Maturation

Drink:  Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage (2002: barreled 4/18/02, barrel #1028, bottled 11/13/12)

My wife and I are expecting a baby in July.  Among the many gifts we look forward to from friends and family will be a couple from ourselves.

Most presents for children are designed to be utilized and enjoyed in the here and now.  Onesies that will be outgrown within weeks.  Newborn car seats useless after not even a single year.  Toys that will break or become so drool covered that they may as well be broken.  Stuffed animals that will be mutilated and disfigured by affection.  And then they’re gone.  Done.  Put away to be handed down, thrown out, or forgotten.

These things are all certainly worth having.  Most of them help with development in one form or another.  Colors, sounds, numbers.  How to take something out and then how to put it back in.  The latter seems to take much too long to master.  For their short span of usefulness they will be appreciated and loved by parent and child alike as they teach and learn together.  (If you’re not learning from your child at the same time that you’re teaching, you’re probably not paying enough attention.)

But the gifts that we plan on giving are intended to teach over the long term.

Oh, you mean like a daddy’s instruction and mommy’s love?  Not that they can’t be given in the converse as well…

Yes, but no.  The first gift is money set aside in an account where it can grow until our son or daughter is faced with a choice on their 18th birthday.  They can either take it out and use it toward college or leave it alone for another four or more years to grow even more.  At this point they will have seen it, Lord willing, grow beyond its original amount as it has responded to the environment it has been sitting in.  The bank or firm that has handled it, the rise and fall of the economy, national and global events.  And they’ll know this because we will check on it every year for at least 18 years.  Patience is practiced and learned.  And if we’ve waited this long for it, and it’s grown as it has, would it be best to delay gratification for four more years or utilize it immediately?  The answer will have to wait until then.  And it will depend on who our child has listened to, the rise and fall of our family’s budget, national and global events.  I look forward to the life lesson myself.

The second gift will be a bottle (or case) of wine, likely Port (I’m not a wine guy so feel free to suggest something else).  It would be good to open it and enjoy it now (not for baby), but in 21 years it will be even better.  We’ll walk down into the basement every year on their birthday, observe the bottle on the shelf and marvel at the slow changes happening inside that are, over the years, transforming this from a good wine into a great wine.  The two, our child and the wine, will mature together.  On a financial note, we could let the winery, distributor, or store bottle mature it for us, but we would be paying a significant rental fee to take up one bottle of space on their shelf instead of ours.  So we’ll pay less now and reap the reward of patiently aging it in-house later.

I’m a whiskey guy and while I could do this with a bottle of scotch or bourbon, the end result of leaving the bottle undisturbed for 21 years won’t be the same.  While bottle maturation is known and understood with wine, it’s a debated topic in the whiskey world.  Most people are skeptical about it at best, myself included.  But, regardless, the object lesson still exists for bottles purchased later.

What begins as a young, often harsh spirit is placed in a barrel to mature for as long as it takes for the Master Distiller to call it ready.  Through varying temperatures and seasons, the alcohol is pushed and pulled in and out of the staves enveloping it where it takes on some of the oak’s character, picking up aromas and flavors like vanilla, maple syrup, and baking spices.  Sometimes the Master Distiller will determine that a barrel must be moved to another location in the warehouse where it can mature slower or faster.  Sometimes the alcohol is moved from one type of barrel to another to impart more complex flavors.  The time spent in the oak softens a single minded, self centered whiskey and helps to balance it.  Where it once betrayed an obvious youth it now displays the character of a well matured spirit.

I look forward with anticipation to the conditions that our children will mature in.  The comfortable climate of a loving home, a supportive community, endless childhood summers, drives through Christmas lit neighborhoods, cherished relationships.  The heat of life’s trials, broken hearts, loss, the sting of the death of someone close, grieving inevitable changes.  Perhaps they’ll be moved from one type of barrel into another to gain a more complex character.  Maybe they’ll be moved to a place of more extreme change where they’ll mature faster.  I’ll have to trust the Master Distiller to make those determinations.

Whatever the future may bring, I look forward to the day I can share a drink with my children and talk about the conditions we’ve all matured in together.

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