I have been on a roll lately. A whisky roll. Well, and a whiskey roll. By nature, I tend to go on spurts of drinking particular beverages. While I used to fret and analyze about why, now I just enjoy the ride.
Certainly, discovering the joys of whisky cocktails has been a major driver of my increased consumption, but other things are at work too.
While I’ve written mostly about Scotch these past years, Bourbon was my first whisky love. At some point, I geeked out to the extent that the few bottles I was buying were high end, and I found fewer and fewer situations where I’d prefer to sip a neat Bourbon over a neat Scotch. So, things just sat on my shelf, and I hadn’t picked up but one bottle of Bourbon in the past 2 or 3 years. Getting over the stigma of drinking Bourbon other than straight got the ball rolling again.
Next, it dawned on me that, living in St. Louis, I’m not too far from prime Bourbon territory. Which means – BOURBON ROAD TRIP! So, purely in the interest of being a well-informed visitor-to-be, I figured I should bone up on the produce of our neighbors to the east. So far, I’ve managed my way nicely through some Old Forester, Four Roses (basic bottling), W. L. Weller Special Reserve, and Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old. All in all, it’s been a great time.
Russell's Reserve 10, W. L. Weller Special Reserve, Old Forester, Four Roses.
Canadian whisky, on the other hand, is something I was totally ignorant about. Apart from the homemade whisky/honey cough syrup my mother made for us as kids, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a drop of Canadian whisky in my life. Despite its rampant popularity in volume sales in the U.S., it flew completely under my radar, as it does for a lot of whisky folks.
I do have some personal twangs of nostalgia for Canadian whisky, as it was my dad’s tipple of choice when we’d go out to dinner. At the local supper club (yes, we had those in Michigan too), it was a CC&7 (Canadian Club and 7-Up), but at “fancy” restaurants, it was VO & Ginger (Seagram’s VO, and Ginger Ale which, being in Michigan, meant Vernor’s). Since Seagram’s VO was on sale at the local grocery for $12, I grabbed a bottle of that.
I’ve also been intrigued by the bevy of Irish whiskies showing up at local retailers. I’ve always enjoyed Irish enough to have a bottle around, but it’s usually been nothing other than the standard bottlings of Jameson or Bushmills, unless I was feeling flush enough to spring for a Red Breast. I started first with Powers, and was impressed. I’ll be back for more soon.
Islay Mist, Teacher's, Ballentine's, and Hankey Bannister
My old favorite, blended Scotch, has not been left out either. I’ve been working my way through some old favorites like Teacher’s and Islay Mist, but spreading out into others that my local awesome liquor store, The Wine & Cheese Place, stocks that so many other stores seem to skip right over
What many of the whiskies I’ve been sampling share is a connection with another time. Once, many of them were juggernauts in the market. Today, many have fallen well below eye level on the shelves. My heart is drawn to these whether it’s merely a desire to share something with a long gone loved one, or merely the old man with a bottle in his grocery cart. Plus, I can’t help but
want need to know what the whisky in those bottles tastes like. Sure, some of the brands may bear little resemblance to what they once were, but, what if they do? What if there are whiskies that are simply the forgotten children of some massive drinks conglomerate’s marketing department? What if the people who make them still put their hearts and souls into them? I am compelled to find out.
Finally is, frankly (crassly?), money. There is tremendous value to be had in these whiskies I’ve been exploring. The 1.75l bottle of Old Forester I’ve been enjoying? $23. That’s 39-1.5 oz. “servings” of Bourbon, or less than $0.60 a pour – the equivalent of finding a very good craft beer for $3.60 a six pack, or a potable bottle of wine for $2.50, neither of which is happening any time soon. So, I’m free to explore with a relatively clear conscience.
As I’m finishing these bottles off, look for some detailed posts on what I found, as well as some nuggets on the history of the brands and distilleries. I can tell you now that some are amazing bargains that really should find a place on your bar! And some that you’re probably just as well off letting me take for the team. But most of all? I’m having fun.