A Toast to Old Men and Old Charters Posted by: Dan | 0 Comments
Daddy didn’t drink much bourbon.
He kept it, there was always a half-gallon of Jim Beam in the kitchen cupboard for anybody who’d ask, but he himself drank Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. I don’t know why, except he’d been in the service, traveled the world and developed a fondness for Frank Sinatra. It was just one of his quirks, like the bemused contempt he held for the Beatles (which I suspect he got straight from the scene in Goldfinger where Bond insists that “drinking Dom Pérignon ’53 above a temperature of 38° Fahrenheit” is “as bad as listening to the Beatles without ear muffs”) and his fondness for the countrypolitan stylings of Jack Greene and Ray Price. Though Daddy drew the line at Bobby Goldsboro, I grew up thinking country music was something you could sing in a tux.
I say this just so you’ll understand that I didn’t grow up with all the advantages, and that I’ve even had some overcoming to perform in my life. I wandered in the wilderness for years. I drank canned Schlitz in high school, and I thought it was cool when my buddy Jet Van Zandt got his own apartment and a water bed and filled up one of those mini-fridges with Miller High Life ponies. I was so clueless in college that I smuggled — and by smuggled I mean I didn’t wave the bottle in the assistant provost’s face until after I made it through the turnstile — a pint of Canadian Mist into Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night.
Friend of mine from Vanderbilt says that would have got me blackballed from all the better fraternities around Nashville. Lah-di-damn-dah.
Anyway, I was probably 30 years old before I settled on bourbon as my drink. And that was after flirtations with Remy Martin champagne cognac (thank you Pete Townshend, you beautiful old sot), Italian wines (go ahead, quiz me on the old Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and single malt Scotch (which I liked well enough until I realized Scotch drinkers had more rules than folk singers).
So maybe you got a head start on me. But who among us hasn’t changed majors a time or two? All you without sin, go on and chuck a rock at me (but understand that among the motley regulars hanging about my place hoping to avail themselves of my top shelf stuff is at least one bona fide seersuckered-up lawyer who owes me plenty).
That’s enough introduction. I want to start at the beginning, so to speak, by which I mean where I started. I imagine that when I was back in high school, driving around the dark roads listening to Foreigner and Journey and the original Lynyrd Skynyrd, I might have had a sip or two of Old Grandad or Wild Turkey (though that was a little pricey for us back then), but the main bourbon we drank was Old Charter.
(Not that we thought too much about what it was — we also bought and drank a lot of Pepe Lopez tequila and Black Tower wine and 151 proof rum that we’d pour over our Icees. Sophisticated lot, us.)
Anyway, the way it would work is that, after we’d cruised the McDonald’s, we’d swing over the the Sonic and order 32-ounce Coca-Colas, pour out about half the soft drink and most of the ice and replace it with about a quarter of a fifth of Old Charter. (There were four of us generally, Billy Jinks, Mike Ritter and Henry L. “Not the serial killer” Lukas, and we pretty much murdered the gallant soldier quickly — there might have been a little left over for freshening.)
Because we’d all passed chemistry, we generally went for the 101 proof O.C. rather than the standard 80 proof. We preferred the knot of fire it made in the gullet to the roasted vanilla, caramel and honey notes of the 8-year-old standby.
But the palate, they say, becomes more refined as you get older. And I have progressed — I am not ashamed to call myself a pretty successful semi-professional bourbon drinker — and my tastes have become more rarified. At any given time I’m likely to have the seals snapped on five or six high-dollar bourbons. In the months to come, if they let me keep going, I’ll tell you about them and about the history of this most American spirit.
But I wanted to start off by telling you a little bit where I come from, and to let you know that while I do like my Pappy’s, et. al., that when I started drinking (a long time ago, children, back when it was legal to drink as an 18-year-old, sometime after they came up with the designated hitter but before the introduction of the three-point line) the very first bourbons I had were the cheapest ones. I still retain some affection for Old Charter, Old Grandad, Old Crow and Evan Williams (the busthead, not Big Cat, the long-drive champion) .
In fact, I still keep a liter of Evan Williams handy. In the back of the bar on a low shelf. And, yeah, in that Baccarat decanter too.
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