Speckled Crowley – Starved Rock Distillery (5 years old, 86 proof)
Smooth and gentle. Light brown in color. Served in old-fashioned crystal, it glides down easily, settling in like warm, toasted maple. The sweetness gives way to an exotic spice tinged with clove. A firm swish unearths a sense of clarity. It quietly loosens and relaxes my mind. I am happier than I was a moment ago. I feel gentlemanly.
Armstrong & Lloyd – Grand’s Distillery (9 years old, 97 proof)
The nose evokes a woody, earthy retreat—a harmonious sanctuary where everybody is my friend. This small batch bourbon rests comfortably atop a stout, elegant stem. It tastes of poise and confidence. I loosen my tie. A splash of water opens up this golden liquid, revealing an outspokenness that wasn’t present before. Thoughts come easily to me now, my words suddenly jogging to keep pace. The exceptional finish is one of courage. It speaks to me, and I…to strangers, sputtering stories I will later forget. Do I detect a trace of pear?
M. Dubbs Reserve – Calumet Hills (14 years old, 85 proof)
The label is beset with Victorian embossed font. A deceptive sharpness takes me by surprise. It engulfs the senses, a dominant cherry flavor impairing my balance. I stumble, though my laces are tied. When cut with water, the reddish amber intensifies in color, casting a lense over the room. The irises look bluer, the chandelier more delicate, the woman in the silk dress across the room prettier.
Olga, Red Label – Waterstreet Distillery (11 years old, 90 proof)
I hold the snifter to my lips and temporarily forget where I am. I attempt to make eye contact, but I see two of her, as if wearing 3-D glasses. The red and blue lenses fool me. My thoughts are muddled by the hum of surrounding tasters. This alcohol shows heat, its temper glistening through glass. I give it a twirl and a splash leaps onto my neighbor’s sleeve. A cunning spirit…it proves boorish.
111 Waltham – Washington Oak (5 years, 74 proof)
She notices me noticing her. My smile disappears into my glass, as I inhale deeply, closing my eyes. I intend to ponder the heady notes that fill my cup. Instead I picture her naked, in nothing but heels. This burns going down. I approach her, my eyes watering just slightly.
J.A. Brown – Okauchee Distilleries (7 years, 110 proof)
I am missing a cufflink. At 110 proof, this single-barrel whiskey packs an overwhelming bite. The nose demands that I lower my voice and hints at an escort to the door. She suggests we leave. I accept as if a blind puppy, energetic and bemused. We are walking up my front steps.
Brown’s Derby – Brown’s Distillery (8 years, 96 proof)
This bourbon is deep and shadowy. It tastes of an inability to find my keys and a need to squeeze through the unlocked kitchen window. Sylvie awakens with a frightened hiss when I step on her tail. A complex mixture, it insinuates dizziness—a spinning room devoid of light but rich in dried apricots, vanilla and sweat. It continues to surprise, finishing strong and messy.
Savoy Court – Kensington’s (5 years, 80 proof)
A cavernous snore.
Amel’s Bullet – Bluegrass Farms (12 years, 87 proof)
I cannot place this. Caramel? No. The aftertaste is even less indecipherable—a blackout and a subsequent headache whose fierceness prods like an angry dentist. Any sense of sophistication is lost.
J.J. – Woodrow Distillery (8 years, 84 proof)
The aroma is one of deep regret, bordering on disgust. The taste delivers on both. As the sinister oil rakes my lips, I wince, glancing at the naked sleeper beside me. Her name, I have forgotten. A heaviness stirs. It draws my eyelids shut. Curtains to an embarrassing dress rehearsal.
Tom’s – Kewaunee Distillery (4 years, 95 proof)
The pronounced oakiness leaves me parched. I desire nothing more than a cold stream of water, rushing from a garden hose. And salt. An egg sandwich—topped with crispy bacon and melting cheddar. A young bourbon, it should be kept in the barrel. In several years time it will settle into a faint ring, stemming from a vaguely familial phone number. “Daddy? My name is Timmy.”