I needed help.
It’s a phrase I utter at least a dozen times a day it seems, and not every episode is referring to the fact that shock therapy might be just the thing.
This time I was searching for answers to questions that did not reveal the meaning of life, or my purpose in the universe, or even advice on how to handle the creepy guy at the grocery store who is always asking if he can hold my melons while I search for apples.
Ah … Security??
No, this time I needed help with my new book. The writing “fiction” part is always so much fun. But the “researching the fiction I just wrote and discovered wouldn’t even be remotely believable” part is always a little hard to choke down.
Best to do them in tandem.
And as my new book takes place in a distillery, and there’s one nearly spitting distance from my house, it would be foolish of me not to immediately take advantage of the expertise within grasp.
So I pleaded my case, called the joint, and set up an interview to make sure that my new manuscript wasn’t going to entirely fit into the genre of fantasy.
Or an oval shaped file under my agent’s desk.
At first I thought Ian Thomas, the new director of operations at the Virginia Distillery Company, was worried about the time—because he was always checking his watch.
And then I thought for a second that maybe the fellow I was standing across was fairly new to the concept of wristwatches, as when he did look down at it, he stared at it with intense focus for at least four or five seconds.
And then I realized that I was the actual idiot.
Ah. An Apple watch.
Ian was getting about as many requests for attention as if he’d had a tiny toddler tugging at his pant leg—which, coincidentally, he’ll have in a few short weeks as he’s expecting his first child.
So perhaps coaxing a fledgling whisky distillery through its beginning years full of growing pains is exactly the kind of training a soon-to-be dad should be having.
If nothing more than to reinforce recognizing the blissful joy of losing consciousness for more than ten minutes in a row.
That, and maybe to discover what a bazillion new parents come to realize during the agonizing teething phase of their tiny tot: whisky can act as a damn fine benumbing agent …
For the parents, of course.
And this man is sitting on a gold mine.
The questions I needed answering were specifically related to the running and operating of a single malt distillery:
How much does each ingredient contribute to the overall end product flavor profile?
How much does the temperature and humidity in your warehouses play a part in the maturation process?
How many times have you tried to roll a full wooden cask of spirit into the back of your car to sneak home and feigned surprise when one of your coworkers discovered you struggling with the back hatch of the trunk?
Yup. All relevant.
We spent hours walking through the facility, and Ian patiently explained every piece of equipment and component involved in the operation: the gristmill, the mashtuns, the washbacks, and stills. The miles of plumbing, the resourceful recycling, the freshly plowed and planted barley fields, and the mile-long list of government officials he had to converse with on a daily basis in order to make this American malt find its way from barley to bottle—or grain to glass—or field to finally in my hot little hands.
At one point, while talking in the warehouse that securely housed the seven hundred wooden casks snugly hugging their aging spirit, Ian received the equivalent of another toddler tug that needed attention and stepped out of the warehouse while I ecstatically and repeatedly filled both my lungs with as much of the intoxicating, spirit-drenched air as they could hold. And then, profoundly lightheaded from hyperventilating, I suddenly worried that I had inhaled enough of the whisky-dense atmosphere to register as too intoxicated to drive home.
Maybe Ian’s watch would keep him busy whilst I slept off the fumes and stretched out across a few ex-bourbon barrels.
I thought about the last jaunt I’d undertaken researching a book—an afternoon spent questioning an internist about all the effective emetics available in the 18th century. There were no heady, soothing scents of toffee and brown sugar, butterscotch and bananas encapsulating me like a giant embrace from the ancient gods of magical elixirs. Just half a dozen homeopathic textbooks opened to pictures of poisonous plants that could make you puke.
Yeah, this one was turning out to be a lot more fun.
We finished the day with Ian allowing me to further question him in hopes that he could provide answers for the stickiest parts of the book—things I was struggling with and that were critical to the book’s authenticity and success: the biology, the chemistry, the plot.
His answers were enlightening. And clarified that there were actually a solid handful of hugely capable, talented, and ingenious people who worked alongside him to craft this outstanding spirit that holds so much promise.
And surprisingly, if not somewhat disappointingly, not one of them were alchemists or felt the need to invoke a series of sorcerous spells to turn this water into wine—er … whisky.
Apparently Gareth Moore,
Chairman and CEO of Virginia’s newest spiritus frumenti emporium, really knows how to hire his nine-to-fivers and reviews of their work are about as glowing as the cheeks of those who imbibe in their product.
“Okay,” I said to Ian back in his office, “just in case this post goes viral and the only way you can fend off the sudden surge of paparazzi at the distillery is by locking yourself in the waste management warehouse and hiding behind a tank full of lye and caustic soda, is there anything else the world should know about Ian Thomas, young whisky maker hailing from Tennessee?”
“Ah,” he said, glancing at his wrist again and staring at it intensely for about four seconds, “Well,” he chuckled self-consciously. “I like casual strolls along the beach, I’m a good husband, I love my family and Virginia … and I’m working hard to make a world class whisky.”
I don’t doubt for one second all these things are true. Ian is a busy guy with a full life that’s only going to get fuller in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. A new dad. A new home. A new job. Yeah, he’s got his fingers in a lot of pots.
Copper ones to be precise.
And I think the world of ‘world class whiskies” is lucky to have it so.
HEADS UP Y’ALL: Robin has his annual calendar of curiously clever cartoons for sale starting now. If you’re hoping to take a peek a tiny bit farther into his unfathomable brain, then I suggest you head on over and order yours tout de suite! They won’t last! Robingott.com
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Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.