Sweet Whiskey

There is a liquor store attached to the Publix in Winter Park. I go there when I’m in a rush and have a little time left over after shopping for groceries. The attendants in the store vary from day to day, shift to shift, but one is an attractive women in her 20s. Someone like her would have been out of my class if I had met her back in the early 80s, but now that I’m 57 I find that I have little trouble communicating as I no longer entertain any hope (or genuine desire) for anything beyond a pleasant chat. But I still found myself feeling deflated when she corrected me one day after I told her I prefer bourbon over scotch. I said,” Scotch has an aftertaste that reminds me of dirty sweat socks. I know that I’m supposed to like the peat flavor, but Kentucky bourbon has a cleaner finish.” She lowered an eyelid and sneered, “Some folks like a sweet liquor, but I prefer the smoky flavor of a good scotch. It tastes more complicated and rich.” That day I had chosen a bottle of Jesse James that tasted neither smoky nor sweet and was a cheap option that fit the funds in my wallet. I slunk away as she stared at me with a fixed smile on her face. When she said, “Have a nice day,” she really meant, “Real men (with cash) drink scotch.”

At the ABC on Semoran the clerks look a lot less attractive as they are all middle aged men, but they are quietly helpful when I go nosing around the whiskey aisle. They’re happy to take my money when I buy bourbon and assume no air of disapproval when I pass by the scotch. The manager steered me to W.L. Weller a few years ago. This whiskey runs from 90 to 100 proof, but my favorite bottle is an aged 90 proof that looks golden brown, has a fierce initial sting, and finishes with a long, mellow release. A couple of sips kindle a sweet glow in my mind that tells me that everything is going to be all right, and that I live in a civilized world where a man can relax for a few minutes and let go of his troubles.

Cooper’s Mark and Woodford Reserve run a close second and third when I decide where to put down cash for whiskey. Cooper’s Mark runs the same price as Weller and has similar strengths. Woodford Reserve tastes more complex than either of the other two, but costs about a third more. I don’t have sophisticated palate, but even I can taste hints of vanilla and perhaps cherry in the liquor. The whiskey is aged in charred barrels for at least seven years, and the product rivals the best scotch in its rich, subtle flavor. I buy it when I am flush or when I feel the need to reassert my dignity as a human being. Woodford is a crutch for my self-esteem when I get turned down for an art exhibition, after dealing with insurance agents bent on taking my money without providing benefits, and after I’ve returned from a physical exam and was told once again, “At your age you no longer can expect to…”

I come from a family who liked whiskey to excess, and am cautious about the amount of drinks I take in a day, week, or month. My wife suspects that I may be following in my father’s footsteps and cautions me that the slope is slippery and steep. I know that booze cannot fully take away grief, aches and care, and that I will have to square up to and face the difficulties of my present situation. Time spent in a whiskey glow is time wasted. But at the end of a day spent in anxious frustration I have an urge to put aside Puritanical worries and to enjoy a moment of release. Prayer and meditation might have the same soothing effect, and I’ve heard that nothing sounds as sweet as the voices of angels. But until I reach nirvana or sit before the heavenly throne, I’ll take time out on occasion to sit in my recliner with a good book, sip a glass of liquid gold and let the words and the alcohol carry me away.


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