an easy whisky suggested by the barman, likely from a Lowland distillery, and it was amazing. There was so much going on in the glass to this untrained newbie! A bit overwhelming and unmistakably special. Yet with this easy-going and refined offering, it quickly became clear that whisky isn’t necessarily a ‘tough’ drink. You don’t have to be John Wayne to drink whisky.
We trained up to Edinburgh and the Borders later that week for a whirlwind trip. Our first stop in our journey north took us to an overnight stay in York. In the morning, someone set fire to their toast while I was in the shower and had to march my towel-wrapped, shampoo filled head down to the main dining room until we got the all clear. Not surprisingly I wasn’t the only person in a towel. Imagine yourself naked, save but for a cotton towel, in an ornate old dining room filled with people from who-knows-where at a fancy hotel with a view of York cathedral. That experience alone is due cause for a drink. However, I was not permitted by my traveling companion / wife / Hitler to have a drink at that very moment. Anyway, back to Scotland!
We hired a driver to take us around the Borders. He was a fabulous older gent that was everyone’s idea of a Scottish grandpa. He made sure we saw the beauty of the Borders and provided bits of trivia along the way. I wish I could recall his name as he was pleasant, personable, laid back, and had a lovely smile that reached his eyes. During a stop in Melrose to tour the ruins of Melrose Abbey, I stepped over to the local whisky shop and purchased two small bottles of Bowmore and The Balvenie. There was an extensive selection of 5cl bottles (cl = centileters, a unit of liquid measure you’ll find on UK bottles… it’s not much!). Unsure of my final purchase after staring at badass and beautiful labels, I showed off these newly acquired treasures to our driver who assured me I’d unknowingly picked two fine examples of Scottish whisky from two different regions, and that was the end of our conversation. I had prizes going home! Scotch bought in Scotland and approved by everyone’s Scottish grandpa cabbie!
Fast-forward to January 2017… I still have those two bottles sitting on the shelf behind me as I write. Unfortunately I couldn’t resist a few years back and took a couple of nips out of the Balvenie. The bottles had been stared at long enough. It’s a damned drink, remember?
Since then, there have been many purchased bottles and tastings of scotch and bourbon and other whiskeys. Each one imparting more knowledge toward four of the five basic human senses – sight, smell, taste, feel (yes feel, we’ll get to that later) – and a desire to explore more of this complex and and wonderful liquid the old Scots called uisge-beatha. Every bottle drained and every box the bottle was encased in is still in this house. Oh, and the empty bottles look kick-ass.
You will have different perspectives and experiences to bring to the ‘leather chair beside a crackling fireplace and a chess board with a dog at your feet’ and I want to hear about what you’re drinking, what you want to try, and subjects we can examine together. There is a fantastic whisk(e)y community out there that continues to grow. I look forward to this journey with you!