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.

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.

Science is a Work of Art … and a Headache Full of Math

I have a love-hate relationship with physics.

I love the way it sounds as a word. It’s a pleasurable one to say—like cupcakery, flibbertigibbet, or I’ve just won the lottery.

Okay, that last one is not so much a fun word to say as it would be a fun phrase to shout.

But “physics” is lovely to pronounce.

I also love that it works the way people expect it to—airplanes alight, bowling balls roll, people don’t fall off when on the upside-down part of Earth’s rotation—stuff like that.

I appreciate—nay, love—that so many people on this planet understand the science that studies the nature and properties of matter and energy.

But what I hate … is that I’m not one of them.

It’s not that I haven’t tried, because I have. I really have. As in sat down, read books, attended lectures, asked questions, did experiments. All that jazz. Definitely not half-hearted attempts to crack the codes of complex concepts.

It was effortful work.

But it just didn’t stick.

It never does, and I feel entirely deflated with the results.

Currently, I’m working on an art installation project with someone whose background is both fine arts and engineering. We have a massive canvas which we’ve agreed to apportion and parcel between us, settling upon no theme other than some sort of Venn diagram of shared experiences.

My first outlined section involves a three-headed snake, slithering downward through the seven levels of celestial existence, depicting the metaphysical realms of deities and including the classical planets and fixed stars.

It’s pretty.

His is a physical representation of irrational numbers. It is lines both curved and precisely angled.

It is math.

I said, Can you see how mine shows the concept of the divine wrestling with—

I get it. He broke in, nodding. I’ve studied religious antiquity through art. It’s pretty straightforward. Now can you see how mine is the answer?

I squinted at the canvas. The answer to what?

To everything.

Everything? I echoed.

Yes. To the universe, to space, time, you, me, the existence and meaning of everything your mind can conjure.

My mind was not conjuring. My mind had stumbled to a cracking fat halt.

I don’t get it, I said, feeling a hot creeping blush move across my face. Where’s the formula part?

I received a look of incredulity. He pointed to the canvas. It’s right there. Where the lines and arcs intersect and join. It’s all present. It’s simple. It’s elegant. It’s beautiful.

He moved across the canvass, sweeping his hand from one point to another. Five or six minutes passed where words like “thermodynamics,” “quantum mechanics,” and “electromagnetism” were meshed with phrases like “the laws of motion” and “Bose-Einstein state of matter,” and “Are you truly not getting this?”

It made me worry. Again.

As I am currently on my way to see my daughter in her place of work. It’s a place that makes spaceships.

And everyone there comprehends all the words and phrases of physics to a point so deeply understood they can be trusted with millions of tax dollars that gets sent up to planets we all hope might one day hold a few Starbucks.

Her colleagues are the kind of people who could easily look at my art partner’s portion of our canvas and say, Yeah, man. That’s so beautiful.

They are the kinds of people who have pi tattoos, and blow-up dolls of Newton sitting a desks at work, and regularly visit therapists for anger management issues related to Flat-Earthers.

Chloe is, understandably, a little bit nervous, as in the past, when touring the facilities that educated her to qualify for her current place of employment, I apparently asked questions that left the occasional professor befuddled and giving her a second sideways assessment as to whether she may have been adopted.

Those questions usually involved time travel and multiverses—which at those moments were, in my defense, valid and being discussed by true blue scientists and not stripped from episodes of Star Trek.

And it’s not like I was asking whether all the orbiters and rovers we’ve been sending up were going to be interfering with my monthly horoscope.

Besides, I much prefer divination by means of flour. There is nothing more accurate than aleuromancy, as Chinese fortune cookies have yet to let me down.

So as I sit in my assigned seat on a fancy flying machine that surely neither Newton nor Galileo could have imagined, I am left staring out the window and wondering what I could possibly add to the art installation that could stand up to “the answer to everything,” whether I would find anything comprehendible when shortly visiting Chloe’s spacefaring factory, and whether my luggage would arrive at my final destination.

Pulling out my daily ration of much relied upon soothsaying, I cracked open my rice cookie and read today’s fortune:

A closed mouth gathers no feet.

Surely, this could be voted as a potential fourth law of motion.

I will consider it.

~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.

Booze, Britain, & Maybe Someone’s Bride

If you’re asked any questions you can’t answer, just send those folks to me.

