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About this Blog

Welcome to Po'Nutrition Fax! This blog is about alcohol - it has nothing to do with health or wellness, and the only relationship between this and Edgar Allen Poe is that he was an alcoholic.

I used to work in a liquor store and developed a taste for all different types of booze. As my collection grew, I felt the need to share my knowledge of, interest in, and experiences with my purchases - from the standards (e.g. whisk(e)y, gin) to the less-than-standard (e.g. kirschwasser, raki). You'll also find a lot on beer (another love of mine).

This is not about how much I can drink nor do I promote over-excess of alcohol. As with most blogs, there is some self-reflection included with most of the reviews. The point is to encourage everyone to reflect on what they drink.

Leave comments or ask questions! Also, "follow" me if you like what you read - I am not making money from this blog but if I see more interest in this and hear some feedback, it will encourage me to write more.

Cheers!
Mike

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Whisk(e)y - Part 1

In my previous post I happened to mention my love of whisk(e)y. "Love" is a notoriously inadequate word in the English language that one can throw around to describe a relationship with someone or to something else. I don't intend to get philosophical about the true meaning of "love" but I only intend to imply that the relationship I have with whisk(e)y is not one of love. Love involves two parties and whisk(e)y cannot feel anything. If the feeling goes one way, it can't be described as "love." To outsiders, it may seem like I am whisk(e)y's creepy stalker.

I had a similar feeling about Heidi Klum at one point in my life. I had a poster of her, this one in fact:

It hung above my bed, however, there was nothing overtly sexual about my relationship with Heidi and this poster. I was bewitched by her beauty. I collected other pictures of her that I cut out and taped around the poster. My friends (Kara and Suzie - yes, I had female friends that enabled this) provided me with copies of Victoria's Secret catalogs that I would go through to find the newest pictures. I eventually constructed quite a collage. I became so familiar with some of the images that I didn't bother cutting out the pictures where the editors had just changed the color of her sweater. As the collection grew, it became a "celebration" of her beauty - but to others, it looked kind of creepy. I eventually realized this and tore it all down, including the poster. I didn't "love" Heidi Klum herself, my relationship was with the image (gender studies?) and the collage I created. There wasn't love, I never considered it love, had I said that then I would've realized the "creepy" factor much earlier. This poster/collage was more of a... captivation.

Captivation! This is the word that adequately describes my relationship to whisk(e)y. So captivated that, despite my limited income at the time, I splurged on this crystal glass to fully experience whisk(e)y:


Anglicized from the Goidelic Celtic languages translation of "aqua vitae"(uisce beatha in Irish, uisge beatha in Scots Gaelic), whisk(e)y is the "water of life." Aqua vitae was generally distilled from grapes or other fruits, but these don't grow as well or are just not as abundant in the British Isles as grains. When it comes to making alcohol, if it has sugar in it, you can get booze out of it. The people of the British Isles were already making beer (different from modern beer) so whisk(e)y is essentially distilled from beer. Teasing the fermentable sugars out of the grain is not as easy to do as it is with a fruit but it can be done - and I'm very glad someone figured this out long ago.

What fascinates me about whisk(e)y is how varied it is. I have two major categories of whisk(e)y: Old World and New World. As mentioned above, whisk(e)y is distilled from grain and this is what (besides geography) distinguishes these two categories. Old World whiskies use barley as the central grain while New World ones use mostly corn/maize. Other adjunct ingredients grains can be used (except anything labelled as a "single malt" - those only use malted barley) such as wheat and rye. Each grain provides a different attribute to the final spirit. Some distillers will make one mash bill (grain mixture) and distill that, others will make a few different mashes and blend to create a new product from each one, but this is only the first step; now it is time to age the whisk(e)y.

Most whiskies are aged in oak. However, oak is used to age nearly every other spirit so the distiller can choose to age, or just "finish," the whisk(e)y in, for example, used sherry barrels (a lot of Speyside single malt scotches use this method giving them their distinct "sweet" quality). Now the distiller/blender has to decide how long the whisk(e)y ages, where in the warehouse the barrel will sit, how often to check it, how often to move it - all of these decisions influence the final product.

As I write this I am enjoying Caol Ila (pronounced "keel-eel-a") 12-yr Single Malt (but not in the fancy glass pictured above). Like other Islay malts, it has a very iodine-rich, smoky flavor. There are also hints of thyme and orgeano on the nose and the peat flavors give way to bitter greens and brine. Its pale-straw color is misleading since one would not expect such a strong aroma and flavor from something so light in color. The fires used to halt the germinating process (which breaks down the complex starches of the barley into fermentable sugar) are fueled by Islay peat, and the smoke from this fire imparts that smoky flavor into the barley. This is how the barley is malted and part of why this scotch is called "single malt." The "single" part means that the whisky only comes from one distillery. I am fascinated about the process that got it to my hand and I ponder all the decisions made at least 12 years ago (anything with an age statement on the bottle can only include whiskies of that age or older). I appreciate whisk(e)y for what it is, the processes that made it (both its history and chemistry).

I will not "tear down" this object of my captivation as I did to my poster/collage. Fortunately, this object won't raise as many eyebrows or elicit as many whispers. Even if it did, it is (admittedly) a lot less creepy to have a collection of whisk(e)y bottles than a collection of pictures of a supermodel above my bed; I don't think Martha (my girlfriend) would appreciate the latter either. So here's to you Heidi, I apologize for how things ended but it was for the best. Slainte.

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