Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Constant Past

Drink:  Elijah Craig 12 Year*

I’m finding myself in a nostalgic mood which doesn’t happen often.

I tend to dispose of life’s excess without a second thought.  Old photos, souvenirs, Christmas cards, all gone: thrown out in a fit of needing more organizational and breathing space.  Greeting cards actually get disposed of after my first read through.  What do I honestly need to save them for?  Especially the signed-only cards, the ones where the sender just signs their name after the card’s author’s whimsical rhyme or generic seasonal greeting.  “Season’s Greetings.”  What is that?  Isn’t it a season at every moment?  Why don’t I get cards in the mail for the summer solstice?  “Season’s Greetings.”  Only this one comes with a wonderful illustration of a charcoal grill (because illustrations of gas grills just don’t cut it) letting me know that it’s been chosen for just this special occasion, complete with a lonely signature and maybe a little hand-drawn heart.  Greeting card cliches aside, my nostalgic moods are few and far between and short lived when they do happen.  But they do happen.

Between Wife’s pregnancy, fostering Buttercup, a busy job, and a house needing updates galore (and the outdoor season is upon us, perfect for viewing exactly which exterior updates are begging to be done), I’m overwhelmed.  This is when nostalgia sets in.  When the present succumbs to life’s inevitable changes, especially in significant quantity (and quality), I look to certain things past with longing.  Events, relationships, places.  The constancy of those things, as they’ve already happened and can’t be changed, is comforting.  No matter how much time passes, the past won’t change.  Life’s circumstances will change.  I’ll change, and will look at the past through maturing eyes (hopefully), but the past itself remains constant.

I was in the basement getting some laundry going when I remembered a box with my high school yearbooks.  I picked out the one from my graduating year, as that’s where the most significant notes were written by my classmates, to remember.  Certain notes I expected to be there, but others I was surprised to find as I’d forgotten them.  And certain notes were missing that I know are supposed to be there; maybe I’m missing some pages?  I discovered/remembered a few things.

I was a real flirt.  The ratio of girls’ notes to guys’ notes is like 25:1.  For my entire senior year, I sat at the “girls’ table” at lunch.  There was something about the conversations my fellow male classmates had that just irked me so I avoided them during the most sociable part of the day: lunch.  Instead, I sat with the girls whose conversations were much more mature, and more enjoyable to listen to and take part in.  Yeah, right, you say, they gossip and talk about….yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the stereotypical high school girl conversations, but you have to understand that my class was, even according to several teachers, the best class to ever pass through our high school’s halls.  We were more mature and more unified than any other class.  I was proud to be a part of it.  So, anyway, it was nice to reread that I was popular with the ladies.  I’m settled now, so it doesn’t matter in the least, but it’s fun to remember.

The three adjectives that I see repeated most often were that I was sweet, funny, and loud (and in that order).  The sweetness has been tempered by increased responsibilities and the mental and emotional space they occupy.  Some of the authors of the notes would be disappointed to find that out.  The humor has been honed, focussed, and reigned in by integrity (thankfully).  The loudness has only increased through my time working with teenagers; these vocal cords go up to eleven.  I once was at an event held in a stadium that was being recorded.  The announcer mentioned a date and used the wrong month, and I shouted out the correction.  Mind you, I was up near the nose bleeds and the speaker was in the center of the stadium.  Listening to the playback later, I could distinctly hear my shout.  I was very proud.

There was a particular note that I was looking for in the yearbook.  I looked through it at least eight times to no avail.  I’m convinced there’s a section missing and I’m quite upset by that.  When you spend seven to eight hours a day with the same group of people for nearly all of your growing-up years, you come to cherish those formed relationships.  One in particular, with a former lady friend (I had a thing for her; she says she never did for me but I never believed it; either way we were really close), has since fallen silent due to a lack of upkeep and some misunderstandings.   This is one of two relationships that I tend to look back on the most.  Probably because it was one of my deepest and most intimate (then) and when life gets tough and my deepest and most intimate relationship (now, and compared with all of them ever by a long shot) with Wife gets tough as well, I feel alone.  Like I’m trekking through this desert companionless and isolated.  And when I feel alone, I like to remember times when I didn’t, and the people that helped me feel that way.

