My father introduced me to coffee when I was 13. We would go to the high school football games in late autumn and it was cold. Mittens cold. We would get a coffee from the concessions stand to keep warm, and if you could live without the fake creamer and sugar, you could avoid taking your mittens off. So my first coffee was bad, weak, hot and black. I got used to black and hot. Bad and weak didn’t stick.
Much later in life, I discovered espresso, which is pretty much how I like my coffee now. Very strong. Very black. These days I make my coffee using Starbucks Via packets. I get the dark Italian roast, and put in an ounce of very hot water and make a very espresso-like sludge. Years of palate abuse will do that — lead to you prefer extreme flavors. I’m the same way with Scotch.
My favorite restaurant has a great bar and a tradition of wonderful bartenders, and second-from-the-top-shelf liquors. That is, if you go to a bar in a four star hotel in any city, and you look up there on the actual top shelf, you’re going to see a bunch of stuff that no bar actually serves on a regular basis. So “top shelf” is a bit of a misnomer. My place doesn’t have that stuff, but the stuff on the second-from-the-top shelf is what they use in their cocktails. Hendricks gin. Ketel One vodka. Noilly Prat vermouth. But every now and then, their distributor will give them a bottle of something amazing, and that’s how I happened to try Ardbeg 10 Scotch.
I’ve been drinking Scotch since college. While my friends were focused on drinking bad beer, I had developed an affinity for bad Scotch, specifically J&B. I liked the way it burned my mouth, mostly. From there, I took a detour through Drambuie, and eventually matured into cheap Cognac, specifically Courvoisier VS. And that’s where I had settled for a long time. Until I was on a business trip, visiting Dell, located just north of Austin Texas. I was on my own, so I went to a restaurant with a nice bar, book in hand, and ate and chatted with the bartender. After having my first after-dinner cognac, he decided he liked me so he comped me something a little better. Remy Martin XO. This is one of those bottles the fancy hotel bars have on the actual top shelf.
One sip of the Remy XO, and I was hooked. This stuff is silly expensive. But my wife loves me, so she usually gets me a bottle for my birthday, and I try to make it last all year.
So, as these things go, once you are hooked on outstanding cognac, you really don’t find much pleasure in cheap cognac any more. And thus, my favorite bar, which doesn’t have that actually-top-shelf stuff, leaves me wanting when it comes to the after-dinner brown liquid. So, one night, while I was perusing the selections, I noticed the Ardbeg 10 down in the “restock” area of the bar and inquired. She poured me a few drops in a shot glass, and it was fascinating. So she poured me my three fingers, neat, and I had found my new favorite Scotch.
The Ardbeg has the aroma and flavor of licking an ashtray, or perhaps the charred remains of a saddle from the Chicago fire of 1871, with a hint of the horse, too. This is not the “peaty” Scotch you hear connoisseurs prattle on about. Rather it is a “smoky” Scotch.
I was sipping this fine spirit, and the owner and chef of the restaurant came over and was chatting up my wife, which he does every time we go there. He suddenly cut off, lifted his head, and said, “Oh. I think something is burning in the kitchen! I’d better go check.” And my wife, whose sense of smell is on par with the best chefs and bloodhounds, offered, “No. You are just smelling that,” and gestured to my drink. Indeed he was.
These brown liquids that I love all have these same attributes in common: extremely intense flavor, extremely intense aroma, extremely intense revulsion expressed by my lovely bride when she smells them. But she is a wonderful person who knows that very few things bring me pure bliss in this corporeal plane, and so she tolerates them, and even encourages me to indulge.
I am a very lucky man. With a very twisted palate.