Don’t Wait for a Chance … Take it

A couple of days ago I did a yet to be published interview for a bourbon organization geared specifically to women. Not surprisingly, its name is Bourbon Women.

The first question I was asked was When did you realize your life’s path was leading you to whiskey?

I have answered this curious query a thousand times over the last twenty-five years, and yet I never tire of telling the tale.

My first sip of whisky was in Scotland where after I’d finished a tour of the Oban distillery—situated on the frothy west coast—I’d been handed a dram of their prized product to try. A mirror would have reflected the female doppelganger of the green Mr. Yuk face, and I immediately declared this liquid foul, poisonous, and something that needlessly dirtied a previously clean glass. I was 22.

I had been touring Scotland for the first time and was perpetually aware of the countless fragrant assaults on my nose and the repeated exposure of jaw-dropping vistas. This country was leaving its indelible thumbprint all over my senses. The whisky was one I was trying to rub off.

The following evening, our hotel barkeep asked if I’d like a wee dram before dinner. With a tongue more acerbic than the whisky I’d tasted, my then husband clarified how it would be a wasted pour, as my palate was rebellious to the drink.

Feigning some chest-clutching cardiac arrest, the barkeep asked what I’d tried, and then knelt beside me, lamenting over the fact that my tongue had been assaulted with the deep end of the whisky flavor spectrum. As a neophyte, I should have been introduced to the various “flavor camps” that existed within single malt scotch.

With deft speed, the barkeep returned with an elegantly shaped nosing glass filled with an ounce of straw-colored gold—a whisky my tutor described as a “Lowland Lady.” I tentatively took a sip and held the liquid in my mouth for a few seconds as my counseling barkeep instructed. The memory of the Oban’s feisty smoke, oak, and cloves was replaced with a glass of something delicate, sweet, and custardy.

Everything about today filtered through my mind. The aroma of embering peat fires. The leaden smudge of sky that dispensed a drizzly mist. The pub with its heavy meat pies and patrons with their heavier dialects. The woozy-inducing beer—leaving me heavy-lidded and inarticulate. The muffled rustlings of the ancient hotel with faint whispers of its past inhabitants. The towering mountains, the ravaged castles, the gleaming lochs.

I swallowed and felt transported. This elixir was as bewitching as promised.

Thereafter, I found every new adventure with whisky fused onto the myriad ingredients that made up this country. The citizens, their tales, their villages and pubs, the distilleries and warehouses, the landscapes that unrolled in front of me, and the inescapable flavors and scents that soaked the air and earth. Whisky was no longer simply a high proof spirit, but a potion that unfurled in story form, revealing the magical elements of countless distinctive times, places, craftsmen, and skill.

Had I remained steadfast and insular—unwilling to accept the proffered hand holding out a second chance—I would have missed the thrill of a career where I now find myself writing, researching, and lecturing about whisky, as well as selling it, making it, and most importantly, enjoying it. I would have been blind to a magnetic pull that existed right beside me, shunned from view because of one unfortunate first impression.

And haven’t we all had this experience? One where we make a quick judgement, assess prematurely, haphazardly dismiss something or someone and then march on our way, never realizing the potential impact of possibility.

In a time where we are inundated with choice, where so many of us are surrounded by an embarrassment of riches, the tapping for our attention ubiquitous and inescapable, do we owe it to ourselves to slow the speed?

Should we study and take more time to contemplate before we move with haste on toward the next decision needing to be made?

I often wonder how many times I may have made this very blunder, erroneously rushing beyond the now and into the what’s next.

Of course, it’s likely we all have a handful of things we attempt with repeated effort, and for one reason or another, failure is what we face. We may never develop a taste for that food, or that book, or that person. And if we are impartial with those efforts, not sabotaging the outcome beforehand, it is easier to shrug and move on.

