You were there for her sweet sixteen, standing there with your hands in your pockets with some of the other boys. You can still see her on the red brick patio illuminated by Christmas lights strung on the trellis; her lithe sun-kissed body in a simple navy linen dress; her long dark hair sweeping down across her shoulders and partially covering her face; her bright eyes so pleased to see her friends, her family, and tables of food and gifts; and you wondered will she like the Pat Benatar album you got her and she said she did in a thank you note that she mailed the very next day and for months your finger traced the XOXO she wrote under her name. But it was above all her smile that you can still see to this day. It was a smile that staggered you with its gracious ease and kindness, a smile that put an uneasy feeling in your stomach, a smile that dried your mouth, twisted your tongue, and announced that you, a mere mortal, were standing before a god.
That was the experience that changed you. You’d seen her from a distance when she moved to the neighborhood at twelve and you would see her again at 21, surrounded by friends; once you saw her in a photograph when she was 25 and you held onto the picture so long that your friends started to tease you. But it was that summer night of her sixteenth birthday on that red brick patio more than two decades ago that changed you. It would not be an exaggeration to say that your whole life had been a search to experience it again, this time with your hands out of your pockets. Yet you thought about this moment less often as time went by, and as the years unfolded you might have remembered it differently, even mistrustfully, as the cynicism of adulthood convinced you it was sentimental foolishness to hold onto this moment, and that smile.
And then, there she was. She was 37 but it was unmistakably undeniably unforgettably her, and what you could see of her beauty from a distance told you that it had only deepened and made profound. For a moment her expressionless face seemed to hold sadness around her eyes, a certain muddling of her complexion, creased with a wrinkle here and there, but as her still-twinkling dark eyes found yours and registered recognition, her face flashed with equal parts surprise and delight, and her smile unfolded quickly, brilliantly, and so generously it was if you never left that patio. Your knee buckled as you strode forward to meet her, and you might have fallen but for the chair back that reached up to meet your grip. She was 37 and yet all that was there at 16 not only still radiates, but is somehow amplified. Oats, biscuits, peat held in dark honey. Oreos made from creosote discs and clotted cream. Sherry barrel staves on the prow of a trireme cutting through the wine-dark sea to speed its angry hero to rescue Helen. Salt spray and smoke from seaside village burned the night before by the advance party. This is like an intensified Lagavulin. How is it even possible to take something perfect and make it better? Is it not gilding the lily, or adding fricking lasers to sharks? The mouthfeel is exceptional. It’s like the Lagavulin of memory but with an occult twist, perhaps a performance enhancing, human growthy, steroidal something or other. Imagine if it was Genesis, instead of Biogenesis, that made the MGH (Malt Growth Hormone). I’m talking Peter Gabriel-era Genesis bringing epicness during a performance of “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” on an aircraft carrier moored on the Pee Dee River. There’s dry, dare say I stale smoke, like smoke released after the surprise discovery of a flash-frozen wooly mammoth that was somehow killed both in a volcanic eruption and by an advancing ice cap. Truly it’s the balance that belies description here. Perfectly balanced between peat, smoke tar, muted sherry goodness, and malt. Take your finest Islay whisky master tapes and remix it on some 24 bit, super lossless format. It’s like listening to a Pono rather than an iPod! And you’re hanging out with Neil Young as he explains the brilliant new device with words like “soundstage” and “ low output impedance.” The finish unfolds like a contented eructation [Bill: stirring in his seat slightly.] [Stephen: No, Bill, he didn’t say what you think he said.], a low rumbling belch that billows the curtains to the delight of the children. Oligarch butterflies flapping around eucalyptus trees. A minty, menthol mouthwash for angels. Borzois curling up at your feet after you slay a dragon.
The Lagavulin 37 Year 2013 Limited Edition is “beyond being”–Wait, what? Aren’t the Forms supposed to be perfect entities, the only truly real “beings” in the universe? Yes, and yet the Form of the Good is so special among the Forms that it transcends even this ultimate ontological attainment. So too this whisky, so too that smile.
–Our thanks to Hunter PR and Diageo for the sample!