07 January 2010

Whisky In the Glass

I've a strong feeling it was drinking whisky what made me realize in part, that I was growing up. Good, hearty whisky, in a glass just made for my hand.

I don't mean the little nips like I used to take out of the decanter my parents had, the one that looked like an old fashioned fire wagon and sat on the end table we used to have in the living room. The bottle was beveled glass, and green-gold in color. It had all the little knobblies on the sides that just screamed 'classy'; classy for the mid-seventies, I guess. The bottle was where the coach would be, and the glasses sat in a little rack that I think was supposed to represent the horses. The whisky? Well, the whisky may have been complete shit, I wouldn't know because, well, how much of an expert on whisky can an eleven-year old boy be? All I know is, that we kids weren't supposed to drink it, so naturally that's what I did. I stole a swig every now and then when the 'rents were elsewhere, sucked it right out of the nozzle on the top, I did. Then coughed and gasped my way back to the bedroom wondering why in the world would anyone drink the stuff.

Yet, I never swore I'd never do it again.

And it wasn't the clandestine drinking I did as a teenager, swigging off a bottle of swiped by a friend, and huddled down between the cars in the school parking lot so no one would see us. Or while perched on the rustic throne of a picnic table at a local playground. Or sitting in the scrub woods of some nearby waste ground we used to use as a bike track. Jim Beam or Jack Daniels was the order of the day, because after all, they were the Dipstick of Masculinity when it came to a bunch of slightly misguided young males with more free time than common sense. You were The Shit if you could chug a few swallows of 'Jack Black' without coughing or puking.

I coughed once or twice, but never puked. I suppose that makes me The Sort-of-Shit. Nah, maybe just a dipstick, who once again wondered why anyone drank the stuff.

There was a gap of many years, ironically enough starting when I went off to college, that I didn't drink whisky. Beer was the order of the day, most days. The occasional shot of tequila found its way to my gullet, but not very often. Then one day about ten years ago, it got all up in my snoot that I like scotch. So I tried it, and found out that it was, most likely, what I had sipped so long ago (when I wasn't supposed to do). I was still trying to understand the attraction. The biting smokiness, the sting of the alcohol, the fumes that sometimes made me cough and shudder. There were some I sampled that only politeness and academic interest kept me from immediately spitting right back out. Additionally I had paid, sometimes a bit steeply, for the 'privilege' and did not want to waste it.

There was this evening where I was sitting at my desk at home, reading and listening to music, feet up. On the desk was a bottle of single-malt scotch that I had received as a gift. I was feeling quite 'old school' with my pour of a finger-and-a-half, and thinking myself quite fine. "Down the hatch!" and the shades of my past grinned in anticipation of the cough and shudder...

...but that didn't happen. Instead, I came to know that I was, whether I liked it or not, a 'grown-up'. I liked it, with nary a grimace or shiver.

In that swallow, I tasted the sting and the smoke, the sweetness and the bite. As it swirled in my mouth and warmed my gullet I realized I liked the prickliness of the whisky. I liked that it wasn't really that easy to drink it, if you expected it to be soft and accommodating. I liked that you have to treat it with respect, and even then it can sometimes reach up out of the glass and smack you. It was a drink that you had to accept on its own terms, good and bad, if you wanted to get full enjoyment out of it. Then came the epiphany. 

Holding that glass, feeling the warmth and the tickle of fumes in my throat, I realized that this acceptance of the thing on its own terms, to get the enjoyment? Well, that right there is a description of life. Life. 

I have gotten better at accepting life on its own terms, the joy and the bitterness, the salve and the sting. It dawned on me, finally, that embracing the contradictions instead of fighting them leads to a fuller and more satisfying experience. 

Not unlike a wee dram of whisky now and again, enjoyed in quiet contemplation. It means I'm growing up.

A question, dear readers: What was your grown-up epiphany?


  1. I think my ephipany of being "all growed up" came when my daughter was born and my wife asked me to get rid of the motorcycle. No more crazy hair-brained schemes of zipping up to Estes Park in the middle of the night to sip whiskey in the Stanley Steamer Hotel, and then riding back as fast as I could, laying the bike over as far as I could at every corner to see how close I could get my knee to the asphalt without splashing myself on the white line. I can't say that I didn't throw a childish tantrum, but I was "growed up" enough to get rid of the bike. (Lately, though, I've been hinting to my wife about motorcycles, 'cause I think I'm tired of being "all growed up!"