I looked at my boss. The one who brought me to the London Whisky Show with just barely enough information to sound like I was dangerously competent but not snarkily egotistical.

You mean like, “How many proof liters are you pulling off the still between noon and 6pm on every third Saturday of the month?”

Or how about, “Exactly what percentage of liquor are you extracting from that rare twenty-five year old rum cask you’re resting your bourbon in for two years?”

Or even this one. How bout this one? “Will you marry me?” *hic* Can I lob that one over to you as well?

He gave me a look from beneath his brow. Umm … no. You can deal with the drunken fan boy bits on your own.

Fab. Back to work.

And work it was, as setting up a booth in Old Billingsgate—one of London’s myriad iconic buildings, notably a venue that used to house the world’s largest fish market—was not just as easy as plunking down a few bottles of booze and then flipping a shingle to say ‘open for business’ as thirsty customers strolled by.

Instead, it was setting up the most eye-catching, magnetically plumaged display of all your finest award winning wares right beside hundreds of other eye-catching, magnetically plumaged displays of award winning wares.

And for most of us, all on the size of a postage stamp.

The festival brought distillers and whisky lovers from all over the world together to experience some of the most coveted, laurel wreathed drams begging to be savored. Participants wandered (and eventually stumbled) about from booth to booth over the two festival days with supremely developed palates and highly developed expectations.

Now there may only officially be listed just over 100 carefully selected global distillers, but each one of them had some version of, You think that was good … (pulls bottle from beneath hidden shelf) … wrap your tongue around this one!

Altogether, a patron had somewhere between 600-800 drams of whisky to filter through in 48 hours.

As did their liver.

Of course, there was recommended show etiquette.

Spit, don’t swallow.

Drink lots of water—hell, bring your own IV pole if it’s not too unwieldy.

And if you are officially documented by the patrolling Security Stewards to have asked more than three exhibitors for their hand in marriage, the last one has the right to hold you responsible for their children’s college fund.

Gamble as you may.

One of the most challenging aspects of the festival was to reel in the participants, convince them that Reservoir’s whiskies stood head and shoulder above most others because we were not a carbon copy of the vast menu list available.

Our ingredients are of the utmost importance.

We pride ourselves on those ingredients being local.

Our process is different, our distillate is unique, our people are unprecedented, and for Pete’s sake, every day we festoon our bosses’ office doors with balloons and thank you notes because we just frickin’ love working here!

PLEASE JUST COME TASTE OUR WHISKIES!

In truth, we may not have sounded quite so desperate, but you get my point. You have to stand out. And not in a gimmicky way. You have to present them with something that’s memorable, that’s meaningful, that matters.

You have to make them want to take you home in a bag.

Okay, that did not come out right, but again you get my point.

It was an opportunity to meet people who love whisky and who make whisky from every corner of the Earth. To share what we’ve made, to learn from others, and to come home filled to the brim with the vim and vigor of pursuing our future.

We also come home smelling a little bit of fish, but that’s beside the point.

We travel the world with our wares. Sometimes we come to you. Sometimes you come to us. Most importantly, we come together, our spirits aligned.

Now, agreeing whether you want to make monthly payments to the university or just one lump sum is where we might diverge, but we can always work that out over a dram or two.

~Shelley

My favorite customer …

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.

 

 

 

 

The Magical Tale of a Tail

The world is full of random flukes, right?

We’ve all experienced a flush of good timing, poetic justice, or quirky happenstance. Something we look back on and say, yeah, that was weird, but seriously, how cool.

As a writer of fiction, I know I can drizzle a bit of curious coincidence into my stories, but I treat it as though it was a ghost pepper hot sauce—a little goes a long, long way. And too much will kill my reader’s appetite for any more of my story.

I mention all of the above because my life would never be considered believable fiction.

My editor would toss it back and say it was filled with way too many unexplainable flukes. Events that appeared for no reason, simply to push the narrative arc along. It’s too farfetched, too fortuitous, too implausible.

And yet … this is the contents of my life.

I write about magic in some of my books. In one it is simply sprinkled about, in several others it is the main focus, widespread and thoroughly researched. As authors we are encouraged to write what we know. But I wouldn’t say I know magic per se, I’d instead phrase it as I experience magic—or what some would define as magic—nearly every day.

And I don’t mean magic in the sense of ‘wand-casting-turn-you-into-a-toad’ type magic, nor would I lessen it to the side of the spectrum which might be confused with abundant gratitude. As in the warm rush of excitement at seeing a rainbow, or a water funnel, or a squirrel escape unharmed from the opposite side of your moving vehicle as it dashed out in front of you.