I play the “what if” game.  What if we had dated?  What if we had made different decisions?  What if I had poured my heart out before it was too late?  What if we had gotten married?  I try to keep my answers in check as I can wander too far without a tether in reality and paint pictures in false light cast by ideals.

That’s the problem with the “what if” game.  Instead of helping me cope with how things are and where they’re going, I move toward how I wish things were.  And when that happens, I start losing maturity ground.  What I need to do is man up and adapt to the changes, not lament over the loss of the familiar.  I can’t lead my family through new territory if I’m self medicating with nostalgia.  Rather than being sober and in the present, ready to take on the unknown for the sake of Wife, Buttercup, and the little one on the way, I’m doped up on ideals of the past and “what if” scenarios.  That doesn’t help anyone.  That numbs my senses and renders me useless.

Learning from the past is a great, and implementing appropriate changes from that education is wise.  But dwelling there can be detrimental.

*I don’t typically explain my drink choice, generally because there is no explanation to be had (I’m just drinking what I’m in the mood for at the given time of writing that particular post), but I felt it appropriate here.  Elijah Craig 12 year was the first bourbon that caused me to stop and contemplate what time had done not just with the whiskey in my glass, but with me.  I looked back at where I’d come from, and what I’d been through, over the last twelve years.  And this bourbon had, the entire time, been maturing in barrels in Kentucky through some history of its own.  I felt it a was good choice to drink for this post.

Review: Compass Box Hedonism

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(Photo from Compass Box’s website; I hope they don’t mind)

Compass Box Hedonism
Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
43% abv (86 proof)
$90 – $110
Overall rating:  nip/bar

If you haven’t, first read my Intro to help you understand my review process.Here we are (finally!) at the final sample in the Compass Box (CB) sample pack.  To recap, each of the five samples of CB’s main whisky lineup came in a 50mL vial that I split with my whiskey buddy Jake who purchased the pack.  Hedonism was the last vial in CB’s suggested order as indicated through the presentation in the box and through the order of accompanying tasting videos on CB’s website (which we watched only after we had already completed our tasting).

This was the bottle whose packaging I most enjoyed (which never factors into my review of a whiskey, but I do notice it).  I had no idea what to expect from the blend and all I knew going into the tasting was that this, unlike any of the other CB blends (and unlike any blended scotch I’ve ever had) had no single malt in its composition at all.  It is comprised entirely of grain whiskies which are typically used to fill in gaps with blended scotch but here are its only components.

As a quick lesson in scotch terms, a single malt scotch is comprised entirely of one grain: malted barley.  Malted means that the barley was germinated (caused to sprout) by soaking it in water and then this process was halted by drying the barley with hot air.  The germination produces enzymes in the barley which change the starches into sugars.  Barley already contains some sugars but the germination produces others that were not already present.  It also helps to make the barley more yeast friendly.  Grain whisky is produced from any grain other than malted barley (including barley that has not been malted); typically corn, wheat or rye.

 I have my guesses as to which grains are used in Hedonism, but I’ll get to that after the tasting notes.

 The eyes:
A light, soft gold.

 The nose:
At first, there is a similarity to the white wine character of Asyla, but that fades.  This is a complex nose with plenty to observe.  There is very slight ethanol.  There are notes of vanilla and custard, sweet bourbon, and rye whiskey (that sour pickle juice).  There are notes of white grapes, white flesh apples* (Macintosh, Macoun), ginger and citrus (some orange but more lemon).  I’m finding delightful caramelized sugars.  The ethanol, forgotten through the above presentation of teasing scents, presents itself again (still very slight and not offensive at all).

