Ben Franklin said that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. What, then, might he say of the distillation of beer into whisky? Is this proof not only of God’s love and providential concern, but also of God’s invitation to us to become gods ourselves? What we have, after all, is not so much the water of life as the self-apotheosizing elixir of immortality. Who among us hasn’t felt that kiss of divinity on her lips? Who has not concluded, with the warmth of a wonderful dram overspreading the breast, that any other god is superfluous, like a vestigial organ, or an over-crowded Elysian dance hall? It’s thoughts like these that my enjoyment of the Glenmorangie 25 yr brought out. As I nose it—
–No, wait. That’s not where the first impressions of this whisky are formed, and you know it. Look at the beautiful bottle, the impeccable label and even the booklet inside the presentation box. I’ll be damned if the whole Glenmorangie line isn’t simply exquisite. It stirs in me the same reverence and expectation as the sight of a Tiffany box might stir in a young woman hoping to be affianced.
But there is also a tug in the opposite direction, if I’m going to tell the truth. The Glenmorangie is not only too pretty; it’s too tasty. No right-thinking Brooklyn hipster will wrap his angsty fingers around a glass of this as he struggles to say something original about the latest album from M83 or deliver a contrarian bon mot about Occupy Wall Street, all while his skinny jeans are turning his compacted scrotum into a FryDaddy® for his sperm. It is fortunate for me, however, that the invitation to enjoy a great whisky overstrains whatever hipster impulses in me might manifest themselves. To the nose we go.
The first note is grassy, to my great surprise, and then the expected resonances of wood surface. I hear the Modern Jazz Quartet during Milt Jackson’s solo. No, actually it’s a vibraphone quartet where all four vibe players are wedged into a cedar-lined master closet. Quickly enough, the wood and grass notes settle out and I survey a plate of petit fours, along with tiny pineapple custards in rice paper cups and coconut sorbet scooped into walnut shells (smaller than a coconut half, you see). On the mouth there are more confections: Ghirardelli dark chocolate caramels with sea salt, and several rhomboidal cuts of penuche—the kind with maple syrup, and the only candy of which I am aware that was named after a Boston Bruin hockey player. Throughout there is the unmistakable signature of Glenmorangie. My admiration for the stunning consistency of the master blender quickly shifts when I lean in and see that the signature is in fact my name written by Satan’s hand in a strange vellum book of indeterminate provenance. The dram, you see, has taken hold of me. It is a confidence man whose manipulations I was fully aware of but unwilling to resist for their stupendous charm. I’m moving now along a dark current, less sweet now but deep and rich. It’s a simple syrup of lamb splanchna and I’m caught in a tub drain-spiral and sucked down into a siren of mermaids in a vast aquapolis. Not mermaids at all, in point of fact, but people in fancy clothes gathered in a vestibule. They are waiting to get into a ball, and I suppose I am, too. As I rise up on my tiptoes to see better a pickpocket brushes against me. No, it’s a tailor making measurements for my own bespoke attire so that I might match the members of this party as they wait. As I add a few drops of water to the dram, the nose and mouth become more distinguished, and I learn the final truth. It is not I who have become god, after all. And I shall be waiting in this hall for a very, very long time.
–On the scale of disappointments occasioned by research–
The Glenmorangie 25 Year/Quarter Century is my great chagrin at discovering that Ben Franklin was talking about wine, not beer–Dammit! The only consolation is the Franklin turns a wonderful phrase here in his 1779 letter to André Morellet:
We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operation, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it.
Do also read the postscript of the letter, as Franklin finds proof in the anatomy of our elbow that we are fit for raising glasses to our lips. Slàinte!
Our thanks to David Blackmore and the good people at Glenmorangie for the sample!