October. When the weather gets cooler (except when it’s 85 degrees outside) and drinkers turn to thoughts and tumblers of whiskey (unless, like me, your thoughts never left it, even on the hottest of summer days), and Pappy Van Winkle begins to slowly rumble like that Hobbit dragon with hints that they might be releasing their annual allocation of whiskey upon the world any week now. Lazy newspaper and website writers will then conspire to fill up their page with yet another list of “the best whiskey in the world,” in which they repeat the exact same thing they said last year and the year before and the exact same thing every other lazy content generator has coughed up (calling slapping together a slideshow and accompanying sentence “writing” is a bit much). This means it’s also the time of year that liquor store employees start to get the nervous, annoyed shakes in anticipation of a legion of status seekers and well-meaning new buyers and gift seekers flocking to the store to inquire as to the availability of what will inevitably be listed as the best, most desirable whiskey: Pappy Van Winkle.
Over at Alcohol Professor, I have some things to say about Odd Bedfellows, a whiskey tasting at Brooklyn’s Tooker Alley that focused on whiskey that breaks the mold and challenges the imbiber with flavors and ideas not commonly associated with the spirit.
Over yonder on Alcohol Professor, I wrote an article about visiting Corsair Artisan Distillery in Nashville.
Over on Alcohol Professor, I write about visiting Virginia’s A. Smith Bowman whiskey distillery and meeting their master distiller, Truman Cox.
It was a good plan for as long as it was working. You’d managed to sneak into the sprawling underground lair disguised as a member of an exotic dance troupe hired to entertain the madman’s private army. The dance number was opulent, and you managed to maneuver yourself close to your target while still maintaining the beat on your tabla. But then his right hand man remembered you from a grainy photo handed over by a traitor somewhere in the ranks of Interpol. Suddenly you find yourself tied down in front of the villain in his egg-shaped plastic chair. He’s going to kill you. An alligator pit perhaps, or some sort of slow moving laser so he can savor your demise. But first, he will do two things: explain his entire nefarious scheme for world domination, and offer you a last drink. That drink will almost certainly be a blended scotch whisky.
‘When I’m… er… concentrating,’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad.” – Bond. James Bond.
To call James Bond a thinly veiled wish-fulfillment stand-in for author Ian Fleming is to make the hilarious presumption that there’s any veiling at all. The Bond of the novels was basically a walking, talking catalog of everything that happened to interest and delight Fleming at the time he happened to be writing that particular novel (the movie Bond, on the other hand, was modeled somewhat more closely after British director Terence Young). Whether it was a drink, a meal, or “Pinaud Elixir, that prince among shampoos,” just about everything that fills James Bond’s universe was ported over wholesale from his creator’s life. And as anyone familiar with the books or the movies knows, alcohol occupies an important — more likely the most important — place in Bond’s life. Not to mention my own. And perhaps yours as well.
Dev was secured to the rotating chair and flanked on either side by bald goons wearing a tight t-shirt and flamboyantly colored scarf. The man standing behind the vast desk was wearing a silver Nehru jacket accented with ribbons and golden cords of a vaguely military style. Behind the desk was a Plexiglass window looking out into the deep blue of an aquarium filled with sharks, and on the desk was the oval shaped viewscreen the fiend sometimes used to randomly call up and taunt officials in Mumbai. Dev’s own lime green shirt with a playfully clashing tie that seemed to contain more colors than exist in the known universe was a splash of sharp contrast amid the austere modern decor of the room. The man behind the desk smiled at his captive.
After more hours than I want to count neatly folded into the capsules that comprise coach service on most major American air carriers; after finishing two Jim Butcher “Dresden Files” novels; after Justice League: Doom and Nameless Gangster; after all that, I stepped into Sydney, Australia with only a single thought in my mind: I needed a drink. Or two. Luckily, Sydney is a drinker’s paradise, overflowing with dens of indulgence that run the gamut from historic pubs to modern cocktail bars with an eye focused on the American speakeasy. With an absurdly mild definition of winter greeting me, I knew I was in for a proper drinking adventure. While almost everything in Australia costs twice as much as it does in New York, the odd exception is the alcohol (purchased in bars that is). Australia’s best drams of whiskey are poured for you at more or less the same price you would pay in a whiskey bar in the United States. Cocktails are comparable in price (but not always quality) to what you’d pay at any one of the many speakeasy-revival style bars in the States. And beer prices hover at about the same level as you’d pay for a pint of quality American micro-brew. So with those amazingly indestructible and colorful Australian dollars in hand, and after a brief stop at the hotel to freshen myself a bit, I was off.
In the past couple months, two of the whiskey world’s heaviest hitters — Jack Daniels and Jim Beam — have released “white whiskey” products in an attempt to (somewhat belatedly) jump on a perceived white whiskey trend. Most spirits writers have reacted to these releases with a resigned sigh and a rolling of the eyes. I’m hard pressed to come up with a more appropriate reaction. I don’t fault a company crass marketing ploys — Steampunk Cider is a pretty crass attempt to appeal to steampunk nerds like me, and I bought two bottles without having ever tasted it because, you know, <em>steampunk</em>. Luckily, it was fantastic, but the point is companies do marketing, and that’s A-OK with me. Sometimes though the marketing crosses a personally drawn line and really gets on my nerves (stop telling me you’re a distillery when you are just buying barrels from other distilleries and bottling them). Beam and Daniels have managed to poke a spot on me that was already sore as I am not the biggest fan of white whiskey, be it unaged white dog or simply filtered to be colorless. I also think this bandwagon onto which Jack and Jim are adding their weight is pretty rickety already, if it exists at all.
By an agreeable twist of luck, it turned out that the 2012 Whisky Live Sydney event was going on at the same time I found myself in Sydney touring it’s fine public houses, museums, and dens of vice and indulgence, as is my way. Truth be told, I have soured somewhat on large whisky gatherings and fests. There were only so many I could enjoy before the crowds, drunken amateurs, and repetitious marketing began to tip the scales into the negative. I still think such gatherings are a fantastic way to submerge yourself fully into whisky culture.