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.
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