Saturday, January 24, 2009

Aqua Vitae

“I was sitting in Miami pouring blended Whiskey down.”   Tom T. Hall, “Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine.”


“She drank Canadian whiskey, pure blended Whiskey, she drank it like wine.” Nanci Griffith ,  “Canadian Whiskey”


“Freedom and whisky gang thegither”,  Robert Burns, “The Author’s Earnest Cry and Prayer”



People have been writing about Whisky (or as I, and the Irish, call it Whiskey) for 600 years. I assume that they have been drinking it somewhat longer than that. No one really knows, but as a beverage it seems to lag many years behind the initial productions of beer and wine, its intoxicating cousins. Jesus drank a lot of wine. There is no mention of him sitting down to a Wild Turkey and Coke. That, of course was Jesus’ loss, although as a disappointment it probably paled compared to that whole crucifixion thing. At any rate, Whiskey is of more recent vintage (or perhaps I should say distillation) than the other things we drink at the Christmas party. It is also a more subtle drink and, in my mind, is what separates the mature drinker from the neophyte.


What is whiskey ? It’s an alcoholic beverage, distilled from fermented grain mash and aged in wooden casks, usually oak. That’s a definition that I think you will find in any standard dictionary or encyclopedia. It is something else. It is an acquired taste. Unlike beer or wine, whiskey must be learned to be enjoyed. Many people seem to have an innate love of the taste of many beers and wines. Whiskey is a different animal. Give a 15 year old boy a shot of Rye and see how much he enjoys it. After the coughing stops, the odds are better than even that he will tell you that he will never indulge again. A newcomer to the drink may like how he feels when he is drunk, and thus force slugs of bourbon down, but he will not enjoy the experience of the beverage.


I was taught to drink Whiskey, specifically Scotch, by my friend Joe Nistico. Joe had noticed a tendency for me to get drunk because I ordered liquor with sweet mixes which tasted so good that I felt like having another and another. Joe got me to drink Scotch and Soda which was the germination of my love for most distilled spirits. But it takes awhile to learn to really enjoy Whiskeys, however, it is worth the wait. Joe also taught me to love Frank Sinatra, a singer I had laughed at most of my life. One day after I had purchased a new Chevrolet I was listening to a Sinatra tape in the car, returning from the liquor store where I had picked up some Scotch. Chevrolet, Scotch, Sinatra, my God, I had become my father. I gave up the Chevrolets but am still hanging on to Whiskey and Sinatra.


I switched from Scotch to Irish Whiskey when I was in my thirties and that is still my favorite drink. I have, however,  become a lover of all Whiskeys. I love the Canadian blend, the Kentucky Bourbon, the single malt Scotch, straight up, on the rocks or with a mix. At least I think I do. One thing that is odd. I can’t drink Whiskey when I’m by myself. For me, Whiskey is a group activity, best enjoyed with friends at a club or bar. I have thought over time, that maybe it is not the Whiskey itself I love, but the things that come from the Whiskey, and I don’t mean inebriation.


My Products Liability professor in law school was Dean Page Keeton. Dean Keeton was probably 75 or so when he taught me. He was a short, hunched over,  old man with a  real twinkle in his eye. One of the only people I ever knew who genuinely had a twinkle. All the time. He sounded very gruff and spoke with a gravelly voice that had come from too many years of lecturing dense  law students. At any rate, we were studying the tobacco law suits which had arisen after the Surgeon General of the United States had determined that cigarettes caused cancer. A fellow scholar sitting next to me raised his hand and offered the opinion that Alcohol was another product which should have to face the merits of the American litigation system.


The twinkle left Keeton’s eye. His bent back perceptibly straightened up and a disgusted curl came to his lips.”Let me tell you” he said, “about Bourbon Whiskey……no product manufactured anywhere in the world has the soothing  effects of Bourbon Whiskey. No product is more  beneficial to the relaxation  of the mind and body and more  conducive to the promotion of good fellowship and  excellent conversation . I will not tolerate in this class, any invidious comparisons between tobacco and Bourbon whiskey.” With that, Dean Keeton picked up his text book and  stacked his row call chart and his lecture notes on top of it, placed them under his arm and walked out of the lecture  room in indignant silence. That lesson is the only one I still retain from my semester with Dean Keeton, but it is as valuable as anything ever taught to me in law school.


The Irish say it best. “What whiskey will not cure, there is no cure for.”


Blogger Jannie Funster said...

No Way!! Dean Keaton of the street's fame? Many times have I trodden that path.

Faster horses,
younger women
older whisky
and more money.

May have the order mixed up on those?

Rye whisky, rye whisky
rye whisky and I
if the drinkin' don't kill me
I'll live 'til I die.

Sorry, have tried bourbon, just can't get into it. Ahhhh, but some Crown Royal does go down mighty fine as I recall.

Us Canucks and our rye.

Oh, Jesus, a Pepsi guy I think.

1:53 PM  

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