Interestingly, both sadly and happily, some things just take time. I was not born with a penchant for historical fiction. It took me three false starts before finding myself sucked into the world of Tony Soprano. And I fervently avoided hip hop music until my son started writing it and Ellen DeGeneres began dancing to it.

Those flavor camps of Scotland? The vast spectrum of delicate to rugged, silky to abrasive, subtle to pungent? I embrace it all now. But now is a long way from 22.

And looking back over those decades, I am filled with such incredulity and joy over what taking that second chance brought me. Yes, maybe it won’t work out. But maybe seeing if it does will be the best adventure ever.

It was for me.

~ Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Communicate or Consternate: the Power of your Tongue

No one will complain that you made something easy to understand.

This was a slide I read while watching a Keynote speaker address members of the American Distilling Institute—a conference I attended this week. He also mentioned that someone had stolen his antidepressant medicine that morning and that he hoped whoever did it was happy with their decision.

For weeks leading up to the summit I felt my enthusiasm grow. It started like most of my decisions to attend an event such as this; I justify it by pointing out to myself and others how much I was going to learn and extol how it is worth the expense, time, and energy to appear.

Then, as the sessions and speakers are more fully revealed in the days before arrival, I grow in fevered pitch with an eagerness that verges on eye-roll worthy, mainly because I’ve become convinced that this one meeting will be wholly instrumental and pivotal to my growth both professionally and personally.

Except the most transformative opportunity offered is typically when I come across a booth at the Expo where some cosplayer Lady of the Lake is handing out plastic swords as well as lapel stickers that say, “Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.” I then cover my current lapel sticker from the previous booth that said, “Be like a postage stamp. Stick to something until you get there.”

Alas, the one thing that appears repeatedly throughout the three-day event is proof of how many of us fumble with the sagacious quote above. I become aware that some speakers were selected to lecture at the conference not for their ease of communicating complicated data, rather for accolades granted, accomplishments trumpeted, or they won an arm-wrestling tournament with the conference coordinator on some drunken night, and this was in the kitty.

Don’t misunderstand, there were countless inspiring speakers, but more often than not, the art of communication is something many of us struggle with every single day—whether it’s in the performance of our job description, or we’re chatting with an everyday Joe, newly met or longtime known. It’s a captivating experience to encounter someone or listen to them lecture and find they are silver-tongued and eloquent, but curiously, I’ve occasionally found that the more learned they are, the more unintelligible they may be.

As an example, I filed into a lecture hall, along with about 150 other attendees, all of us excited to hear the most up-to-date and innovative information on how yeast can become our newest BFF, if we truly understand its deepest desires. The professor of brewing science at a far-flung institution began with an apology: “I am about to squish eight hours of university lectures into 45 minutes. Most of it will be intelligible only to those of you with a masters in biochemistry. And onward!”

Only onward was not where most of us went with the professor. Most of us looked around the room to gauge how many of us had a masters in biochemistry and were enjoying the microscopic photos of the principal structures of aerobically grown distilling yeast cells, the table summary of the Embden-Meyerhof-Parnas metabolic pathway, and charts highlighting the biosynthesis of amino acids. I quickly realized that yeast and I were likely never going to exchange interlocking jewelry with one another.

My intention was not to sit in on a university lecture far beyond my wheelhouse and fume with frustration over wasted time, rather I had presumed—based on the title—that I might listen, take notes, and then bring home some data to our head distiller that said, if we switch to this yeast, we’ll have bigger yields, or if we utilize this enzyme, we’ll have bigger yields, or the word “yeast” is Sanskrit for, “to seethe or boil,” therefore they may benefit from a few anger management sessions if we’re hoping to see bigger yields.

I think you get my point.

Our takeaway from any exchange is one we hope to capitalize on if we’re in a business setting, or delight in, if we’re feeling out a new friend.

