A Story About Whisky
by Darcy O'Neil on December 2011
The subject of whisky is one of those topics that can go on forever. There are magazines and websites dedicated to just one particular whisky region, there are zealots who defend their brand with the same heart one would defend a country. Then there are those who scream blasphemy at the thought of adding anything to a single malt scotch, since it would "ruin" it. Then there are people like me, who appreciate everything for what it is and wouldn't hesitate to make a Rusty Nail using single malt scotch. Why not, there will always be more whisky and who knows, it may just be the best thing I ever tasted. If I don't try I will never know, so expanding one's mind, by trying new and different things, is good. So what's my point? Well, this is some history on how I developed a taste for whisky.
When I was in college many years ago I drank good, cold, Canadian beer. Labatt's Blue was my beer of choice (I was 19 at the time go easy on me) with the occasional foray into other brands and styles like Red Strip and Molson X and Molson Y. That was a promotion by Molson to get you to buy two beers, compare them, and vote for your favourite. The one that won would become a new brand, which doesn't exists anymore, it was very short lived. Good promotion though.
Beer was good, it went well with nachos and chicken wings, which could be had for 5¢ each on Wednesday nights at a cool bar called 'The Other Side' that we frequented. The problem with beer is that when a group of college guys gets together it can disappear pretty quickly. Also, when we decided whose place to hang out we would always go to whoever had beer. This could get expensive if you kept regular inventory.
After realizing that the gang could home-in and devourer a case of beer in short order, I decided I needed a new money saving strategy. At first I decided to buy beer that no one liked, including myself. I tried Guiness, which was tough at first because at the time it was a tad bitter for my virgin palate. Then I went for Labatt Ice, but the gang adapted and started to like the Ice. Then I tried Black Label, still not to my liking, and some of my friends developed a unique beer drinking strategy of eating crackers—Nabisco saltines—to cleanse their palate of any bad taste from these new beers. Pretzles would have at least made them look cool, but nope, crackers were their choice. Freaks I tell you. Over time these experiments in beer allowed me to acquire a taste for many micro-brews and unique beers that I enjoy today.
Eventually I realized I was on the wrong path. I needed to get something the gang wouldn't even approach, or cleanse with crackers. That's when I decided whisky was the trick. Now Canadian whisky is very approachable and mixes well with Coke and other assorted beverages, so this wouldn't work. Scotch on the other hand doesn't mix very well with Coke, and most of the gang would not be interested in this spirit. So off I went to the liquor store on a quest for a bottle of scotch. Since this was new for me, I decided I'd buy a decent bottle and hope that it tasted good. A decent bottle being more expensive than the cheapest—at the time there was no Internet to consult. As I browsed the isle looking at the vast array of scotch, I came across a cool looking bottle. This scotch was Cardhu. It was only about $40 for the bottle, so I decided that was the one I was going to buy. You see, after five guys finish off 24 bottles of beer that you just bought, a $40 bottle of scotch is actually cheap.
I was not a complete whisky virgin since I did like Canadian Club whisky mixed with Coke, or club soda. Now, I was smart enough to realize that Coke was not the answer, but club soda might be good. I actually remember trying the Cardhu straight and I wasn't all that impressed. Once I mixed it with club soda I actually found it tolerable. It was different than the Canadian Club that I drank, but not so different that it was unpalatable.
After night classes, we would usually go out for a beer and wings, but on the weekend we would gather at whoever had the most beer. This time I had just a few beers and my bottle of Cardhu. The gathering occurred, and the response was predictable: "What the hell is that" I stated that I was going to try something new just for the hell of it. They shrugged and started their hunt for beer. They drank the beer and once that was out, they completely ignored the scotch. We had to do a "beer run" to resupply the beer stocks, and they paid for the beer. So far so good.
As I drank my scotch and soda, I started to realize that scotch wasn't that bad and you didn't have to be 95 years old to drink it. Now it wasn't easy drinking straight or even on ice, when I was 20, but diluted with soda it worked for me. I also realized that if beer was filling me up, or I need something different, at the bar, a scotch and soda would do the trick. As time went on the volume of scotch in the bottle became less and less. If we went out to a party, I'd occasionally bring my Cardhu with me, and if I crashed at someone's place, the bottle was never touched. It was great, I seemed to have solved the problem of disappearing alcohol.
Eventually the Cardhu bottle became another dead soldier, which died with great honour. It had introduced me to scotch, in a friendly and unpretentious way. At the time I never realized that there would be people who would scold me for drinking it with club soda but thankfully I never met one of them, otherwise I probably would have been turned off from scotch for a longer period of time. The idea of some guy with a thick Scottish accent, yelling at me in a tongue that I don't understand, about the abuse of such a fine product would have confused and scared me.
So that's how I acquired my taste for whisky. This is also how my mentality of "your drink, your way" developed. I'm not going to serve a 19 year old a shot of scotch, straight, because that's the way it should be imbibed. I'm going to try and make it enjoyable for him, without covering up the unique flavours of the spirit. Whisky is an acquired taste and we need to ease people into it and allow them to appreciate it at their own pace.
I assume most other people acquire their taste by doing shots of "Jack" at frat parties.