This Whiskey Tastes Like Goat Piss

In my first few years of performing stand up, I wrote a joke that went thusly:

I like whiskey. I like old whiskey, mostly Scotch.

Now, a lot of my friends like to ask me, “Chris, you can’t really tell the difference between a 40 year old Scotch and a 20 year old Scotch can you?”

I like to tell them, maybe not by taste, or smell, or anything real. But if you hold a glass of 20 year old Scotch up to your ear, you’ll hear the ice gently cracking as it swims in the whiskey.

And then when you hold a glass of 40 year old Scotch up to your ear, you’ll hear it telling you that Saturday mornings were better in the eighties, and real hip hop died in 1998.

I enjoy the joke, but within it lies a kernel of truth, in that I really can’t describe the taste difference between an old whiskey and a new one, or between two new ones for that matter. I don’t have the vocabulary that other people display at tastings for everything from whiskey, to coffee, to wine.

I used to belong to a whiskey club, where a group of us pooled our money and used that money to purchase various expensive whiskey’s that we’d share at our quarterly meetings. It sounds pretentious, because it was pretentious. But it was also a great way for a group of people in their twenties and thirties to purchase expensive bottles they normally wouldn’t have the money for.

To add to the pretentiousness, we kept minutes for our meetings, and had tasting notes for each of the bottles we tried.

I did not enjoy that part. From the first time we did it, it was clear that the other members had all done their homework. For each tasting, their notes sounded like they could have come out of an official tasting guide. They would take a sip, swish it around in their mouth, and instantly have flowery and detailed descriptions that pointed out they could taste hints of fresh cut grass, sea salt, or over-ripe fruit. Their descriptions would flow freely and read like poetry.

I don’t know if I have a defective palette or what, but I couldn’t taste those things. I could taste the differences between whiskeys, but it usually boiled down to “This one tastes like a whiskey. This one tastes less like a whiskey than the last. This one tastes more like a whiskey than the last. They all taste like campfires.” I could taste the grain and the malt, but I couldn’t tell you the weather conditions where it was made, or tell you who the master distiller was based on some signature taste.

Frustrated by this, I leaned on ways to comically handle my lack of sophistication in this area. My reviews would be like “This tastes as if it was bottled from the water used to put out a house fire,” or “This whiskey tastes like goat piss.” My favorite was my initial reaction to Caol Ila’s 30 year old Scotch. This whiskey, which has since become one of my favorites, is challenging for new people. I remember tasting it and being overwhelmed by the peatey taste. It was so intense that my review is something along the lines of, “I’d rather bang my mom than ever drinking this again.”

That review though, is more honest than anything else I could have written. I just don’t have the capacity for those types of reviews. And it doesn’t stop with whiskey. I like music, but my description of music ends at “I like this” and “I don’t like this”. I’ve played guitar for damn near 20 years, but I can’t tell you who’s playing guitar on a track just by listening. I definitely can’t trace the DNA for a song all the way back to two people banging on a rock in a cave thirty thousand years ago. My brain doesn’t work that way.

Maybe that’s good though. I live in the now, for the most part. And while I can’t offer you the type of description that lets you enjoy something vicariously through me, I at least enjoy them fully, immersed in them, not trying to over analyze them in a way that deprives them of my full attention.

Just one more side effect of the good time I’m here for, instead of the long time so many others seem to be so worried about.