I am particularly good at wholly forgetting who I am when introducing myself to fellow attendees or approaching speakers I want to congratulate after a worthy session. I think my best words are often, “umm … I, uhh …” and something inaudible as I glance down to check my own name tag for identification. Rarely do I recall the pithy pitch I’d practiced in the bathroom mirror just before leaving the hotel that day. I’d be better off handing the person a QR code to scan at their convenience that will bring them to an interactive website with a pull-down menu to pick and choose from.

It also does not help that a “distiller’s” convention starts off every day with a boozy breakfast and a bucketful of hazmat level tastings to fully appreciate some of the latest trends, so I am going to attribute my inarticulate blundering as only the result of that full strength participation enthusiasm I bring to every conference and not general incompetence, okay?

The big picture is that maybe some of us need a little extra help “reading the room” these days. Maybe our messaging skills are rusty, our presentations inefficacious, maybe our wording falls short when trying to explain to people how effective we can be by using words like inefficacious to describe things.

Maybe it would be helpful if a room moderator would communicate to the conference attendees as soon as they discover a speaker is a no-show, rather than assume everyone will figure it out after thirty minutes of speculatively waiting. Some of us take longer to “read the room” than others.

Ultimately, most peoples’ desires are to be heard, to be comprehended, to be deemed adept at relaying vital and useful information to those who choose to listen to them. But for those who really don’t care, may I suggest an introductory slide of benefit?

I am only responsible for what I say—not for what you understand.

If I see this up front, I’ll happily head back to the boozy breakfast for a second round and spend the hour practicing my own high-proof pitch.

~ Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Galapagods and Goddesses

“So what are you most excited about, Mom? The giant tortoises? The penguins? The Blue-footed Boobies?”

That last one always makes every one laugh—until you see a picture of the bird, in which case you’re trying to figure out how to slyly shove one of those cutey patooties into your suitcase to return home with.

“The distillery,” I answered truthfully.

I heard the distinct sound of a hand suctioning itself onto a forehead. It would be a familiar thump as well over the next couple of weeks, as we were nearing the end of Chloe’s “Countdown to the Galapagos” calendar—the trip of a lifetime my daughter had gifted me.

Weeks earlier she had surprised me on a Zoom call.

“I’ve checked with your work—all is thumbs up, and all the animals will be looked after. I’m taking you to the Galapagos Islands.”

“What?” I was stunned. “Why?”

“Firstly, you’re welcome. And secondly, as a thank you.”

I chose to ignore the firstly bit and moved on to the latter half of her explanation. “Thank you for what?”

“You know, the whole thanks for raising, clothing, caring, feeding bit, plus all the extra effort helping me get to where I am so that I could accomplish what I have.”

She was referring to her ever so awesome job and lifelong dream of sending shit up into space. “You are welcome. I knew those math flash cards were going to pay off one day.”

“I’m serious,” she said. “You were there with the support and encouragement and shoulder—”

“Don’t forget ice cream.”

“Yes, and ice cream too,” she added.

“Why the Galapagos?”

She smiled with glee through the screen. “Well, I may never be able to take you to Mars to study what we’re hoping to discover there—possibly some origin of life, so I’m taking you to where Charles Darwin first studied it on our little planet.”

Obviously, Chloe knew exactly how the poetic parallel would fill me with admiration, and it neatly explained why she had mailed me a beautiful copy of On the Origin of Species just a few days before phoning.

And so, every day for the next two weeks I received some version of the text ELEVEN MORE DAYS TILL GALAPAGOS, MOTHER!!! And I would send her back a picture of one of the animals I could not wait to lay eyes on.

This, of course, after researching whether any of the islands had some form of working distillery upon them, and after discovering one did, announcing that this was where we had to go first.

“We are leaving work behind, Madre—no computers, no spreadsheets, and no liquor apart from that which any charming South American bartender hands you in a glass, got it?”

“But this is not work, Chloe. This is learning. This is research. And as we are going to be spending hours wandering through the ample exhibition halls, gardens, library, and living labs of the Charles Darwin Research Station, we surely will wish to further our research on other aspects of the islands’ elements as well, right?”