 This is a beautiful, enticing nose with plenty to enjoy and look forward to with each approach to the glass.  After time, and when there is little left in the glass, there is assertive, rich cinnamon and cinnamon dusted rice pudding (sort of a combination of custard and sweetened condensed milk).  I want to smell this whisky for hours.

 The mouth:
Rich, creamy, sweet, hot (not offensively so), and balanced.  This is like drinking desserts.  Creamy custard and sweet grains.  The finish is hot, long, and caramely sweet, like the way your palate feels after eating creme brûlée or vanilla pudding (the good stuff) twenty minutes ago.  That lingering, sweet richness without being cloying.  I really want to continue experiencing this, and it has what I call “the draw” for sure.  It just keeps drawing you back for more.

Conclusions:
Hedonism, as defined by dictionary.com, means “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good,” or, “devotion to pleasure as a way of life.”  I would say that this blend of single grains is aptly named.  I derived plenty of pleasure from even just the nose.  As I said, I wanted to sit and continue to experience Hedonism for hours; there are very few whiskies that I have found this enticing.  More, please.

If I were to wager a guess as to the grains used, I would say rye based on the pickle juice in the nose as well as the ginger and citrus.  I would also guess that the dessert quality of this whisky comes from wheat which has the same sweet effect with American whiskey.  Corn can also impart sweetness but typically identifies itself by a distinct corn smell which I did not detect here.  I could, of course, be completely wrong, but those are my guesses.  The aging in first-fill American oak casks (ex-bourbon barrels) also helps to impart bourbon’s sweet notes.

What I discovered after the tasting (and just prior to my subsequent bottle purchase) is that Hedonism is produced in relatively small batches.  Because of this, and the uncertainty of cask availability with the desired flavor profile, there’s bound to be variation from one batch to the next.  This can, however, be the case with any whiskey as, unless you’re drinking a single cask/barrel, you’re drinking from a blend of many barrels/casks that, upon meeting certain conditions, are dumped and blended together to attain the house’s desired flavor profile.

The difference here is that the grain whiskies, and their sources, may be different from batch to batch.  CB ensures that while variation is inevitable, the same hedonistic profile will be delivered.  As the batch I sampled was not the first, I’m inclined to believe it.  What a luscious beauty.

The latest batch, MMXIV-A (fancy romany numerals for 2014-A), was bottled on Feb 6 of this year.  As Jake purchased the sample pack in March or April, it’s safe to assume what we tasted is from this batch.  That and I believe the sample pack is a relatively new CB product so it’s doubtful he purchased a previous year’s offering.This batch is a blend of two grain whiskies both distilled in 1997 making it a 16-17 year old blend depending on when the whisky went into the barrel and when it was pulled for bottling.  The age isn’t terribly important but it’s nice to know if you’re going to spend ~$100 on a bottle.  These grain whiskies came from the Girvan Distillery in South Ayrshire and the Cameronbridge Distillery in Fife.  CB doesn’t say this directly but the distillery towns are provided and as these are the only grain whisky distilleries in their respective towns, it’s understood.

Because I enjoyed this so much, but it’s expensive, my overall rating was very difficult to arrive at.  Were this even a $50 whisky I would readily recommend it as a stock bottle.  But at or over $100, I just can’t do that.  I waffled between nip/bar and bottle.  I would heartily recommend you at least go purchase yourself a sample at a local whisky bar or wherever you can.  It’s certainly worth that.  But, unless you like rich, sweet whiskies, it may not be worth it to purchase a whole bottle.  I did because my wife and I are expecting a child soon and I wanted something to open for that special celebratory occasion.  That made the price easily justifiable for me.  But under normal circumstances, $100 for this bottle would have me very thankful that I was able to sample it as I passed it by on the shelf for something cheaper.

Between the price and the expected variation from batch to batch (however slight it may be), my overall rating is nip/bar.  That being said, if you want something for really special occasions, I would readily recommend this.