ABERLOUR and LAPHROAIG
Fresh Catch Drum Over Local Acorn Squash and Sweet Pepper Risotto
The Aberlour hits with a soft sweet heat, not a burn. Delicious. It’s a classy Scotch, obviously expensive and crafted with the finest ingredients. I take another sip, which is even better than the first. I push the glass over to Mark and he tastes it. We sit in contemplative silence for a moment as the Penny roars around us. “Good,” Mark says.
I’m disappointed. Not in Mark, but in the Aberlour.
Let me explain.
In my last entry, I told the story of my father introducing me to the world of drinking and manhood by teaching me to appreciate liquor for its basic taste rather than as an ingredient in a mixed drink. Back in those old days, the Scotch I learned to drink was Dad’s brand, Cutty Sark, a modest blended whisky with mild peat notes and a medium mouth burn. Not to be snotty about it, I outgrew this whiskey many years ago.
I have noted before, I’m from West Virginia. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were never poor. My father worked away from Parkersburg during the week and was home on the weekends; during the week he stayed hundreds of miles away in motels. All the towels and bars of soap in our house were “acquired” from these motels. This was a long time ago; back then you checked into a motel, paid cash and no one asked for anything as far as identification, usually not even a driver’s license. So, light-fingered Dad stole all the towels that we used in our house. He brought home the extra complimentary little bars of soap as well.
When I was in high school I once stayed the weekend at my friend Freddy Klein’s house. I found the soap there to be a thick round oval that barely fit in my hand. It smelled nice. It was ten times larger than any bar of soap I had ever seen. The towels were a pillowy-soft, fluffy, baby blanket-sized terrycloth that made our thin, short-knapped motel towels look and feel like large, rough washcloths. I had no idea that this was what other people had in their bathrooms. Drying with one of these fluffy monsters was a revelation. If something as simple as a towel can be this luxurious, I thought, what else have I been missing?
After my weekend at Freddy’s, I went back to my usual soap and towels and forgot all about how the other half lived. It’s a funny thing, familiarity; funny in the way it has of molding a person. As years went by and several of my marriages fell by the wayside, I had occasion to buy new towels. When I was asked my opinion on the choices I always deferred to my wife/partner because, frankly, first of all, I didn’t give a shit, and secondly, I disliked them all. Don’t you have anything thinner? I wanted to ask the salesperson, smaller, maybe with the name of a cheap motel on it? I didn’t ask, because I knew this was ridiculous, and knew that my early familiarity had imprinted on me the idea of towel that was different from the rest of society, at least civilized, middle class society.
It was the same with the Scotch.
I was taught to drink a rough, peaty, mid-level blend, and probably because it was my first, that became my benchmark, even though I was not aware of it. When I could afford better Scotch, I enjoyed it, but secretly, I was disappointed. Where’s the peat? Where’s the burn?
Aberlour is a wonderful drink, but when I looked it up I found it isn’t even smoked, that peat isn’t involved in the distilling process. So I went back to the Lead Penny and ordered a glass of Laghroaig, which was on the list. This is an excellent whiskey, one that I was familiar with, and I knew I was going to get a heavy peat component, the taste I was looking for.
Yes, I received the heavy peat hit, the taste I learned to love from my Cutty Sark days. The Laghroaig delivered this in waves of smokiness. It’s a class drink. But here, surrounded by the low roar of the Penny, I realized, in this case, I wasn’t looking for a drink, and I was never going to find one that fulfilled my expectations. Such a liquor didn’t exist, not even a straight shot of Cutty Sark would fit the bill. I wasn’t looking for a brand of whiskey; I was looking for a memory.
And I’m still looking for a cheap brand of towels. Nice and thin, nice and rough.