• Mark Zimmerman

The Taste of Whiskey

A few years ago I decided to become a whiskey enthusiast, being that I am a resident of Tennessee and already a whiskey-drinking enthusiast. I started to collect bottles.

My doctor is one of them. He travels the backroads of Kentucky, hunting down stores with names like Uncle Dunkin's in search of the elusive 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle. He has many display cases of rare booze in his home, and his wife hasn't left him yet.

Myself, I won a raffle for a bottle of 10-year-old Rip Van Winkle, valued, some say, in the four figures. Haven't opened it yet but I saw a half-empty bottle of it on the shelf at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone in Nawlins and had to have a glass. Cost me dearly but it was worth it. What do they say, it's only money? Speaking of which, I enjoyed a very rare win-streak during a recent trip to Vegas and treated myself to a 25-year-old (minds out of the gutter) single-malt Scotch whisky at the Montecristo in Caeser's Palace. Two fingers neat for $67. Was it worth it? Let's just say, my palate experienced a circus of unprecedented taste sensations.

As you can tell, I'm not very nuanced at describing the taste of whiskey. It's like music--if it's good I like it. Once, at a whiskey-tasting class at the famed Whisky Attic (a 10,000-bottle repository in Vegas) in which I happened to be the only student, I asked expert instructor JD, what is the best whisky in the world? His reply--the whiskey that tastes the best to you.

BTW, it's spelled both ways. In Tennessee and Kentucky, it's whiskey. In Scotland and some other places, it's whisky.

I get a big kick out of reading reviews of whisky brands published regularly in the journals by sophisticates whose tastebuds are so sensitive they must be insured for millions. A typical review goes like this: "Spicy and floral, with flavors of citrus, cherry, raspberry-jam cookie, salted nuts, and savory tobacco." I sip and savor the same brand and get "tastes good, a little heat, and quite smooth."

Strongly peated Scotch draws the best phraseology. For instance: "The flavors evolve on the nose and palate, with peat kiln smoke, fresh asphalt, damp earth warehouses, morning-after campfire ash, and old boat dock contrasting nicely with toffee apple, crème caramel, delicate raspberry preserve, and dried citrus. Long, smoky, spicy, briny, seaweed, dirty martini-tinged finish."

Of course, the most interesting are the reviews of the not-so-sublime whiskeys. Such reviews are becoming exceedingly rare however. My favorites:

  • "This flavored moonshine smells like a mass of wet, used tea bags."

  • "The nose is all kinds of barnyard funk: hay, horse, and manure."

  • "Begging to be poured into Coke."

According to the experts, whiskey sometimes tastes like:

  • Furniture polish

  • Molten licorice

  • Old barn boards

  • Cinnamon-covered almonds

  • Old leathery cigar boxes

  • Damp forest floor

  • Machine oil

  • Smoky bacon and seaweed

  • Pencil shavings

  • Rose-flavored Turkish delight

  • Watermelon Jolly Rancher

  • Angelica and cannabis

  • Smokey and medicinal on the nose, with distinct Band-Aid notes

Speaking of that last review, my all-time favorite was the whisky that tastes like "burning hospital."

You might need one if you drink that.

Which reminds me of the current trend of selling "moonshine" in cute glass jars in various flavors. First of all, if it's legal to sell, it's not moonshine, just unaged whiskey (which is cheaper and quicker to produce than the aged kind). And flavored? Whiskey already has more than enough flavors (see all of the above).

Make mine corn squeezin's, Lincoln County Process, and neat. Cheers!

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