I had this way of picking up things and drinking them when I was a kid, probably like most kids do. When I was 3, the electrician came at night to fix something or other and my mom offered him a beer, which he drank a sip of and left on the living room table.
I picked that bad boy up and drank the whole thing. Then I jumped up and down in my cot, laughing my ass off for about 2 hours and then I passed out stone cold and woke up feeling fine the next day. There’s Irish in me, not a lot (my grandfather was half English, half Irish), but enough ;)
I think about a year later I had my first taste of whisky. My mom has always enjoyed a whisky and soda in the evenings and had poured herself a glass and left it on her bedside table. I thought it was just water and took a sip, but unlike the beer, I didn’t down the whole thing because it tasted like crap.
I spent the rest of my childhood sober until I was about 12 or 13 and my good buddy Ricky T and myself drank our way through three six packs of his dad’s “Two Dogs Alcoholic Lemonade”. Two Dogs was like an aborted first attempt at an alca-pop and tasted awful, but did the job pretty damn well.
How we thought we’d get away with drinking his dad’s entire stash is something I don’t think we gave much thought, if any, at the time.
From that point, the story gets long and complicated and I won’t get into any of the details except to say that from an early age, I was never shy to drink like a goddamn fish. I’ve never been an alcoholic and have very seldom if ever gotten drunk alone or binged for longer than four days, but I learned to drink hard and I did it well.
At varsity I started drinking whisky because I thought it looked cool and for R6 you could get a double First Watch at one of the bars in Grahamstown and so naturally I drank that foul fucking stuff like mother’s milk. You could clean engine parts with First Watch. It’s Canadian whiskey, which means they use rye instead of barley to make it and because of that it can be quickly mass-produced and sold much cheaper than normal whisky. It’s nasty, but damn! It does the job.
Back then, a bottle of Jack Daniels was my idea of a fine whisky. Me, Barman and Graumpot had a tradition where we’d buy one another a bottle when our birthdays rolled around and sip it on ice. Bleaugh. What the hell were we thinking?
After varsity I drank Bells with an air of faux sophistication and thought myself an accomplished whisky-drinker. Eventually I tired of the taste though and gave up on whisky in general, that is until about three years ago.
I started working PR for the Whisky Live Festival and as a part of that, went on a number of whisky tastings and started to learn a little about the spirit. Over time, my interest for whiskey began to mature naturally because of the close contact I had with it and the people involved in the big liquor marketing and distribution companies in South Africa and I found the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.
All of this culminated recently when I attended ‘Whisk(e)y 101’ with the College Of Whisky, the first part of the course they put together to train people to become whisky presenters. Since that course, I’ve been enjoying various whiskies on an almost nightly basis (Talisker, Singleton, Bushmills 16 y/o, a bottle of Dimple 15 y/o) and amazingly, this spirit, the flavour of which was once almost inaccessible to me, is slowly opening up.
I find myself admiring this amber liquid against the light, watching the legs fall and wondering what journey that dram took to find its way to me.
The thing about fine whisky is that it is made through a process that cannot be speeded up and as such, it is almost immune to the unnatural acceleration that has come to define the way humans do things.
I take comfort in that fact. I take comfort in the thought that somewhere across the world, a master distiller still picks his way through his distillery, nosing and tasting his whisky as it lies in oak casks, his palate able to almost distinguish individual atoms of scent and taste, waiting for the perfect moment to blend or bottle his whisky so that when it reaches us, all the way down here in Africa, the product we are getting is perfect in every way.
The simple pleasure I get out of enjoying a dram of good whisky far outweighs any of the times I drank the stuff to get shit-faced back in varsity which, I guess, is a clear sign that I’m getting old ;)
The end with, here’s one of my favourite whisky quotes, 10 points to the person who guesses who said it:
“The water was not fit to drink. To make it more palatable, we had to add whisky. By diligent effort, I learned to like it.”