by VWC Member Rusty Evenson.
I’m sure a lot of you reading this can remember the first whisk(e)y you ever drank. I will apologize to the purists up front as I will be spelling it ‘whiskey’ collectively from here on out. For many of you, I’m sure your first sampling likely had a 7 of some sort; a crown; a coat of arms; or a red dot with an Irish fella’s initials and indication he worked with his boys adorning the label. And if you were anything like me, you blazed through that bottle as quickly as you could because you weren’t necessarily fond of the flavor by itself, but you did enjoy the way it made you feel. And let’s not forget how much better looking, braver, wiser, and stronger it made you.
As a boy, I can recall Dad and Grandpa drinking scotch together. Neither Dad nor Grandpa were bourbon guys. Dad’s go-to was a 12-year-old blend produced by the oldest continuously operating highland distillery. His favorite was made by the same company but aged 21 years. I don’t think it's a coincidence the same hooch became my routine go-to since Dad would pour me a glass any time I came home on leave. To this day it remains a staple in my cabinet.
When I was a young man, I wasn’t necessarily a fan of whiskey. Oh sure, I could mix it with cola or a citrusy soda pop and it would be just fine. But I wasn’t particularly fond of whiskey by itself. I found it too harsh and fiery. I couldn’t appreciate the textured flavors I would find in it later in life. I would also attribute some of my dissatisfaction with whiskey to being so broke I was rolling pennies for gas. Why spend $20-$30 for a bottle of something I wasn’t necessarily fond of when I could buy a case of beer for the same price? Even after I got married and had kids, my enlisted paychecks were barely covering the necessities. Adult beverages would have to wait until after I got milk into my kids’ bellies.
So, what changed? What made me go from not really liking whiskey to it being one of my favorite things to pour and share with my friends? Perhaps it is true that your taste buds change through the years. There was a time when I didn’t like sushi either. But that too changed. But I still don’t like brussels sprouts. My dad introduced me to scotch which just grew on me over time. And my brother-in-law introduced me to bourbon. That is to say I learned from my brother-in-law that while all sour mash can be considered bourbon, not all bourbon is sour mash. And more importantly, not all mash is the same.
I can actually pinpoint the evening I changed my mind about bourbon. Or maybe, more to the point, bourbon changed my mind. My brother-in-law was a staunch bourbon drinker whilst I remained true to scotch. At the beginning of one family get-together, he made a batch of simple syrup, sliced up some very fresh oranges, and commenced to concocting an old fashioned with his go-to bourbon whose bottle is sealed with a red wax. After a couple of rounds of drinking, laughing, and watching the kids run around the backyard, he got up, noticed my glass was about empty, and offered to bring me another one since he was up. Instead of bringing me out another glass of scotch, he brought out an old fashioned. When I mentioned it was the wrong color and had fruit in it, he apologized and started to take it back. I said, “Hold on. I’ll give it a go.” It was delicious. A few rounds later, we ran out of the simple syrup he made and just started drinking it straight. It was the most enlightening accident ever.
Now that I’ve had a few more trips around the sun and my paychecks aren’t spent before I get them, I’ve sampled all sorts of whiskey from all parts of the world (the Navy helped in this endeavor). Some I’ve liked. Some I’ve loved. Some I’ll never touch again. I have found I prefer some neat while others are preferred over rocks. And some are better mixed than straight. But what remains true with every whiskey I found I enjoy; I enjoy it more when I share it with friends and family.