No. My magic is more the serendipitous kind and mostly the unexplainable. Unexplainable, as far as science is concerned. And I do believe science will one day have an explanation for my wonky situations. That chapter just hasn’t been written yet.

I don’t have rational answers for why, when visiting religious sites, or landscapes of great historic relevance, I am overcome with a physical dis-ease so great it can send me to my knees. Someone theorized that perhaps the pseudo-science stating the correlation between ley lines and magnetic fields might be an influence—and my body simply has an abundance of iron that interferes.

*shrug*

I have no reasonable explanation as to why I am forever running into self-proclaimed witches, soothsayers, mystics, and wizards. This week alone the tally is already up to three.

Surely, you think I jest.

I certainly would.

And it’s not like I belong to any covens, Wiccan moots, or regularly visit Renaissance festivals. These individuals just find me. Or, as I have heard explained to me numerous times, I find them. But I take issue with this declaration, as the last one I “found” was literally fifteen minutes ago—someone who marched up to my front door to say hello as I’ve been working on this article.

*sigh*

I know. It’s supremely absurd.

I feel like erasing this entire confessional essay, except that I’m writing to tell you about one of my most beloved repeating serendipitous occurrences: meeting my favorite people.

(The reveal is coming up, so hang tight.)

I was recently away at a massive book festival in Tucson, Arizona. Over one hundred and thirty thousand people attend this three day event each year, and I was lucky enough to be invited to participate.

A bazillion flights, ubers, panels, and tacos later, I lug my bags across the threshold of my home, my luggage filled with the contact info of countless authors, publishing reps, moderators, and book sellers.

I toss it all up on the kitchen counter and glance out the porch door where movement catches my eye. A wretched face glances up at me, curled up upon my swinging rocker. Two large chocolate colored eyes effortlessly convey the message of I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m lost.

Unlike the countless other things up on the mountain where I live, this animal has no desire to fight me back for territory taken, and only wishes for a quick solution to his mounting problems.

I rush out to greet the sweet and gangly-legged hound and usher him into the warmth where aid is in abundance. “Sammy,” as his tags indicate, is one of the most grateful tail wagers I’ve yet to lay eyes on.

He tells me, in a way that only animals can, how the water has never been so thirst-quenching, the food has never been so filling, and yes, please scratch right there until I tell you to stop. I adore animals and their gratitude for simple needs met. I wish more people were so.

I quickly make contact with Sammy’s owner—a doppelganger of me, had I been on the receiving end of the phone call: thrilled, desperate, relieved. She is on her way.

Sammy and I find the warmest, sunniest room in the house to await her arrival, and many attempts at my poor human-to-dog speak message of, “I promise, she’s rushing here to get you,” prove unsuccessful. His eyes still say, Make my two-leg appear, please.

And minutes later when she does, I can see in her eyes the same urgency as was in Sammy’s, and my “chatty Cathy” habit is getting in the way of reunification.

Paula is clearly a perfect match for her companion—warm, gentle, intelligent, personable. It’s almost as if she was a …

“What do you do for a living?” I ask her.

“I’m a school librarian.”

I drop all pretense of politeness and inhibition. I hug her.

“You are my favorite kind of people!” I look at her hard. “Did you somehow know that I run a campaign to erect monuments to all librarians? Because I write that on the jacket flap of all my books!”

She shakes her head. She did not know. And eyes the door.

I thrust three of my books into her hands. “For your school, if you want them.”

We will be friends. I’m sure of it. I will make it happen. And I will try to tone down that unnerving affection.

But it comes naturally when you’ve been surrounded by all this wonky magic your whole life. I may look askance at all the other lunacy that regularly shows up, but I will never question fate or the three siblings in charge of it.

And if Clotho, Lachesis, or Atropos—the three Sisters of Fate—should toss a librarian onto my front door’s welcome mat, I will treat her the same way I would any lost and loved puppy: with open arms and great goodwill.

Also a big spoonful of peanut butter.

~Shelley

Sammy was lost in the forest for two long winter days. And because of his perseverance and suffering, I suggest he receives a spot at Paula’s feet within the mold of her bronze cast—once her school raises enough money from bake sales. Come on, Western Albemarle High School. Get baking!

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.