“Discovering how some old geezer is distilling sugarcane will likely disappoint you. It’s not going to be like you’re in Scotland, and as you’re hunting through castles and stone circles you accidentally stumble upon some ancient, perfect, long silent but suddenly brought back to life prized distillery.”

I huffed. “I will not be disappointed, Chloe. Clearly, there is an artist waiting to be appreciated—and likely frustrated that Charles Darwin is constantly overshadowing his work. I aim to aid his need for recognition.”

“You aim to be poisoned, likely by a large dose of methanol, is my guess.”

But my sweet, generous, overly and uncomfortably educated child was wrong. Meeting Adriano Cabrera of El Trapiche was one of the most memorable moments ever.  Maybe because having seen some of the world’s most impressive and flush-with-cash companies, with their shiny copper pots, their massive barrel-filled warehouses, and their gleaming tasting rooms, experiencing Adriano’s barebones setup was the refreshing, reaffirming chapter I needed to slip in to my ‘book of life.’ It brought back the this process is magic feeling that can sometimes be buried beneath all the new glamour whisky making tours now provide to consumers.

Not one of the countless distilleries I’ve visited ever employed animals as part of the workforce, and yet Adriano had harnessed not just a braying donkey to run the press that squeezes the liquid out of the cane sugar, but every bit of flora and fauna he had available to utilize.

All throughout the facility—and by facility, I mean a long, open air shack—he was growing plants indigenous to his island of Santa Cruz. Whether it was the sugar cane, the coffee bushes, or cacao beans, the surrounding landscape was filled with flowering plants.

Those flowering plants brought birds, butterflies, and bees to pollinate them, and those thriving plants introduced an abundance of wild, ambient yeasts. Those indigenous yeasts then fermented that sugar cane juice, which attracted a good handful of insects looking to score a solid buzz on their buzziness and ended up dying for the cause. And still flying with the theme that Adriano was capturing flavor everywhere, surely there’s got to be a scientist who would agree with me that those insects added a bit of nuttiness to the mash, or that their natural fats and mineral-rich exoskeletons left some “flavorprint” behind.

It doesn’t matter. I have empirical evidence. My tongue was the judge.

Once that mash trickled downhill via garden hose to the antiquated, blackened oil drum that was his makeshift still, flames licking and embracing its bottom half as it heated and fractionated the fermented juice within, the magic was nearly done.

Adriano’s method of testing his alcohol’s proof was to use a scuffed-up glass hydrometer, but more to my amusement, was his flamboyant technique of simply throwing a cupful of distillate right onto the still’s flames.

If it goes boom, we bottle, could be a motto he might consider putting onto the label.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding as well, which to me—any small, albeit worrisome, overdose of methanol aside—was a nip worth sipping and a risk worth taking.

As I see it, the El Trapiche distillery succeeded in distilling the entire experience of The Galapagos Islands’ essence of origins into liquid form. The smells, the taste, the sights, the sounds. The true flavor of all its endemic species.

Charles Darwin would have been proud.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Knock, Knock. Who’s There? History. And a Bunch of Dead People Who Want In.

I have heard countless tales about the mystical days of the year when there is a thinning—an opening of the usually bolted door between the living and the dead.

I find these legends to be magnetic and irresistible from both the historical perspective in that apparently our folk tales of old are still captivating enough to be passed on and hold great longevity, and also because I’d love to know who is the guy who lifts the latch on that door and allows it to creak open with invitation.

Sure, it could be the wind, but seriously, that’s way too many years of perfectly timed coincidence, right?

The chunk of consecutive days known as Halloween or Samhain (the ancient Celtic festival), All Saints Day, and All Souls Day are three celebrations and commemorations when, beginning October 31st  through November 2nd, many people’s thoughts are steeped in leaf blowers, credit card bills showing an overabundance of pumpkin spiced lattes, and fear. (That second one causes the third one to bloom when the pounds run high and the dollars run low.)

