My whiskey rebellion

The real Whiskey Rebellion occurred in western Pennsylvania. Tax guys were none too popular, this back when a “tar and feathering” didn’t just mean everybody making fun of you, it meant that, yep, scalding hot tar would be slathered all over your body and real chicken feathers applied to give it a sort of glued-in effect hard to duplicate by only using viral YouTube videos.

Eventually, Washington intervened–not the city, I’m talking actual George, thus giving birth to the federal tax structure, as we know it (i.e. pay up or else, even if you’re the most noted “Furniture Dealer” in Prohibition-era Chicago).

I restricted my own whiskey rebellion to North State Street in Chicago, mere steps from Rt. 41. On an uneventful (i.e., no special occasion) Wednesday I declared independence from the Republic of Bourbon in favor of the Wearin’ o’ the Plaid.

OK, basically I ordered four Scotches. This is a departure from tradition for me, and this tradition dates back to 1975 when I first met Mr. Scotch and he got the better of me. I won’t say he tarred me, but maybe I did get a little feathered, because when it came to ordering Scotch I turned chicken. My favorite whiskey choice, Maker’s Mark, is fine straight up, usually though with an ice cube—yes, I know it’s not recommended, thanks—and even a nice twist of orange rind, and if an errant little drip of squeezed orange does happen to fall into my glass, well, I don’t rinse it out and start over.

Cocktail time? I do like me a whiskey sour on occasion—the occasion being, “Anybody want a whiskey sour?”—with, yep, the obligatory orange slice, the entire circle please, plus a full-stem Maraschino (let’s just do the thing right, OK?). And for this I prefer a plain old Canadian whiskey. Seven Crown is just fine by me.

What happened back in 1975, you ask? Nothing spectacular, so don’t get your hopes up.

I was twenty years old and visiting London, an American exchange student on my first international trip. I could legally drink hard liquor. Back home, I had been living in a state of suspended imbibe-ation: Illinois was 19-for-beer-and-wine, and I was not the type who drove to Wisconsin like a lot of people would have (OK, did) just to be able to drink more harder. I was the type who wasn’t especially even fond of American beers, because back in the 70s if you wanted a premium beer, you ordered Michelob. (Fortunately for my beer education, although I definitely do not want to get ahead of myself here, by the mid-70s the Real Ale movement was already started in Britain. The British Real Ale movement, kind of like a whiskey rebellion without the 90-proof, was the precursor, and probably the pre-curser, of the microbrew explosion here in the US. It takes a while, but people do get tired of bad beer).

However, as you surely are suspecting and probably rooting for, once I was in the British Isles (to be entirely truthful I was actually only in one British Isle; namely the actual British one, Britain) things began to slowly evolve, i.e., within hours of landing at Heathrow I was ensconced in a bottle of Scotch.

This was not my idea. I did not touch down craning my neck for the Duty-Free shops. Instead I was just really, really tired and jet-lagged, thus lowering my resistance, thus causing me to think it would be a novel idea to stay up for a second night in a row (counting the pond-hop as night one of the ordeal), thus causing me to join right in with two respected and good-hearted University of Illinois professors (my faculty advisors), and their annual ritual: yes, you guessed it I’m sure, to sit up in the hotel lounge until the bottle was emptied. I was just helping.

We had glasses, we had the alluded-to Duty-Free bottle of amber evil, we could get ice about six cubes at a time, and there were girls there for a while. I resolved to dig in for the long haul, figuring I could probably outlast professorial types in their fifties. I hadn’t counted on them being ex-Marine-buddies. I didn’t stand a chance, especially when they ganged up on me.

By 2 a.m., though, it was three on one, us against the bottle, and I won’t say I was an honorary ex-Marine or anything (even after a half-dozen Scotches I knew better than that), but a certain camaraderie develops in which even if I was willing to forgive and forget that the roommate assigned to me was a high school kid, I still didn’t want to cash it in and go upstairs.

I think I lasted until 4. I ended up stumbling along a winding British old-school funky stairway, or maybe I ascended in the wee lift, I honestly don’t remember anything except sleeping in until almost tea (that’d be supper to you Yanks) the next day.

Ever since then? I’m not that fond of Scotch. Yet . . . on a given Wednesday, faced with a small menu titled “Whiskey Wednesdays” at Sable Kitchen & Bar on North State, and the possibility of ordering an entire flight (yes, the term did bring me back subliminally at least to the thrilling days of Heathrow): sherry-cask-finished Scotches. They numbered four:

  • Glenmorangie Lasanta (12-year-old, 92 proof)
  • Aberlour (12-year-old, 86 proof)
  • Glenturret G&M Exclusive (10-year-old, 110 proof)
  • Bowmore Darkest (15-year-old, 86 proof)

My companions-in-error were two of my sons, and we utilized the sophisticated gustatory technique of passing the glass from one hand to the next (ending of course with the guy “coming down with something”). It was easy to detect the sherry notes, but I have to admit that my palate was clueless when it came to finding cinnamon, vanilla, sugared dates (as opposed, I guessed, to normal dates?) stewed fruit, and thick clover honey. I couldn’t find the honey much less the thick clover.

It was nice that each serving came with a little description of what the drinking experience was supposed to taste like, so if you got confused you could easily resort to things like, “The palate is rich with spice, ripe banana, mango, and hazelnut,” instead of just going, “Tastes like Scotch.” And only the last one was described as peated, (rhymes with fetid) which was important in that I know I wouldn’t have ordered two “Peats” out of four, and it automatically limited me to one bad joke about Peat Rosé (that’s a blush wine mixed with Scotch). It was also fortunate that the peat-infused Scotch was last in flight order, because by the time Flight 4 was cleared for take-off I knew I’d be sufficiently primed to weather any kind of “finish.” The clear winner was Number Three, because not only did it have the best name, but also the best batting average. Not to be snooty, but I would describe the sensation like this: it tasted real good.

How’d the whole flight go, you ask? Delicious, if by delicious you mean, gone. I enjoyed the experience, but I won’t be trading, one-for-one, Kentucky for Loch Ness or anything. The experience was more fun than the whiskey was delectable, but my palate is now a lot more educated. In fact, on the way home I was able to have a conversation with my palate. It started with him asking, “What the hell was that?” Then the Marine Hymn started playing.


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