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by Michele Christopher
I like alcohol. I like it in the form of beer, considerably, and probably more so than in any form. I also enjoy it in the form of wine—red wine, particularly. But I also very much enjoy alcohol in the form of booze. Whiskey, rum, and vodka are all favorites. When it comes to drinking liquor straight, however, I find whiskey to be the best option, by far.
My relationship with whiskey started with the Canadian kind—Crown Royal, to be exact. It had a certain cinnamony flair that worked well for me, and was the first booze that I could really stand to drink straight. (It also went quite well with Coke.) I was introduced to Crown Royal at my brother's house, and I still owe him for that. My love of Crown served me well, helping to create many enjoyable times with friends and acquaintances—whether it be with drunken parties with coworkers involving angry and creative rants against my boss, or a night with two friends, indulging in Crown Royal and other various forms of alcohol, all while laughing our asses off at the shenanigans of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which really is best viewed drunk.
It's been Irish whiskey since.
In celebration of this fine event from my past, as well as in an attempt to write my Imbibe column for this week, I'm having a whiskey face off. In one corner, we have the Irish whiskeys: Jameson, Bushmills, and Tullamore Dew. In the other corner, we have two representatives from the land of Scotch whisky (no "e" for the Scotts): Johnnie Walker Black Label and Chivas Regal, 12 year aged. I'm familiar with the Irish whiskeys, but have never had either of the Scottish counterparts.
Now, this face off is vaguely about finding what I like best, but not completely. Realistically, the Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal have an unfair advantage, seeing as their 12 years and the Bushmills, Jameson and Tullamore Dew aren't. In my past experiences, I've found that the longer my whiskey has been aged, the more I tend to enjoy it. I definitely go for the smooth. On the plus side, I'm quite familiar with Jameson 12 Year (though I unfortunately don't have any at the moment) and so I should be able to at least compare to my many fond memories of downing that delicious elixir.
So now the tasting begins. I'll let you know what I'm drinking and then I'll offer thoughts. However, the thoughts are probably going to be musings more than anything, and my opinions about the actual taste of the whiskey will be kept to a minimum, both because I simply am not sophisticated enough to understand the undertones, origins, and complexities of the taste of these whiskeys and also because I don't want to bore you.
I'm reminded of an episode of The Wire—the utterly fantastic show on HBO—and one episode in which Jimmy McNulty wanders up to a bar and orders a Jameson. The bartender asks if Bushmills is okay and McNulty stares at him. "That's Protestant whiskey" he says, but then takes it anyway. Protestant or not, it's still whiskey, which really is the important part.
Honestly, I don't really know what the deal is with that. There's talk, apparently, that Bushmills is Protestant whiskey and Jameson is Catholic whiskey. I've read on the internets that this is only something that's talked about in America and that in Ireland, it's basically a bunch of shit. You drink what you drink. All I know is that when it comes to the Irish whiskey, I'm a Jameson man. If that means I skew Catholic, than so be it. I'm not actually religious, but if you're going to present to me a religion that offers up a heavy emphasis on internal shame and guilt, then that's the one I can get behind.
And now for the Scotch whiskies.
Now this is interesting, because I've never had a Scotch whisky before. Johnnie Walker Black Label is staring at me, and I'll be curious to see how that is. Will it have a similar strange (to me) taste as the Chivas Regal, or not? Is that the calling card of Scottish whisky, or is it something specific to the Chivas? It's good to be in the discovery phase for an alcohol, rather than just enjoying something that I already well know. It's been awhile since I've expanded my horizons, so even though I'm not finding the Chivas Regal to be a slam dunk, it's still good to be trying something new.
I'm seeing a definite pattern with the Scottish whisky. The distinct taste of the Chivas Regal, in comparison to the Irish whiskeys, is present here, too, which suggests it is indeed the smoking process, as well as the peat used in the smoking process. This is a good whisky, without question, and it's very smooth, but the earthy, smokey taste isn't working for me. Yet, while I'm not loving the flavor right now, I have a feeling that continued drinking would eventually bring me around to it. That may not be the case, but usually smokey, earthy flavors are exactly what I can get behind, such as with wine and black tea. Given a little more time, I think I could learn to love this.
So now that I've done my whiskey tasting, it's your turn. Which is your favorite? If you don't like whiskey, what kind of liquor do you like to drink? And which fantastic Irish or Scotch whiskies did I miss?
Joel had a long ago misunderstanding with Jager and they haven't talked since
The only alcohol I drink straight is Jack Daniels. And that's the only way I will drink it.
Everything else seems like drinking mouthwash.
Posted by: michele | December 13, 2006 7:32 AM
I don't like mixing anything into my drinks besides ice. It took them that long to get the water out, you know?
I like Bushmills the most. Religious affiliation to brands is bullshit in my opinion, but I haven't been to church in a while either.
Jameson is great, Tullamore Dew is pretty good as well (although yeah, it does trail behind the others), but the best shit I've found yet is Bushmills Black Bush (say it out loud, it's fun). A few years older, a fair bit darker. I'd give away a testicle for that stuff, any day of the week.
Posted by: Dan | December 13, 2006 8:06 AM
I've never been a fan of amber booze. I don't know why, but I never liked it. My gig was a couple of shots of well vodka, two shots of jager and a pint of budweiser. I have no idea why it worked, but it always got the party started.
Posted by: turtle | December 13, 2006 8:15 AM
I have tried various kinds of whiskey and burbon from Jack, to Jim, to Jameson, Chivas, single malts, All-Star (distilled in Somerville, MA!) yadda yadda.
My favorite is still a Jack shooter or in a glass with ice. Yes we're on a first name basis.
I'm still trying to figure out what exactly Yukon Jack is, besides bottled death...
Posted by: Ernie | December 13, 2006 9:18 AM
Me and Tully go way back. Sure, she's not the prettiest girl at the party, but she's always good to me and she makes me happy.
Not like that bitch Bushmills. She bites when I don't ask for it and more often than not, I feel like she kicked me in the nuts and laughed all the way home.
Oban, though... She's a little older than I normally like (14 years), but she is stunning. She's smooth, slightly smoky and occasionally spicy. Would that she came around more often.
Posted by: thefinn | December 13, 2006 10:36 AM
Try the Tullamore 12 year old. My favorite of all, although Black Bush rates a nice second.
Posted by: GATMAN | December 13, 2006 3:19 PM
I'm partial to bourbons, myself, and prefer a single malt Speyside when I drink Scotch.
Liking Irish, you should try Powers'.
Posted by: Sigivald | December 13, 2006 7:14 PM
Okay, Black Bush I need to try. Tullamore Dew 12 year I've never even seen. I'm curious to try that now that I know it exists.
Powers I need to try, as well.
Turtle, you pain me with the Jager. But then, pretty much everyone in the world pains me with the Jager, so who the fuck cares.
Thefinn, Oban I see is a single malt, which is something I'm only starting to get into. You sure make it sound good, though.
Michele, I have yet to be acquainted with Jack, which really seems strange. I promise I'll try it soon. Perhaps an American whiskey showdown is in order at some point in the future.
Posted by: Joel | December 14, 2006 3:37 AM
Bourbon, baby! Cheap like beam is a-ok (Special perhaps), but Grandad on the rocks is a fine drink as well.
Here in Japan there is a bourbon called IW Harper that is excellent...smooth and rich, with just a hint of caramel. mmmmmmm......
Posted by: Gordon | December 15, 2006 11:40 PM