Samhain marked the end of all things warm and sun-related, and the beginning of the coffin making season. The Celts marked their new year beginning on November 1st, and likely didn’t bother with any yearly census until spring, as people dropped like flies during the cold winter months.

I’ve always preferred Samhain to Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, as typically the costumes are better. Yes, they both incorporate some semblance of gathering—festive or otherwise—but the getups worn in days of old were truly meant to ward off ghosts. And what spirit wouldn’t turn tail and leave when peeking in to join the massive bonfire only to see animals being sacrificed within it and the party guests all draped in a few extra severed heads and blood-soaked skins.

Begone, you destructive wraiths! Leave our crops be or we shall threaten you with … Wait, hey, Bob? What are we threatening these dead people with?

Let’s say MORE DEATH, Dick, okay? Can we all agree that ‘more death’ is our menacing chant?

I could be wrong, but even with this action and logic I’m going to vote that the chilling and shuddery-inducing specters are more inclined to back off from a party such as this than one where folks are dressed in chintzy polyester tat from Walmart.

Personally, I think donning a naughty bar maid getup is likely more of an invitation rather than a deterrent to any lonely ghoul.

And although we may be in the thick of a ghastly pandemic at present, the fear felt by the living souls 2000 years ago was more of a “the entire village” type of dread as there really existed no “K” modeled economy forecast where when things went pear-shaped, some folks did well, and some felt they were in the middle of another version of The Hunger Games.

Back then, once you’d run out of firewood by dismantling all the furniture and eventually the homesteading structure itself, it was back to living surrounded by an outcropping of rocks and prickly gorse bushes instead of moving in with family. Because by that time, you may have actually eaten the only family that had a couch you could surf.

Once the Romans conquered a good chunk of the Celt’s turf, the new residents began to feel some softening of celebrations might be in order.

Maybe instead of scaring away all the dead, you folks should switch it out and commemorate them? We’ve come across far fewer demands for the sacrifice of livestock if we simply recite a few of their shinier earthly moments.

The request may have been a resounding NO! from the remaining Celts, which might have made the Romans give in a smidge and answer with:

Fine, fine, we’ll stretch the whole thing out a bit—keep your “frightnight”, but then word from corporate is that we make the next day one for the dearly departed, and then follow that up with a nod to old Pomona. She’s the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, and who doesn’t love bobbing for apples, eh?

Despite the church’s efforts to delicately rosy up and combine the fetes of the past, these people were surrounded by fearful imagery most of the time, whether it was a lack of food in the cupboard, the rush of pillaging neighbors who didn’t ascribe to that whole “do not covet thy neighbor’s anything, or simply waking up next to a spouse with three working teeth and a penchant for wild onions. Times were scary.

So why would they wish to set aside three whole days to mingle with the dead and focus on all that fear—all the prophesying of bad crops to come, or another mouth to feed, or hearing the soothsayer reveal that your mother-in-law was soon to move in?

Maybe for the same reason that we ride rollercoasters, or go through haunted houses, or check in with our 401ks.

Likely those actions are simply to show ourselves that it can always get worse, and we should be grateful for the now.  

As for me, I’m still left wondering if that doorman is really more of a Beefeater type of position or a “someone’s left the barn door open again” kind of deal, as perhaps the latter would explain precisely why it gets so damn cold in the winter, eh?

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Black-Eyed Peas: Apparently Good Fortune Comes from Good Fiber

If ever I needed proof that I am only mid-way through the birthday year where I naively wished for a spate of fresh challenges, it has fallen into my lap like spilt New Year’s champagne.

Any thoughts that the clinking of bubble-filled liquid in crystal would somehow wipe the slate clean and bring me respite was about as viable as believing hugging a skunk would turn out favorably.

I’ve have witnessed those who’ve tried and made a wide berth of their error.

