On the nose, this dram opens with a light, benign herbal note that sucks you in and becomes something…much deeper. We found ourselves transported to a steamy, secluded glade hidden in back of a jungle in Malaysia, where carefully cultivated Japanese beetles, raised only on rice paper, apricots, and Earl Grey tea, are cracked opened and consumed in a strange, heretofore undiscovered religious ceremony. (Apparently, the anthropologists researching Malaysia for years just got drunk on tuak in rural villages and missed it.) But don’t let this descriptor put you off: the bug guts here are sweet and tannic and a bit transcendental–all very nice. So nice, in fact, it turns out that it’s now been appropriated as an initiation ceremony for the Illuminati of the bubble-tea retail world. These independent shop and franchise owners are to the Freemasons what Eyes Wide Shut is to The Notebook. But I digress.
[A more pedestrian descriptor for our lazier readers: sweet cherries mixed into dry champagne.]
The mouth continues the ceremony mentioned above, only it’s more intense, as though now we’re talking about the training new Apprentice Poobahs (technical term in the bubble-tea Illuminati hierarchy–don’t ask) receive so that they can someday take over the initiation process themselves. There’s ground white pepper and exceptionally tannic black tea engaged in solemn, but increasingly frantic Capoeira. But again, things get darker as it goes on, the elaborate beetle/tea ceremony becoming a sweaty, fire-lit drama straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Lining the back of the cave are corn silk webs spun from corn moth caterpillars, even though that’s not where cornsilk comes from.
[Cliff’s notes version*: the starched kimono of a royal tea server, set alongside a bamboo shower seat splashed with unprocessed honey.]
The finish is good, but odd. It’s smooth and well-rounded, like the small glass orb initiates receive at the end of the ceremony. In other words, there’s nothing jagged and no rough edges here, and it flat rolls. But it’s also mentholy and less well-integrated than we might have hoped. The glass orb turns out to be small biosphere whose soil is floating around unmoored. The bacteria within don’t mind, and the whole thing proceeds confidently nonetheless, but one might prefer it to be more to look at. It’s more the music of the dodecahedrons than the music of the spheres (though the former was the end-all be-all for me when I played Dungeons & Dragons).
[Notes stolen from another student**: menthol and unmoored hopeful integration orb]
On the scale of strange initiation ceremonies–
The Wigle Pennsylvania Bourbon 92 proof, Batch 11, Bottle 214 is the Freemasons’ ceremony–Among other things, they dress up in aprons and hold pointy things to the initiate’s heart and do stuff with bags filled with hair. It’s simultaneously dark and odd, somber and wild. In other words: it’s a high achiever within the category–and notable, to say the least.
*Note–the Cliff’s notes version is not in any way the same as the full version, and never ever is. But those inclined to skip the original in favor of such shortcuts will never understand that, nor do they ever read footnotes.
**Note–these never go well, either..
–Our thanks to Wigle for the sample!