Ruminating Whiskey

We get older and our tastes change. These days I’m acquiring a penchant for whiskey, something that never really floated my boat when I was younger.

Maybe it’s a simple matter of control and restraint. At my age, I am happily devoid of the urge to gulp potables. Whiskey isn’t something one drinks in abundance unless one is a sot, and I’m most definitely not. For one thing, I’m far too busy to indulge in sot-dom; for another, I get hangovers disgracefully easily; for another, I have to get up at an obscenely early time on workdays, given my long commute and 8:00 AM first class.

Thus I can offer a few thoughts on some various whiskies that I’ve tried. Zero pretense here about being an educated booze reviewer or any kind of discriminating critic. I just recognize what I like and don’t like. Perhaps I might steer you away from something nasty, or towards something nice. That said, my field of acquaintance is quite small. It takes me a long time to work my way through a bottle of booze, so I don’t branch out very much.

With that in mind, here are some cheers and one (loud) sneer. Let’s get the negativity out of the way first.

Sneer: Jack Daniel’s black label

Mein Gott in Himmel, what the hell do they put in this stinky crap. It almost tastes like bottled smoke flavoring. Or maybe they traipsed around rural Tennessee and scooped up all the moldy, wet campfire ashes they could find. Nasty, nasty. Undrinkable, really. I suppose you could dump an ounce or so into a bottled Coke for a cheap buzz. But that’s not what I want in whiskey. Or in a bottled Coke, for that matter.

I have a 3/4-full bottle of JD sitting in the pantry. Why I bought it in the first place, I’ll never know. Maybe I was feeling cheap. My guess is that it will evaporate before I ever use it again. Maybe I should just pour it down the kitchen sink and be done with it. It might dissolve a bit of grease or something.

Cheer: Bulleit Rye

I like rye. It makes the best Manhattan, which is my favorite mixed cocktail, especially in partnership with Camparo Antiqua vermouth and just a whiff of an interesting bitters along the lines of Snappy’s Orange Bitters or good old Angostura. There’s simply nothing to quibble about with Bulleit. Maybe it isn’t one of those super-expensive types that the hoity-toity cocktail crowd fetishes. But it makes a damn good Manhattan, and it’s just fine on its own as a nippy-sippy whiskey on the rocks. If you have Bulleit Rye in your liquor cabinet, you are assured a reasonably pleasurable Happy Hour.

Cheer (Appreciative): Hudson Single-Malt Whiskey

OK, it’s probably more like a Scotch or Irish than a bourbon. But sheesh, is it ever smooth and fine and easy on the palate. It’s best with a bit of ice or a splash of water, but in my humble opinion that’s true of most decent whiskeys. And some bitters are welcome; I particularly like Snappy’s Orange Bitters with Hudson Single-Malt.

Downside: it’s about $50 for a medium-sized bottle. But then again, cheap booze is as cheap booze does. You want something to power the lawn mower, then hie thee to the lower shelf. Hudson tends to be top shelf and behind locked glass doors in most liquor stores, even out here in sweetly domestic Brentwood where the sots stagger unseen in immaculate single-family detached houses. And it’s 92 proof, so mind your sipping rhythm if you’d prefer not to crawl to bed.

Cheer (Loud): Jameson Irish Whiskey

Another light-hued and clear-flavored whiskey, a little less vivid than the Hudson Single-Malt, Jameson’s isn’t all that expensive but I’ve found that I enjoy it as much as considerably more expensive libations. It’s really an excellent basic whiskey to have on hand for all occasions.

Cheer (And a Respectful Salute): Basil Hayden Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

If you’ve been sipping on some Hudson or Jameson, a Basil Hayden can be like turning up the color on the TV. It’s a rye-ish bourbon with a robust body despite its light hue. It has some hair on its chest, in other words, and a certain depth of flavor despite its overall light-ish demeanor. It’s particularly good with Woodford Reserve bitters, which have enough ka-pow to stand up to its vibrancy.

Cheer (And a Celebratory Woo-Woo Chorus): Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Damn, it’s a good whiskey. Smooth, flavorful, refined. Great color. Lovely balanced flavor. It mixes gorgeously and makes almost as good a Manhattan as Bulleit Rye, albeit a bit sweeter.

You just can’t go wrong with it. Nor is it all that expensive, given its overall quality. I suppose it’s really the desert-island whiskey of choice; you can get it almost anywhere, and it’s reliably good. Oh, it’s not some super-elevated small-batch whiskey. It’s not even as elevated as Hudson, which is about as elevated as I’m inclined to get. But it’s just fine and dandy, dandy and fine, always a pleasure and reliable as the sunrise.

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