And if I believed my deceased female relatives—a band of cackling, clever ancestors to whom I sent this credulous ‘speak-to-the-dead’ request to—had left their watchful posts for one instant when the clock struck its first moment of 2020, I was sorely proven wrong.

They are nothing if not dogged, steadfast, and no doubt thoroughly enjoying themselves.

It has been half a year of watching me trip over my tongue, toes, and trifling talents and land ungainly in cow-pie patties so stench-ridden they even give pause to most dogs.

I have hosed off and gotten back in the proverbial saddle more times than a handful of stuntmen. And my message to them on this fresh first month of the year is thus:

Go choke on it.

As of now—simply two weeks into 2020—I have the new and unwanted experiences of

  • One dead deer
  • One damaged car (soon to be …)
  • One dead car
  • One dead residential water system
  • One restored residential water system minus one toilet
  • One dead computer
  • One restored computer (think snail with a limp type vitality)
  • One partial electrical failure
  • Two partial electrical failures
  • Three whole electrical failures
  • A request from the IRS to provide all receipts from when I was fourteen and started working part-time in a strawberry patch.
  • Lost productive work hours wishing for the traumatic fatality of the IRS

 

I’m sure with one refreshing glance upward you can pinpoint the theme present in abundance:

I’m in need of a drink.

And likely an exorcist.

I’m not entirely sure what kind of a kick these vengeful visitors are experiencing as they continue to shovel calamity upon calamity in my direction, but referring back to that whole “spot the motif” concept, my guess is they have some sort of monthly execution quota to fulfil, and I was an opportunistic target.

Or … it could be that thing I did in the grocery store on December 31st.

I walked through the produce section to pick up a few last-minute things for dinner. There, squeezed between three elderly turnips and a basketful of withering Brussels sprouts was a bag of black-eyed peas.

I picked them up and rolled my eyes—which must have made a loud sound—or it could have been that my eye-rolling was accompanied by some giant snort, because a tall sapling pretending to be a human scuffled over to see what was amiss.

Is there a problem, ma’am?

I glanced up at the young man’s employee name tag. Just bemused by the fact that a package of dried black-eyed peas is mixed in with the fresh produce, Leverette.

He studied the sad display. Well, because it’s New Year’s.

I scratched my head. But they’re dried.

He shrugged. Doesn’t make ‘em any less potent.

I must have rolled my eyes again because he continued. Surely you aren’t one of those scoffers, are you, ma’am? One of the reasons we place them here is for ease of access. A reminder of necessary tradition.

I picked up the sad sack of Brussels sprouts. I’m more into “necessary nutrition.”

Leverette’s eyes went wide, and he jabbed a pointy finger toward a faded insignia on my hoodie. NASA thinks they’re good enough. They’ve been test-growing them for years in fake space vehicles and Martian greenhouses.

I narrowed my eyes at him and then whipped out my phone. Standby, Leverette.

I texted my daughter.

Uh … sure, that sounds like a thing we’d do was her reply.

Dammit.

I threw my nose into the air and glanced back up to catch the supercilious expression Leverette now displayed. I’ll pass, I said, and gave him a wave. Then I mumbled something under my breath about going home to make a pot of four-leaf clover soup.

Apparently, the witches were watching.

And likely rubbing their hands together with glee.

Which I find extra annoying as it makes the scent of one of those old aunties materialize. And it is an aroma that was long ago burned into my brain as specifically identifiable to her. All musk, earth, and sandalwood steeped in the smoke of her long, thin Virginia slims.

Well, that’s what I guessed they were, but I was young, and for all I know she could have been smoking incense sticks.

But the scent is present, and I’m sure it’s her.

Or it could be the wires in the walls finally sparking and smoldering. Chances are that’s what’s next on the list.

As I sit in the dark and shine a flashlight on my taxes, I try to hearten my gloomy mood with the acceptance that it’s only another five months.

I then load up another spoonful of black-eyed peas and force myself to swallow it.

Because who couldn’t use a little extra fiber, right?

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.