Drink: George Dickel No. 8
I used to be a beer drinker.
My first experience was around age 14. My dad, enjoying a sample pack with a firend, let me try a sip (I asked). It took two glasses of Pepsi and a sandwich to get the horrid taste out of my mouth. Years later, after reaching legal drinking age (I didn’t drink until I was 21, probably in part because of that disgusting first taste), I ordered a beer over my dad’s birthday lunch. Freshly able to purchase alcohol, and having learned that my palate had changed drastically since my early teens (thanks to my culinarily ecclectic ex-girlfriend), I ordered a Blue Moon. Mostly for the name, because I didn’t know a thing about beer. It came in a glass with an orange slice perched atop. “The hell?” I thought. But surely this New Orleans styled pub knows what they’re doing.
So, as with all new foods, I leaned in for a smell. The light spice of the beer was complimented beautifully with the fresh, soft citrus of the orange. I took a sip, making sure I could smell the orange in the process. “My gosh!” I thought. “I get it!” It was delicious. The waitress wondered out loud when I would move the slice into the beer, but I was new to this and didn’t want to push past this first understanding too quickly. I wanted to savor it. Baby steps.
Years, and many beers and a few brewery tours later, I knew beer. I can tell you now what I like, what I don’t like, and what I’d altogether like to avoid.
When I was in the phase of beer exploration, I read an article in the NY Times about Irish whiskey leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. The author made it sound absolutely delicious. Ever the curious explorer, I stopped in my local go-to liquor store to peruse their Irish whiskey section. There were several options. Most I’d never heard of. In fact, I’d probably only heard of Jameson at that point. Someone seeing the lost look in my eyes suggested I steer clear of Michael Collins as it was high on celebrity but low on quality. I ended up purchasing standard Bushmills as it was relatively cheap and obscure (to me). I took one sip and that bottle is still unfinished. Gross. I was pretty sure that whiskey would never be my thing. But things change.
A few months later the NY Times posted another article on whiskey, this time rye. It lead me to give whiskey another shot. A driving factor in my decision was the article’s mention that it was Humphrey Bogart’s drink of choice. As I adore Bogie, and my mom says we’re distantly related, I wanted to give rye a shot. Back at the store, I asked an employee if they had any rye whiskeys in stock. It was Old Overholt or something else I don’t remember. My wallet being the deciding factor once again, I came home with the Overholt. That bottle is also still unfinished (though it is less unfinished than the Bushmills). Gross. Now I was certain that I would never drink whiskey. But things change.
After my visit to Louisville, I understood whiskey. Now it’s a hobby that continuously outgrows its shelf space.
My palate isn’t the only thing that has changed over time. I have matured. I understand now that the future, by and large, is uncertain. I was absolutely certain at age 14 that I would never consume beer again. Ever. I was absolutely certain after Bushmills and Old Overholt that I would never consume whiskey again. Ever. But things change, and here we are.
Please excuse this awkward transition. I’ll circle back, I promise.
Wife and I decided together that four was an excellent number of children but we hadn’t decided when to start. She, being the gracious wife that she is, left the decision to me.
In addition to learning that the future is uncertain, I’ve learned to trust my gut. I knew that I wanted to marry my beautiful wife nine months into our dating relationship. I knew that we shouldn’t purchase a house right away. I knew, when the time did come, that the house we live in now was our new home before I even walked in the door. The latter was definitely my gut because the amount of updating that the house needed (needs) scared buyers off for a while before we showed up.
Having listened to my gut, all of the aforementioned decisions (and plenty of others), though each came with its challenges, proved right for us. So, when it came time to choose a ‘when’ for children, I listened to my gut. Which was scary.
A few years went by after Wife gave the decision to me, and, despite my brain worrying about the passing time and our increasing age, my gut waited quietly. Despite the future’s uncertainty, I can’t explain why I’m feeling at peace about one thing over another (except to say that it’s divine providence). But eventually I come to understand why I was led in a particular direction.
About a year and a half into owning our house, we received a very memorable phone call. It is amazing to me how two minutes into a conversation, your life can alter drastically. I can’t go into detail but, suffice it to say, an infant member of Wife’s family needed a new home. We were the prime choice. Fairly young, semi-newly weds, a house in a great neighborhood in a very family-friendly town. No children of our own yet to take our attention away from the needs of this helpless infant who was going to need a lot of special attention.
Buttercup has been with us for almost a year now and we’ve all adjusted well to the new rhythm of our family and our home. I can’t imagine life without her. Wife and I have grown and learned so much about each other through this process. A year ago, I’d have never guessed that this is where our family was headed or that Buttercup would be joining us on our voyage through the uncharted and uncertain waters of the future. But things change and our duo is now a trio.
And so it is with the whiskey world at large. When the bourbon glut happened during the ’80s and ’90s, because national interest in the drink seemed to disappear, it was uncertain as to whether distilleries would even remain open. Some didn’t. But things change and our nation remembered its flagship beverage and interest returned many fold.
I started my hobby when sales were really picking up. I didn’t know this, of course, because I hadn’t succumbed to marketing charm or my peers’ drinking preferences (after all, the drinks of choice here in Connecticut are vodka or beer). I had discovered whiskey because I had visited its main source. I didn’t know about the previous glut or the current shortage; I just knew that I liked whiskey. I was walking along enjoying my bourbon, exploring the expressions available, and broadening my appreciation. I had no idea of the changes happening around me.
But now I know. I know that many of the blogs I read are by authors who experienced the wonderful glut (much great whiskey, aged good and well with the number of years right there on the bottle, and priced beautifully). I know that sales have gone through the roof and now there’s a shortage (some great whiskey if you know where to look, aged less with the number of years gone from the bottle, and priced rather high). And now I’m among the bloggers who see the current trends of bottles missing from shelves, age statements missing from bottles, prices reaching absurd levels, and large corporations disregarding the quality of the whiskey for quantity. And I wonder about the future of this drink.
I’ve bunkered some bottles of my favorites, but when those are gone their replacements have gotten harder to find. I managed to pack a bottle of W.L. Weller into my suitcase coming home from a trip to California two years ago, and since then I haven’t seen a bottle of it anywhere here at home. I have half a bottle of Elmer T. Lee left and that’s nowhere to be seen around here either. If things get bad enough, and prices get high enough, I’ll just have to ration my bunker and try to weather the storm. I’ll have to trust my gut.
We could enter another glut period when people get fed up with corporate shenanigans and higher prices for lesser whiskey (if we do I’ll be dancing in the aisles as the prices drop and the ages rise). But then, we could also see scarcity and rising prices continue. The future of whiskey is hazy at best.
But things change.