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20161006_202250Ah, school picture day. The excitement. The smiles. The magazine cover-worthy outfits. The joy of knowing that a portion of one’s childhood will be forever retained in the blink of an eye. The idea that all that you are as a respectable parent and all that your child is as an emergent and presentable citizen will be captured and put to acid-free paper until the end of days.

Really? How about this instead?

Ah, school picture day. A collection of words forming a singular curse word for most, and one which stirs that sudden vampire-like lift from the mattress in the 5:30 am darkness, “I forgot today was picture day!” The frantic call to the bloodsucking offspring lurking in the blackness of still bedrooms. “Get up!” you cry. “It’s picture day! Get downstairs and eat your breakfast and then come up and get dressed! I’ll have your clothes on the banister!” The braids that won’t cooperate. The cowlick that just won’t stop popping up like an antenna seeking a signal. The reconfiguring of an outfit because the child got dressed before breakfast and managed to stain her shirt at the neckline with milk made pink by the strawberry flavored Mini Wheats. The arranging and rearranging of hair and glasses and shirt collars followed by the brief prayer that such precision tweaks will continue to matter by the time the children arrive at school and actually find themselves before that unforgiving lens. The shouts as the little ones pile in the car, “What are you doing?! Take that hat off of your head!” The tears that flow with the realization that your words mean very little unless you say them over and over again while traversing the expanse between home and school. “Please,” you begin to sob. “Please… just… smile. Don’t… Don’t make a face again this year… Please!”

And it is but ten minutes into the travels before you realize you’ve forgotten their lunches.

Ah, school picture day. Or as George Eliot versed in Silas Marner: “Nothing is so good as it seems beforehand.”

Personally, I think there’s a good chance that hell will be a perpetual “morning of school picture day.” Except the school will be a lake of fire. And the walls will be covered in images of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. And “Enya’s Greatest Hits” will be playing over the PA system. And everything about the company enlisted by school administrators for taking the pictures will be the same. You’ll still have the choice between paying $46 for “Package A” or $37 for “Package B,” both of which give you one 8×10 image (which you are almost always ashamed to frame and display because of the Mini Wheats fragment adorning the child who did as you asked and smiled brightly, but didn’t heed the directive to brush her teeth before leaving the house), and a handful of other image sizes that you’ll never keep in your wallet or send to anyone because it’s much easier to scan that horrendous 8×10 and keep the image on your cell phone or send it to family by email.

The hype and expense of this age-old ritual to body, soul, and mind would seem to be much more taxing than it should be. In fact, I think we should just let families take their own pictures and send them in to be added to the yearbook or whatever. Sure, some will be inclined to do some flaky things so we’ll need guidelines, and yet I wonder if a few thinly-stretched parental minds would be won toward a necessary calmness that is becoming increasingly absent in the demanding pace of this world’s life.

I wonder.

I also wonder if the George T. Stagg 2016 edition of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) is worthy of the hype and expense surrounding its birthing and delivery. I know that past editions have been named by certain sources as the number one spirit in the world, and while this particular edition wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t anything I’d call “great.”

The nose of this most recent phenomena is very chemical, very medicinal. Of course, with such a high ABV (72.05% to be exact), this is to be expected. At this level, I think that most will find it nearly impossible to detect anything particular in the whiskey unless a little bit of water is added… which sort of bothers me because I don’t prefer water in my whisky—barrel strength or cut—it matters not. I like it clean. It also bothers me because I hold the opinion that the truly great whiskies need very little help being great when they are poured from the bottle. Without water, the Stagg is a penetrating solution that smells more like the stacks of copy machine paper collecting dust in the workroom at my office. It isn’t until you add the water (and then let it sit for a few minutes) that you begin to sense warmed caramel. And even then, you really have to dig deep to discover what seems like blackberries and maybe some dark chocolate cherry cordials. And still, after all of this, there’s a sourness to the overall aura.

“Well, Reverend, there are plenty of barrel strength whiskies out there that have high ABVs that need the same help.”

Yes, this is true. But there are some that don’t. Take for example, the various batch releases of Aberlour’s A’bunadh, which is a cask strength Scotch. That stuff is strong, but even with a much higher ABV than most, it doesn’t need any help being great. It’s great out of the barrel and right into the bottle. There’s plenty to receive and discern within seconds of a straight pour and quick swirl no matter which batch you are sipping. With the others that need the help to be good, why not just go ahead and add the water at the distillery and save us the hassle. Make it good before you hand it over to us.

Without water, the palate of the Stagg is damp, rotting wood and cheap vodka. With a little bit of water, the innately sour nature of the whiskey opens up to give what seems to be a fast fleeting sweet cream and spicy chocolate, but it’s almost immediately chased away by an angry wave of alcohol.

The finish is long. Without water, there’s scorched cinnamon and burnt oak. With water, the cinnamon loses its char and the chocolate cherry cordials return from the nosing.

In the end, perhaps it is that I’m still not as refined as others may be with the various Bourbons, although I am who I am and I can only tell you what I know. In all, this is something I’d drink only because I’m impressed by the kick. I wouldn’t drink it to savor it. I’d drink it to swish and get rid of morning breath if I accidentally dropped my toothbrush in the toilet, or when I need something vibrant to help me wake up. In fact, now that I’ve read what I’ve written… forget the coffee. I do believe that this might just be worth adding to the annual school picture day ritual as the morning energy drink of choice.

Yes, you read that sentence correctly. This could replace your coffee.

20161006_182445* A special thank you to the Scotch Test Dummies for gifting me with the sample being reviewed. And thanks for taking time with me over live-stream on your show. I sure hope that after the above review, we can still be friends. 🙂