  2. Too early in the morning for that question, Irish. But I love the is-what-it-isness of this. Really nicely done.

  3. My grown up epiphany? I think it was when my mother started to call ME for advice. I had to realize she was aging and the world had changed faster than she could comprehend. It flattered me that she would want my help.

    Love the scotch tales. My husband is a big scotch drinker and I admit, I love the smell of scotch. I've never tried to drink it. Might have to check on that.

  4. Epiphanies aside, this is a wonderful summation of the path to appreciating a challenging but beautiful drink. When I was a kid I did the same with my dad's whisky, just unscrewing the top and taking a sniff. I almost passed out, but it was intriguingly repellent, so I came back again and again. I realised years later that the reason it smelt so bad was because it was blended Bell's Scotch - awful stuff. Probably the old man's way of putting me off the drink while he hid the malts in a locked cupboard. I can only drink the 10-year-olds now, or Bourbon, or Irish whiskey. Which admittedly covers a good range.

    I once went out with a girl whose dad bought supermarket brand whisky, then poured it into a Bell's bottle for guests. I never had the heart to tell him that they were both shit, so he was wasting his time.

  5. Well, you know I adore single malts. I have a half-full bottle of Dalwhinnie, a half-full bottle of Talisker (which I've really taken a shine to recently - it's so wonderfully peaty) and a half-full bottle of Aberlour in my liquor cabinet right now (which, coincidentally, locks because I have a teenage boy in the house). Methinks I shall have a sip or two this evening; it's so cold outside and we're expecting a big snow storm.

    I think I realized I was really and truly an adult when, in my mid 30s, I began to date again...and my older children, who were 14 and 10 respectively, were absolutely appalled by the idea.

  6. Embracing life, the small things I mean, is definitely the key.

    Picnic tables count as thrones?

  7. I suppose I used to feel that not throwing up was a sign I was tough; until I added a cigar to the mix, and spent the next day crawling around in angst...

    Now I guess learning to ignore the negative is my real challenge, and how I talk to my son as he is maturing...I clink my shot glass to all that lay before me...

  8. I promised never to grow up. Have you never seen an old school Toys R Us commercial?

    It was probably when my son was born and I kind of went, Holy sh*t what did I do?

    Of late, it's realizing we are about to begin move number 9 in 8 years. I'm all, whatever, just pack the stuff and let's go.

    That may not be growing up actually, that may just be submitting to the forces.

  9. "with more free time than common sense"

    you sold your soul to the devil
    i hope you're happy

    my epiphany was when i realized that my father wasnt perfect. it scared the shit out of me, quite frankly.

  10. My grown-up epiphany?

    I was 26 years old, married for about 5 or 6 months and I was shopping with my mother and my sister, Jeanne. I was sitting in the back seat of my sister's station wagon, on the way to the mail, when I sat straight up and yelled, "OH MY GOD!!!!!" My sister slammed on the brakes and looked back, startled, yelled, "WHAT!!!" In disbelief, I said, "I'M MARRIED!!" It hit me like a ton of bricks!

  11. I don't think I've had one yet....

  12. Very interesting Irish. Whiskey has been my on/off tipple since my late teens.
    Although I can go for months without touching a drop I always find my way back to it in the end!

    'I liked that you have to treat it with respect, and even then it can sometimes reach up out of the glass and smack you. It was a drink that you had to accept on its own terms, good and bad, if you wanted to get full enjoyment out of it'.

    I couldn't have said it better myself.

  13. I don't think I've ever actually had that epiphany. I grew up way too young due to my situation at home growing up, and I've had to be responsible for my own welfare a long, long time. Even becoming a mother at 19 was no big deal in that respect. I can't remember a time when I didn't have to feed myself, do my own laundry, find my own transportation somewhere instead of asking a parent....I'm kind of looking forward to my daughter going off to college so maybe I can actually do things I want to do, and maybe be a kid again for a little while.

  14. My revealing moment was purchasing 'new' furniture; bedroom set, couch, coffee/side tables. No more second hand stuff.

  15. Getting married, getting my first career job, and buying our first house--within the span of 3 months. It was a change in mindset from single and free to a lot of responsibility. There were times that it was more of an "oh shit" moment than an epiphany.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...