Monday, July 22, 2013

Whiskey & Coffee


It all began with coffee.
Seems like a strange place to start a whiskey blog, right?  Let me explain.  I grew up loving the smell of coffee.  If you recall the stereotypical Folgers commercials from the 80s and 90s, that was me; I’d often wake up to the smell of my parents brewing coffee (often Folgers, incidentally). The aroma was so appealing — sweet and earthy — but I was never allowed to actually taste this sweet nectar, lest I “stunt my growth.”  Then finally, one day my dad decided (having apparently determined I’d grown tall enough) that I was old enough for my first sip…..putrid…..How can something which smells so wonderful taste so horrible?  It’s as if the coffee had, somewhere between my nose and my tongue, been transformed into something else entirely.  It was like some sort of sick transubstantial joke was being played on me: expecting the divine in that sip, I instead got a mouthful of dirty, bitter, liquid ash.
Chemex coffeeFor years after this first encounter with coffee I would tell people how much I hated coffee.  When I was desperate for some caffeine I’d have to drown the bitter sludge in sugar and cream in order to make it at least remotely palatable — much as a child (or my wife) does with medicine.  I’d drink the milkshakes purporting to be coffee in coffee shops, but never anything approaching black coffee.  That is until one day…my wife was drinking coffee from an independent roaster in Los Angeles (Handsome Coffee Roasters).  She encouraged me to try it, and after feeling that I’d sufficiently protested, I sneaked a sip.  To my disbelief and amazement, the coffee tasted the same way it smelled — which was fantastic.  Not only did it taste like the sweet aroma, but so much else was going on in the cup — I could taste spices and fruit.  I could, for the first time, understand what people meant when they referred to “body,” or “mouthfeel.”
Through my experience with coffee I learned how to take the time to actually experience what I’m eating or drinking.  What do I taste?  Where do I taste it?  What does it feel like?  What does it smell like?  Does it taste different at different times?
Fast forward to a few years ago — some good friends were exposed to scotch for the first time.  Falling in love with it, and being the young, untethered guys they are, they’d amassed over a thousand dollars’ worth of scotch within the span of about three months.  When they were kind enough to invite me to one of their “scotch nights,” it wasn’t a stretch to apply what I’d learned through my experience with coffee to whisky.  Again, I was amazed at the experience.  I went in expecting something perhaps marginally better than the Jim/Jack/or Jameson experiences I’d had — the only other whiskies I’d had up to that point.  But, instead of just vague whiskey-ish liquor, I tasted toffee, vanilla, tobacco, mint, and dozens of other flavors.
Needless to say, I was hooked.  It naturally followed that I would start to seek out more whiskies to try (and to own).  From my whiskey-loving friends living in Chicago, LA, and Portland I was led to believe that there would be an abundance of whiskey bars (or at least bars serving a good smattering of whiskies) where I could try different whiskies before buying.  Sad to say I found no bars in the Phoenix area (so far) selling more than a handful of good bourbons and ryes, and only a few serving a large selection of scotch.
But I’m not one to give up easily, so the hunt continues.  I’m planning to check out at least a few bars and/or liquor stores each month; I’ll double-up and review the whisk{e}y I have at said bar/store.
I hope you’ll join with me in the hunt for whiskey in the desert.

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